Part Two of our ‘Master Class’ series looks at Europa Universalis IV. We were each given a country in central Europe to control, although a pool of countries were selected for us in order to ensure variety and proximity to each other. Whilst not as dramatic as the March of the Eagles hands-on session, this could probably be down to the fact that this was the first time any of us had gone hands-on with the code (conversely, many of us had access to preview builds of MotE before the event), and the EU IV hands-on session actually came first, so there was none of the anticipation. None of us really knew what to expect.
The Italian Job
Despite being a Paradox veteran, I’ve never been much of a Europa Universalis fan. I don’t know what it is – maybe the really long time-frame, the lack of focus on one element, even the period of history isn’t that inspiring. It’s never really drawn me like other games have. I have a copy of EU III on my hard drive that I dabbled in once, but I didn’t stick with it. Maybe I should give it another go. It always pays to watch the Europa Universalis series though, as traditionally it’s always been the game that starts out a new generation of Paradox titles. You could argue that this current generation is taking its cue from Crusader Kings II instead, but that doesn’t mean EU IV isn’t significant.
For this session, I decided to play as Austria – I’ve been going through a bit of a German vibe for some reason, and Austria, as well as controlling the Holy Roman Empire, was also one of the largest Germanic states at the start of the game. To my south, Adam (RPS) and Fraser (Destructoid) were jointly controlling Venice, and the other writers were dotted about the map, but not close enough to interact with apart from maybe Rob Zacny in France, and even then we didn’t really interact much.
I was happy having Venice as my partner. They were hearty traders, they were a safe ally, dependable... It allowed me to experiment with uniting more of the Germanic lands under my banner. Considering I’m barely used to EU III, let alone EU IV, I got off to a rocky start – poor political choices, I started a war that ended up dragging more people than I realised into it, not to mention I was losing influence as the Emperor. So, I was off to a bad start, and I needed a way to quickly restore my country’s honour. To the south, my Venetian allies had a problem with Llollards. Who they are or where they came from is unknown – but it's said they were the first to invent both lolcats and roflcopters. Such technological superiority meant that my trusted friends were struggling to contain the problem. It didn’t help that, just for shits and giggles, I was funding these rebel movements.
One of the ways the game drives short-term gameplay though is through a mission system. Reminiscent of the ‘Decisions’ system in other games, like Victoria 2, you get to pick from a selection of missions that allow you to focus your efforts on a particular goal. Some of these can be pretty generic or boiler plate, but every nation or nation group will have their unique ones. At first, I was practicing getting along with other HRE states, but eventually I got bored of that and decided to pick one of the more aggressive ones. The only option available was to re-take some ‘Ancestral Homelands’ that, surprise surprise, were held by the still-struggling Venetians. Objective picked, my armies were soon marching into Venice, and there was a lot of shouting and cursing coming from the other side of the room where Adam and Fraser were sitting.
After crushing their main army, I then had a sudden wave of conscience as I felt bad for betraying my former allies, so I quickly ended the war in exchange for one of the core provinces I needed. I’d like to say what happened next was planned, but really it wasn’t so I can’t really claim complete credit. Still funny though.
As the Holy Roman Emperor, there are things one must always bear in mind. For starters, you’ll be called into wars constantly to defend the borders of the Empire – borders which encompass every German state, not just your own. If you’re not active in defending your subjects, your authority erodes, which I assume is a long term problem as it wasn’t something I really felt during the short session. There are some benefits though – whenever I’m at war, I get to march my armies through all the HRE lands that I like, without needing a special access treaty. The icing on the cake though is when a province falls into the hands of rebels. I get a special event where I got to choose to either restore the province to its former owners, or take it for myself. Guess which one I chose.
When the Austro-Venetian War broke out, many of their lands were under rebel control. When the war ended, they didn’t have much of an army left to re-take the rest back. Not long after the peace treaty was signed and I received one of my objective provinces, a second objective province fell into chaos, and the event popped up on my screen. Two down, one left to go. There was more shouting and cursing. By this point Venice was also in a lot of debt, as they had to hire mercenaries to supplement their army. I offered to buy the final province from them, but for some reason they weren’t inclined to acquiesce my request.
There is a lot to take in with Europa Universalis though, more than I bothered trying to interface with during that short session. Technological progression is in the form of national ideas, which depending on how good your leader is you slowly get to unlock one at a time over time. You can hire advisors to assist your leaders, and then there’s the new trade interface. Look at the ‘trade view’ and you’ll be met with arrows crawling along the surface of the world in a particular direction. These arrows represent trade routes, and places where routes converge are key hubs that you need to try and control. If you don’t control the province directly, you can use your merchants to go set up trading outposts or headquarters, and you get the ‘flow’ of the trade route (which represents the flow of money, I think), to flow back towards your homeland, increasing profits. Ships also play a bigger role at keeping sea-lanes safe.
It can all be a tad overwhelming at times. Stability, which we’re told is such an important thing, is so easy to forget about. Random events might move your stability up or down by a point. Usually down, but you can go to one of the control screens and use your administrative power (which accumulates over time) to artificially increase it as well. You wouldn’t know this unless you were told though, to be honest, and I kept forgetting which screen it was. In March of the Eagles, Paradox are trying out a new system of tooltips, where every single button and number has a little ‘!’ next to it, which you can click on to give you very specific information about that element. I hope the public like it because a game like EU IV is going to need it. Paradox have always had traditionally weak tutorials, and I don’t think that’s going to get better over time.
Every game as a back-drop though – for Hearts of Iron, it’s World War II, Victoria is Colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, Crusader Kings has Feudal politics... Europa Universalis, despite covering a wide range of eras and themes, arguably has Exploration as its primary back-drop. Interestingly enough though, only Portugal starts the game with an explorer that they can use to bring in extra income and explore ‘clouded’ portions of the map. It’s not really clear how the less fortunate nations get their own explorers, but eventually you’ll be faced with a choice between European ambitions and exploring the wider world for exotic riches. It must be said that while this game has a focus on Europe, you can choose to play any nation or tribe that existed at this time from around the world. Some will be more interesting to play than others – for example as Japan you could become Shogun, but as some random Native American or African tribe, probably not a lot going on there.
Unlike March of the Eagles though, which is easier to understand and represent from a short session, playing two hours of Europa Universalis is like watching the first five minutes of an Opera. You need to really sit down with this game for far longer than we were able to, especially considering as, over time, the nature of the game changes somewhat as time progresses. There’s something endearing though about trying to learn and stumble through the game together, as no-one really knew what they were doing – one poor chap suffered the wrath of a particular nasty rebel bug, and so was pretty much a non-entity for most of the game. All indications point to this being a solid Paradox title on par with Crusader Kings II, although we doubt it’ll have the same charm and accessibility. Still, one to watch for Paradox fans.
That wraps up our Master Class hands-on series. Stay tuned for one final article where I take you through some of the other games we played at Paradox Convention 2013.