Four Expansions for Europa Universalis IV – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Great graphics, improved AI, new units, brilliant innovations
Failed Basic: Small font, some bugs, scanty documentation
Since its release in August 2013, Europa Universalis IV has received glowing reviews. This deep, intense game should keep any global strategy gamer busy for months, covering as it does the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the events springing from the French Revolution. Publisher Paradox Interactive, however, seems incapable of sitting on their laurels. Four expansions, many unit and music packs, as well as several interim patches have been produced in a year’s time. An overview and evaluation of each expansion seems justified.
Conquest of Paradise
“Conquest of Paradise” is more than just an expansion; it’s literally a sea change. Europa Universalis IV tended to be Euro-centric with a nod toward the Near East and Asia. The Americas were just a place to plop down colonists, defeat unorganized natives and conduct trade wars. This expansion changed all that. Almost 15 North American “nations”— tribes, really—can be managed by the player. Each has its own buildings, ideas, government and missions. Unit icons are done very well as are buildings. No tribe is overwhelming and, when a smaller tribe feels threatened or sees better resources elsewhere, it can migrate. However, tribes can join federations that can take provinces, fend off enemies and be prepared for the Europeans when they show up. Technology is slow but the concept of “Advancements” leapfrogs the usual tech system to speed matters up. Advanced nations can Westernize if adjacent to Europeans, at the cost of losing their native buildings and large, cheap armies.
The Amerindians are not the only refocusing done. Five contiguous colonies form a colonial nation. Such a nation is treated initially like vassals, but as they prosper a desire for independence grows. If the mother country continues to milk the colonies, tea and other things get thrown about, leading to revolution and possible independence.
Possibly the most extraordinary change in the expansion is the option to make a random map of the Western hemisphere. No longer can Europeans sail into “Terra Incognito” having a fairly good idea where they will land. Every part of the land mass is jumbled so the explorers must really explore. The series almost becomes a 4X game.
“Conquest of Paradise” has warts. The diplomacy options have a very European flavor, e.g. the concept of an embargo might be alien to a Mohawk. Also, play is slow. Diplomacy can only be initially conducted with immediate neighbors. Technology takes many years. All of this makes for a long game but players who want a break from the European cesspool will enjoy the clean, simple life of the wilderness.
Wealth of Nations
Compared to “Conquest of Paradise”, the “Wealth of Nations” expansion may strike the casual observer as simply a minor add-on. Trade, after all, doesn’t have the cachet of new nations, cultures and continents. Such a view underestimates the role of commerce in Europa Universalis IV and corrects some ahistorical quirks in the base game. This expansion also adds to the Ideas and Rivals systems to give some nations a small boost. Finally, Hinduism gets broken down into various sects and Reformed Protestantism gets “fervor” points that can boost trade, war and stability factors: a small Protestant trading nation like the Netherlands can use this concept to hold its ground. The addition of short-term policies as a subset of ideas can add a costly (in terms of monarch points), temporary, but perhaps crucial tool for a small nation.
Many small states survived through trade despite being militarily weak. All of the merchant republics of Northern Italy could have been swallowed up quickly by France or Austria but weren’t. The reason is that their prosperity could rub off on others and they could be used as diplomatic cat’s paws. The new rules give them more merchants to provide more trade options. Such countries can now use privateers to accost the ships of rivals on trade routes. This practice creates casus belli but, if a nation has the right allies, a “bully little war” can help in the long run. Large inland powers are not shorted. A major trading port can be constructed on a coastal province and inland trade nodes can receive perks if the country is stable.
As with all expansions, little tweaks to gameplay and patches are in this expansion. Targeted as this expansion is, it raises the question whether the added ideas were actually afterthoughts that should have been in the base game or “Conquest of Paradise”. The lower price suggests that Paradox Interactive recognized that “Wealth of Nations” is a modest increment.
If “Wealth of Nations” was narrowly targeted, “Res Publica” is a surgical strike. This expansion is all about governments, the quirky forms of government that provide historians opportunities for boring anecdotes at parties. (The Polish king, the Dutch stadtholder and the Doge of Venice walk into a bar … ).
One specific example is the elective Polish monarch. The king was elected by an assembly of nobles. Foreign powers can intervene in the process by backing a candidate via a diplomat. Elections in the Netherlands are a fight between the Statists who believe in elections every four years and global power versus the Orangists who lean toward military power and a hereditary government. Merchant republics are even more divided between aristocrats, traders and guilds. Gamers can choose to play different styles of military power, external trade and domestic development. Republics can devolve into dictatorships that, under certain circumstances, can actually drive republican tradition up.
Idea groups have been split to accommodate the new governments. Naval ideas have been separated from maritime to provide more advancements in naval warfare. Diplomacy has been given more influence to either wring more money from vassals and to cause or avoid casus belli. Administrative ideas now include humanistic ones that deal with domestic affairs such as tolerance.
“Res Publica” doesn’t change matters for gamers who want to play the 300-pound gorilla powers. However, for players who want the challenge of handling the 90-pound weakling, this low-cost item is the ticket.
Art of War
Just when Paradox Interactive seems to be content with drilling down on their game, they launch an airburst of an expansion. Released October 30, 2014, “Art of War” overhauls so much of the game that players may feel they are back to square one. The changes come in two parts: the free patch 1.8 and the purchased expansion.
The free patch adds 45% more detail to the map and 900 hundred provinces have been added. These provinces are primarily in Africa, Asia and South America. New nations include the Aztecs and the Incas as well as sub-Saharan nations like Ethiopia. Fifty nations have new national ideas. Seldom-used map modes have been dropped and map modes for fort levels, local autonomy and simple terrain showing provinces by terrain type have been added.
Local autonomy is one of the legion of game mechanic changes. Newly acquired provinces don’t provide as many benefits at first but will improve after thirty years. Trade has been re-done with more trade nodes, three new goods (silk, dyes and tropical wood) and a better supply and demand system. New World discoveries can drive prices down or create new trade opportunities. Protestantism now receives Centers of Reformation such as Zurich that spread the Reformation to adjacent countries. Changes for Catholic countries include cardinals coming from provinces that can send a cardinal to Rome every year if the nation can afford it, reaping bonuses and more Papal control. Religious wars allow both sides to fight as leagues with new outcomes for victory and defeat. Rebels are now broken down into nationwide factions and not single provinces; hence, unrest can spread rebellion quickly. Subjects in each province can be given three military foci: do as they wish, siege aggressively but not join friendly armies, or stick close to friendly armies. Defeated rivals can now be forced to accept a “Humiliating” peace, losing thirty prestige points while the player gains thirty. These points merely scratch the surface of the free patch. Game tweaks, bug fixes and minor play changes run into pages. Modders should have a field day with the new changes.
The expansion not only includes the patch but also other functions. New customized client states can be created and customized along with new templates allowing armies and fleets to be built with a click. Besieged garrisons can sortie to try to lift the siege. Vassals can be transformed into “marches,” reducing revenue but increasing their military worth. Ships can now be upgraded quickly and be used to transport allied forces. A fleet transport function makes amphibious operations easier. Fleets can now be mothballed to reduce maintenance. The number of specific scenarios has been increased to fifteen. Twenty-five events have been added to the West Africa region while the Thirty Years War has been singled out for 50 new events when triggered. Some new peace options allow players to take out different pounds of flesh.
Not surprisingly for a new product, “Art of War” has bugs. Some players are having trouble saving games and continuing multiplayer games. The new rebel system seems a little odd. Paradox Interactive has a good reputation for fixes, given time. A continuing problem for Europa Universalis IV and its expansions is small and blurry font. Using mods from the Steam Workshop and fiddling with screen resolution can resolve this, but these solutions must be redone with every patch. A more immediate problem is the lack of documentation for “Art of War”. The first three expansions have mini-manuals posted here: http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?707812-Europa-Universalis-IV-Manual Also, YouTube has several good video tutorials. However, “Art of War” leaves players reading the patch notes and clicking blindly on screens. A comprehensive manual including all four expansions is needed.
The expansions seem to be cumulative so all four should be purchased to get the full flavor of the system. Combined with the base game and all unit/music packs, the total cost might seem high. Gamers should not be put off by this expense. No other game has this level of historical feel, diversity and gaming experience. This game is the one that would be a worthwhile companion if stranded on a desert island.
Armchair General Rating: 93%
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.