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Europa Universalis 4

By Fr33Lanc3r.00727-08-2013
MrJenssen (editor)
Bobfish (editor)
Europa Universalis 4

The Defence

Paradox Development Studio
Paradox Interactive
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Pentium IV 2.4 GH
AMD Athlon 64 3500+
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon X1900
2 GB
2 GB

The Case

Europa Universalis 4 is the latest in a long line of games by the fine folks at Paradox Studios (the development arm, not the publisher). On the surface, it looks like another generic world domination, armchair general type strategy game, but we all know by now that we shouldn’t be judging games by how they seem on the surface, so let’s dive in for a deeper look...

The Trial

At first glance Europa Universalis looks a lot like the Total War games, so much so that you would be excused for mistaking the two. If you didn’t already know the difference. Once you get past the nation selection stage, you load the map details to find that you’re staring at a period map of Europe that has a ton of surprisingly tall, armed men standing on top of it looking fierce. But that’s about where the similarities end, because you see, Europa Universalis is more than a combat simulator with some basic diplomatic and trade functions stuck on; it’s a more complete, and deeper simulator, of everything running a nation entails.

The colours!

The colours!

The selection of your nation is hard to wrap your head around at first. You can select from a range of time periods where interesting things were happening. From the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the colonial race to claim the Americas, to the French Revolution - between the years of 1444 and 1820. Once you have a time period, the game will give you a list of nations that, historically, played a significant role during each event. Although these nations are marked as interesting, you're not restricted to using them. Rather, you are free to select any nation available on the world map - from the Aztecs and Incas to the Asian nations - each of which are still lovingly researched and given as much historical detail as can be established by modern scholarship. With your nation selected, you are then free to attempt to change history from their perspective.

Speaking of historical detail, as a lover of Ancient and Middle (Fall of Rome to the End of the Renaissance) History, I really enjoy the degree to which Paradox has attempted to be as accurate as possible to the march of real world history within the game. There's certainly still room for the player’s actions to have an effect on the game world, and the individual actions of the AI can make some changes as well. The broad strokes of history are still wonderfully prevalent, and it seems that major events are mostly set in stone. Luther and Calvin will still stir up trouble for the Catholic Church, America will make their bid for independence from England, the Peasantry of France will rise up, etc. The player’s actions and reactions will determine how their version of history will record events. Will America fail? Does the French King keep his head? That is yours to decide; provided you're involved in the conflicts, of course.

Well this is insulting.

Well this is insulting.

Each aspect of your empire is displayed through a variety of menus or, in some cases, a range of menus that give an overview of the relevant aspect. Economy, diplomacy, stability, construction, administration and so on. They allow you to make a variety of changes, from the recruitment of advisors to the forging of royal marriages, with each change coming with it's own benefits and costs. Said costs can come in a variety of forms, from taking payment out of the country's treasury to sacrificing some of your diplomatic, administrative or military influence. Even the fighting takes place on a couple of these menus (albeit, ones without much in the way of options), and while it’s refreshing to not be pestered about whether or not I want to step down and control my army for each battle, it does start to come across as a bit dull after a while.

Hand in hand with a large cluster of menus is the need to learn as much as possible about all of them before you make a dedicated attempt to rewrite history. Fighting off the Spanish Conquistadors with the Incans and taking over Europe is not as easy as it sounds. But, to Europa’s benefit it does have a good tutorial available. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains enough so that a new player can jump into a recommended starter nation, and work the rest out over the next few attempts to get a variety of nations up and running.

The game is quite punishing to nations that aren’t European or Near Eastern however, with heavy penalties inflicted on the research and finances of tribal and more tradition-based nations. I understand the historical reasons for doing so - Europe did end up claiming much of those lands as colonies - but was there really that much of a discrepancy between how fast Europeans adapted and developed compared to some of the more advanced Asian nations?

The worst way to start...

The worst way to start...

The visual design of Europa is amazing. The trees and mountains rise from the landscape to give an indication of the terrain that makes up individual territories (which also have an effect on combat) the weather changes to reflect the passing of the year, and....well just look at the screenshots I took of the Amazon. Admittedly, it’s probably not that hard to pull off in a top down game like this, but the effort put into the visuals - and into keeping it looking pretty even when you have an information filter over the game world - deserves some praise. Likewise, the sound is almost on par with any modern orchestral score, with sweeping military tracks punctuated with lower-key contemplative moments, keeping the player invested in the experience.

The Verdict

Combining menus and numbers to simulate the running of a nation, Europa Universalis 4 is probably not for everyone. But for those armchair generals out there who have been looking for a deep simulation with less direct combat, this is definitely an experience worth trying. Maybe while sitting at your desk with a glass of scotch in one hand and a pipe between your teeth for absolute immersion.

Case Review

  • Aesthetics: The game looks and sounds great, soak it up.
  • History: The attention to detail is wonderfully refreshing, and the ability to play out alternate histories is always fun.
  • Learning Curve: There are a lot of gameplay elements, and some of them can go quite deep, so there's a lot to learn.
  • Menu Based Gameplay: A harsher reviewer may call it a Spreadsheet game. Anyway, some will like it, some won’t.
  • Continental Divides: I know Europe ended up on top overall, but do you really need to be so mean to everyone else?
  • Where Are The Battles?: Maybe I'm spoiled by the Total War series, but I miss the option to make bad decisions when assuming control over my armies on the battlefield.
Score: 4/5
For those armchair generals out there who have been looking for something with less hands-on combat, this is definitely an experience worth trying.


It's hard, ok? Sure, it's not Victoria 2 hard but Europa Universalis IV is still pretty hard. Sure, it may have a tutorial that explains a lot, and a hint system that explains further, but boy does it all come together...hard. I still have no bloody idea how the trade directing system works, and despite my best efforts, Lithuania keeps producing generals that couldn't command their way out of their own pants. That's how you lose to Ottomans who have an army 2/3 as large, or some unusually well-organized peasant armies.

Oh yeah, the bloody hallmark of probably any Paradox. Much like in my Victoria 2: Heart of Darkness Brazil match, here I killed more my own citizens than I ever killed foreigners. The world hates you, so 90% of special events are negative and your people hate you more, causing uprisings at the drop of the hat.

So it's a bloody good game because I'm already 27 hours in and I restarted about five times. Last time, I lasted two hundred years and even westernized my country before Crimea used inexhaustible Ottoman armies and unbeatable generals to crush my country into a bloody pulp and a mire of debt. I'm going to try again and again...at least until I get Rome II. Until then...I will try and turn Lithuania into a colonial empire.

Score: 4.5/5


Over 6 years ago now, Paradox Interactive made the jump from 2D to 3D with Europa Universalis 3 on the Clausewitz Engine. Its first appearance received a mixed response from fans. Better mod support was nice, but many considered the new game look ugly, compared to the older 2D games. The developers have been continually been improving the engine in the EU3 expansions and other grand strategy titles. In the process, EU3 went from a somewhat ugly digital version of a board game to a quite beautiful digital experience more distant from its flat origin. However, not everything can be done with tweaks alone, as some things have to be dropped to jump forward. So now we are looking at the Clausewitz Engine in Europa Universalis IV after its first “full circle”.

The first thing that impresses when moving from EU3 to EU4 is the map itself. The main canvas of the global strategy game now looks incredibly beautiful, especially when looking at all the rivers, forests and nicely rendered seasonal effects on the terrain. The gameplay itself has both the direct descendants of the systems introduced in all the EU3 expansions and some big changes to old mechanics. It takes some time to acclimate, and it is recommended to read through the massive manual, even with the new improved in-game tutorial. It is very rewarding though, as there are more things to manage, compared to its predecessor. EU4 is in much better shape at launch than EU3 was, there are still some problems present as well. Some of those are very noticeable when comparing the historical start map at different times with the things allowed in-game. You simply cannot replicate some large events without cheating or breaking your empire. On the playability side, the interface does its job quite well, making the depth of the game easily accessible. However, it is 2013, where the assumption of a certain fixed pixel size is becoming less accepted each day. The very small text in some interface elements is readable on low-DPI desktop monitors, but high-DPI displays are very common in laptops, where such text can be too small for comfortable reading at the native resolution. A scalable interface is already needed and will be even more so in the coming years.

Overall, Europa Universalis IV, like other Paradox strategy games, is an addictive and entertaining experience. It is recommended to check the clock regularly while playing, as time perception really suffers when you rule an entire nation. EU4 has managed to fix a lot of EU3’s flaws, but there is still room for further improvement. Paradox strategy games usually live long lives with the developer’s support, so we should expect it to become even better over time.

Score: 4/5
Comments (8)
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Posts: 267

The short intro to any Paradox game: RTFM :) . Really, if you don't play at the easiest difficulty, the steeper learning curve is unavoidable.

Combat width allows you to flank your enemy (if you have more width) and do more damage during fire phase. As for the mercy of dice - it is both the remnant of old board game and it still fits the historical strategy. Ironman mode and some bad luck put your nation at a much more rocky road than the guaranteed domination of save/reload after a bad event. Some unlikely events should happen as well, both to the player and AIs.

After all, who would have guessed that some private declaration of independence signed by 20 guys, which nobody heard about until a long time after, would eventually succeed ). Some of them even managed to diplo-annex a German industrial city with the seaport a few years later.

Posts: 228

You forget that there's a non sucky alternative to CoD that lets you fly planes: it's called Battlefield.

As a TW player, I'm used to gypsying my way out tight places in combat. Here, you're at the mercy of dice and shitty generals. Which I don't like. Then again, it's the Paradox combat thing, and I can't fault them for that, even if I still have no idea what the fuck combat width is.

Posts: 1317

I agree NAG3LT, it is not the intention of grand strategy games to have direct combat control. That'd be like faulting Call of Duty for not letting you fly planes. It's just not the intention.

Not to mention that adding in real-time combat into the grand strategy game would mean the developers are effectively making TWO games inside one. And that's something Paradox don't have money for. Creative Assembly and SEGA are some of the few who can. And let's face it, the world-map gameplay in the Total War games is generally quite shallow, and the real-time combat AI is weak. So even they struggle to perfect it.

Posts: 241

I think the control the player has through different techs, army formation and choice of leaders is enough influence over a course of battle for me, and I'd agree with NAG3LT that any more control would be fare too overwhelming.

As for the game I've really been enjoying it, I never got into EU3 despite loving EU2, but this one has been a blast so far, I've got over 20 hours played and I've only experienced one country so far.

Posts: 207

Why did that post twice?!?

Posts: 207

The problem was the long periods where all I had to do was combat (no money for research, the nation was stable, alliances were solid, etc) and sitting watching battles that I couldn't control playing out was a rather boring process.

Posts: 207

The problem was the long periods where all I had to do was combat (no money for research, the nation was stable, alliances were solid, etc) and sitting watching battles that I couldn't control playing out was a rather boring process.

Posts: 267

I do not consider the lack of direct battle control a bad thing for Paradox games. They provide a lot of high level control, which takes time. They also play in "realtime", so controlling the battle would leave the rest of the nation in disarray. Finally, having both strategic and tactical depth would mean a game nobody could finish in any reasonable time.