Europa Universalis IV – Review
Europa Universalis IV is a RTS based on a world domination board game. Taking place in Europe between 1444 and 1820 you control any European nation or state of your choosing (there are literally hundreds of choices) and set to work. You can go for military domination, ally with your nearest counterparts or simply rake in the profit from high taxes and lucrative trade routes. I’ve never played any of the other Europa Universalis games so I was unsure with what I was getting myself into, after loving Civilization V I was hoping this would be much of the same however I was in for a shock.
To start off with, a game this complex needs some guidance and a nice helping hand mixed with a tutorial to show you ropes and ease you into the world you are about to embark in. However, you don’t get any of this; the tutorial in this game is awful. It’s a flat feeling experience with paragraph on paragraph of pretty uninformative dialogue and after 5 minutes I got bored and decided to start a single player campaign. This was a mistake as there is no help once you start the campaign, I sat there confused unsure what to do as there was no guidance and a very complicated, unfriendly user interface so off I went back to the boring tutorial.
I completed the hour long tutorial and I wish at this point I could say that I was fully equipped to start a campaign and my world domination conquest. I wasn’t, I played for 20 minutes trying to conquer Scotland, whilst unknown to me the territories in France were getting wiped out. By the time I released this was happening I had been destroyed, so I quit. At this point I would highly recommend doing some extra reading or watching YouTube videos on how to play.
Back to the game, Europa Universalis encourages the players to live out their “what if?” historical fantasies, this is a sandbox strategy game and with there being no set victory conditions, you can go out and play how you like. There are countless missions offering some handy direction and they are relevant to the nation and the situation it’s in. For example, England might get a mission to conquer territory in France or reunite the British Isles. The sandbox will mean that my English campaign will be completely different to anyone else’s but even though you do have that sense of complete freedom there’s an underlying historical accuracy that can sometimes intervene especially when you first start the game.
You don’t have a choice of random maps to select from when you start the game, you have one and that’s the planet Earth. The game is neither real time or turn based affair; you the player control the speed that the game runs at and it will keep running until you hit the pause button, effectively giving you some time to make some world changing decisions. Each turn in Europa Universalis IV is measured as a single day, many actions require months (raising an army) or even years if you want to settle a colony so be prepared for some long periods of seemingly inactivity.
I’ve never played any of the previous games in the series but I found the interface to be a hindering factor in the game. I’m sure to seasoned veterans of the series that it all makes sense but to newcomers like me I didn’t feel as if the game was in anyway helping me. However, once you play for a few hours, the whole thing starts making a little sense and instead of every 2 seconds wondering what is going on, its every 5 seconds. Consider this; you can take control of almost any era-appropriate nation you can think of from Spain to the Aztec Empire and anytime from the 15th century to the 19th century. Each nation offers uniqueness and missions that you have to control, trade, building, diplomacy, manage cities, deal with war, money, unit counts and a multitude of other things so to fit all that in with a decent user interface is no mean feat. Also as time wears on you won’t freak out when peasants start rioting for no particular reason or another power declares war out of the blue, simply because such things don’t happen. There’s always an underlying reason and it can always be found to be something you have done or an ally, but you can always trace it back and that is a good thing.
Completing missions result in rewards like increased prestige, which affects the opinions other countries have of you, or a higher military tradition, buffing the armed force and sometimes the choice is yours and this is why every player will play a different game.
The game is not without numerous bugs, whilst the game is very stable, it does tend to lag a lot. You will order a unit to move and it will just stand there motionless for a bit before moving on and to be fair, there is a lot of number crunching going on as the game takes into account the daily situation of hundreds of countries which is probably why it lags, however considering how little animation there is in the game, this was a little disappointing to see.
Graphically, the game claims a new graphics engine (apparently) which to be fair doesn’t seem to offer much of an impact when you first look at it. However, the terrain map looks fantastic and is filled with little details which I’ve ever seen in this type of game. This map features lakes that slowly freeze over during winter, rivers flow and the whole map looks beautiful. There are no real animations for battles just a scrolling list of numbers and words, reminding you that this started life as tabletop board game. Sound wise the game is also a little lacking, the music just plays on a continuous loop and the sound effects are very basic but this is not why you would be playing this game.
It’s worth mentioning at this point there is also a multiplayer option. The game is integrated heavily with Steam’s Online services. Finding and setting up a match is easy and the hotjoin options works really smoothly. I would urge you to play some of this online if you get the game.
I can safely say this review could go on for a very long time as there is so much to cover however you will know by reading this if you are going to buy this game or not. This is a really difficult game to score as the sheer scope and complexity of the game leave me a little overwhelmed. Europa Universalis IV is quite simply the ultimate strategy game this is a step above anything else I’ve played. It drops you into the deep end before you’re ready, but if you can keep going and work through it, you will be rewarded with an in-depth and wonderful experience. For someone who doesn’t have 40-50 hours to sink into a game I’ve only scratched the surface of this experience and I can already see I’m going to be presented with many hours of happiness and the potential for historical “what-ifs” will keep me and any interested players busy for a very long time. It may be a bit rough around the edges and lacking that user friendly inviting and polished product from games such as Civilisation, and learning how each of the countless mechanics work together is just part of the fun. A word of warning, this game is not worth getting if you don’t like strategy games and with the high costs it’s hardly worth the risk. Concluding, it’s one of those games that you just have to own if you like this genre and you will be blown away with what it can offer, however if you are new to the series or have never tried a strategy game before then I would look elsewhere.