Impressions: Europa Universalis IV

By Adam Smith on February 19th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

They say history is written by the victors and they quite often go on to say that Churchill said that, but they don’t appear to have any proof of the latter. I’m here to prove the former wrong as well. This is a Europa Universalis IV tale of betrayal and bellicose bastards, in which the losers have the final word, and that word is an obscenity, bellowed across a field of the dead.

I didn’t choose Venice and nor did Venice choose me, but in many ways I’m glad that I was assigned to the Dogedom of that dogged trade republic. One of the most immediately apparent changes to Europa Universalis IV over its predecessors is an entirely new trading system and Venice is ideally placed to demonstrate those features. That’s the sum total of the pros of being a Venetian in this particular session. It was a learning experience.

The cons will rapidly become apparent as the story unfolds.

Europa Universalis IV was my first experience with a multiplayer session in a Paradox grand strategy game, pre-dating my Ottomanliness in March of the Eagles by one day. March of the Eagles is perfectly suited to multiplayer, with a shorter, focused campaign and predisposition to warmongering and backstabbing. Europa Universalis has always been a more sedate ship of state and I was slightly uncomfortable that my first experience with it would involve other people.

There was no need to worry. Or, rather, there were a thousand reasons to worry, panic, groan, weep, threaten, cajole and grimace, but there was still enough space to become acquainted with some of the changes in between the deceit and lies.

It may be possible to destroy Venice without aid, but I was capably assisted by Fraser Brown, whose account of our downfall has already been chronicled at Destructoid. I think he undersold the blind panic and disarray a little.

The most important thing a leader can have in Europa Universalis is a long-term plan. While the new game has been designed to avoid the terrible troughs into which a nation can fall, allowing for a broader experience and the stronger possibility of recovery from the brink of economic disaster, as soon as advancement begins, the world begins to take shape. Portugal, played by Paul Dean of Shut Up & Sit Down in our game, is geographically suited to exploration, and that’s what Paul concentrated on, mostly avoiding the quagmire of war that overcame the Old World while he sought new lands to conquer.

Venice could follow that route but, as in history so in the game, the republic is suited to a mercantile role, drawing all the wealth of Europe through its ports and using that currency as both an ATM for its mercenary armies and an armour against attack. Screw Venice and you screw yourself, provided enough of the trade that makes Europe turn is diverted through its counting houses.

It’ll take more than a couple of hours with the game to appreciate the full extent of the changes to the trade system, but it is the most obviously altered part of the game. Merchants can now be assigned to trade posts, at which point they act as magnets of a sort, or railroad signals, pushing wealth toward the final destination on that route. Venice is ideally situated because almost anything of worth that passes between East and West can be sucked into its Lagoon and converted into riches.

It’s important to keep control of the Aegean isles so as not to be cut off from the wider world, however, and pirates and enemy navies also occasionally become attracted to the Venetian shores, looking for trouble. What, then, would be our long-term plan? Bolster trade by building a navy and expand our holdings on terra firma. The biggest problem and the cause of the majority of our problems is that those two goals weren’t related to one another. We decided to kick Lombardiass because the new ‘goal’ system promised us shiny things if we did.

We could have ignored it, but the entire reason that Venice exists is to host film festivals, murder Donald Sutherland and accrue shiny things. Also to subside romantically (and, when the waste is lapping against the doorsteps, malodorously).

So we declared war on Lombardy and about a month later Venice was sunk. In about five minutes of play-time, we had achieved what centuries of being an entire city propped up on wooden struts in a furiously hungry lagoon couldn’t.

Blame it on the panic of running in real-time in a multiplayer environment without the convenience of pausing every ten seconds. Lombardy had allies and rather than popping a sword into the hands of our gold-laden merchants and sending them to war, we had recruited mercenaries. Lots of them. This meant that even though our trade network was as intricate as Ariadne’s thread, we were spending faster than the ships came in. To make matters worse, the mercenaries were losing, dying in their droves. We figured they were probably Lombardians anyway, so in a way we were winning. Certainly not the moral high ground, but at least no Venetians were dead. Yet.

When every single province to our West declared war, give or take, we had no response. The Venetian people did. They formed rebel bands and set fire to things, protesting the massive loans we’d taken out, the fact that all their hard merchanting was reaping no benefits and the preponderance of angry Milanese folk who were laying siege to their homes. To be fair to our fair citizens, they had a point. They had several points, mostly on the end of the pitchforks that they were bashing against the doors of our Doge-house.

Enter Austria. Joe Robinson has written for RPS before and I considered him to be a man of honour. Turns out he’s a total war-bastard. Offering assistance in the form of gigantic enemies, he drove off the rebels and freed our people from the Lombardian threat. At this point, our holdings in Crete rebelled, demanding independence. We dealt with some rebels by meeting their demands rather than fighting them but we would not surrender Crete – it was the gateway to our trade routes and without it we lost our teller’s window on the sea.

Austria could not be moved to liberate Crete as well so we gathered more mercenaries, took out more loans, watched our coffers empty, wondered briefly what coffers were, and then converted the Grand Canal into a repository for our tears. One province of Lombardy was ours, at least, but the Austrians were sort of hanging about, en masse, almost as if they had killed all the rebels simply to conquer us anew. But our friendship was built on bonds of trust, so we didn’t think too hard on that.

I’m going to talk about Lollards now. I hope you’re not a Lollard because, good grief, I can’t stand them. As far as I understand it, here’s what they are: Lollards are monsters that sprout in the dark of night, like mushrooms in a cellar, and lay waste to all that lies before them. They cannot be bargained with, they can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear, and they absolutely will not stop, ever, until Venice has fallen. The excitement of being attacked by actual heretics with demonic banners was soon replaced by despair as the horrible creatures multiplied faster than rabbits in a lazy simile.

As Crete burned and the Lollards just sort of lolled about the place, Joe’s Austria struck. He explained later, over a beer, that he had been given the mission of ‘liberating’ one of our provinces. He claimed our people were oppressed and that they’d be happier under his rule. Looking back, he was probably right, but at the time I just hoped he’d choke on his beer, or at least suffer from a moderately terrible hangover.

The canals were clogged with corpses. The coffers were full of blood. The Republic was repellent, a ruptured colostomy bag of feeble ambition and stinking greed. Multiplayer is harsh, or at least the players can be, even if we didn’t see much of the rest of them. It was a fantastically enjoyable downfall but it is difficult to appreciate everything that has changed without the benefit of time alone with the game.

Trade is more involving but the system doesn’t seem too difficult to understand and small touches such as the missions and ability to communicate with rebels, understanding their unique demands and acceding to them if suitable, lend events a greater immediate sense of personality. Lessons have clearly been taken from Crusader Kings II, most notably in the representation of information. Overload is avoided, but there does seem to be less impact from hidden figures, with data collated in sensible places.

I’d need a few days alone with the single player to see how well the interface is tuned and whether there are any problems apparent in the late game. Or anywhere else really. With a game so broad and deep, some issues won’t necessarily become apparent in the first two hundred hours of play, but what I’ve seen is very solid, not quite a hybrid of CK II and earlier EU games, but something close to that. Importantly, there look to be as many choices in the way that a death throe is enacted as there are in the way that an empire is constructed, and for the whole grand scope to work, that’s absolutely essential.

Europa Universalis IV is out in Q3 2013.

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29 Comments »

  1. Faldrath says:

    Were there any historical events, Adam? If so, how big of an impact did they have?

    edit: actually, were the Lollards an event?

    • David Bliff says:

      The Lollards were an English pre-Reformation movement that sought to get English-language Bibles and mass, among other things. They were never in Italy, though, but that’s the fun of games like this.

      edit: Oh wait I think you were asking whether the Lollards were an “event” in the game, not in real life. Sorry for being pedantic. I’m an historian and we don’t get to talk about history enough. :(

      • Faldrath says:

        Hehe, yes, that’s what I was asking. But that’s ok, I don’t mind history at all – in fact, that’s precisely why I disliked EU3 and kept playing EU2, because they abandoned historical events, and EU2 taught me quite a bit about history. So I was very excited when it was announced that EU4 would have those events again!

        • darkath says:

          There’s Dynamic historical events. They won’t railroad you into historical outcomes that don’t make sense in the context of your game like in EU2, however they’ll allow for somewhat historical outcomes if the context allows it.

          For instance the war of the roses will start only if England as an heir with a weak claim getting on the throne. But if your dynasty is healthy the game won’t force you into an event that would be totally irrelevant to that context.

          • Faldrath says:

            It sounds like a sensible way to do things, as long as triggering the historical events isn’t very hard. Because it should be very tough for a player to avoid, say, Hungary being annexed by the Ottomans/Austrians, and not the other way around.

          • darkath says:

            Well I doubt events will guide your hand that much, for that specific matter even in EU3 hungary always get destroyed by the HRE, either Austria or Bohemia (who then proceed to “colonize” the golden horde *sigh* i hope this thing has been fixed).
            Events are more a way to make something interesting happen with your country rather than guiding your strategic actions. But there are also missions that rewards you for doing specific task

    • theleif says:

      There are supposed to be lots of historical events in this one, many of them nation specific.

  2. Strangerator says:

    Totally unrelated, but I’d like to thank RPS for making me smile. I’m not sure how long this has been around, but it’s good fun.

    503 – Service Unavailable
    An Interactive Fiction by Horace The Endless Server Technician
    Release 1 / Serial number 110707 / Inform 7 build 6E72 (I6/v6.31 lib 6/12N)

    HTTP Error
    You are standing at the entrance to Castle Shotgun. The gates are securely locked, with an unappealing sign on the front. The sign reads “Whoops! RPS is having a bit of a wobbly. Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon!”

    To the left of the gates is a large opening in the wall, which Jim is leaning into. John is perched on a small rock nearby, while Alec and Tim are standing on the other side of the gates. A pile of magazines is scattered in a corner.

    You can see Jim, John, Tim, Alec and a Refresh Button here.

    >look magazines
    You pick up one of the magazines. It’s the latest issue of Guns And Conversation, John and Jim’s fanzine that they distribute around Bath. The cover story promises “Semi-autos and small talk” and an interview with a man who has invented a talking gun.
    You notice an old copy of Amiga Power in the pile.

    >look amiga power
    An old copy of some obscure, arcane tome. The glyphs on the front are mysterious, and appealing.

    >read amiga power
    An old copy of some obscure, arcane tome. The glyphs on the front are mysterious, and appealing.

    >open amiga power
    That’s not something you can open.

    >open gate
    You can’t see any such thing.

    >open gates
    You can’t see any such thing.

    >kick magazines
    That’s not a verb I recognise.

    >open magazines
    That’s not something you can open.

    >look jim
    His top hat and procedurally-generated facial hair gives him away in a second – this is Jim Rossignol, wordsmith and crazed steampunk inventor.

    Jim is hunched over an opening in the Castle Shotgun walls, from which various wires are trailing. There is the occasional spark and fizz as he rummages around.

    >look john
    John sits hunched over on a stone at the foot of Castle Shotgun’s walls, head in hands groaning to himself. There are several empty rum bottles nearby, one of which appears to have an Asda logo on it.

    >look tim
    Tim is standing on a small outcrop, binoculars in one hand, looking out eastwards. Unfortunately, east of here is just the M4 corridor, but east is the direction heroes look in, as evidenced by his stony glare.
    He pulls out a script from “Patton” and flicks through it, mouthing a few lines to himself.

    >look alec
    On closer inspection, Alec appears to be gluing bits of Warhammer 40k model armour to his shoulders and chest.

    Alec clears his throat and tests out his Librarian imitation. It’s not bad.

    >look glyph
    You can’t see any such thing.

    >look entrance
    You can’t see any such thing.

    >look castle
    You can’t see any such thing.

    >look sign
    Whoops! RPS is having a bit of a wobbly. Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon!

    >punch sign
    Violence isn’t the answer to this one.

    >punch jim
    Violence isn’t the answer to this one.

    >lean gate
    That’s not a verb I recognise.

    >verb
    That’s not a verb I recognise.

    >list verb
    That’s not a verb I recognise.

    >look opening
    You peek at the hole in the wall. There is a mess of wiring and tubes, and what appears to be the midriff of a particularly long animal. You peer down the inside of the wall in both directions, but see no evidence of legs or a head. Weird.

    >go opening
    That’s not something you can enter.

    >go gate
    You can’t see any such thing.

    >look button
    A large, stone button with the glyphs “F 5″ carved into them is protruding from the side of Castle Shotgun. It looks tantalising.

  3. Sakkura says:

    Very excited for this game, which sucks since it’s still ages away from release (and might need an expansion or two before it really shines).

    I wonder how well they’ve been able to combat blobbing. Hopefully the rebels and their enhanced motivations help there.

    • Laketown says:

      This game is going to be supported much like CK2, and CK2 was great at release, so I’m not too worried.

    • darkath says:

      There’s an overextension feature i believe, basically the bigger you the harder it is to keep your realm together.

      • Sakkura says:

        That exists in EU3 too, but it’s not enough to prevent mass blobbage.

  4. King in Winter says:

    The one and only paint program. Bow to Bob Ross!

  5. ffordesoon says:

    Can’t wait for this thing. CKII was excellent, and this sounds similar, if a tad more grandiose in scale.

  6. mineshaft says:

    Will we be able to import our CK II saves? Important.

    Looking forward to this with much rejoicing. I don’t play to win, I just play to role play.

  7. Dana says:

    So far it looks like reskinned EU3.

    • luukdeman111 says:

      That’s like looking at screenshots of current dwarf fortress and saying how nothing has changed since its initial release…..

      Games like EU (and DF) change in the way they play… You won’t notice much difference if you just look at it from a distance

  8. TWChristine says:

    Question Time: I see a lot of fans of the series here, so I’m curious.. what exactly is different between this and CKII? I’m thinking of getting the latter in the Steam sale, but if this turns out to be just an updated version of the same thing I figure I could also wait.. I noticed Mineshaft wanted to be able to import saves, which makes me wonder if either A. It’s essentially the same game, or B. CKII takes place before the events in this game and would be similar to importing saves from say, MedievalTW to Empire.

    Edit: Thanks for all the replies! :)

    • King in Winter says:

      Rouhghly put, CKII is a dynasty simulator, EU-series is a country simulator. In gameplay, the first difference one notices is the size of the map, as EU covers the whole world. Individuals are abstracted away in EU and your (current) head of state is little more than a name and stat line, a subset of an entity known as the country you are playing. Whereas diplomacy is people relations in CKII (as is most everything), opinion is a country stat in EU. The differences can be subtle but with all of them put together the experience becomes quite different. Further, EU3 has long been seen as the “entry-level” game to grand strategy, the most accessible of Paradox games.

      There has never been official save import between games to my knowledge, these mods stem from people’s desire to play their country through the entire length of history Paradox games cover, say starting in EU3 and finishing with HoI3

      • Fiyenyaa says:

        Actually, I do believe there was a save importer built in to the game in CK1 (to EU2), EU2 (to Vicky 1), and Vicky 1 (to HoI 2). I think they always said something to the effect of “use at your own risk, this could create completely broken scenarios”, but I certainly remember using them years ago.

    • Winterborn says:

      The list of what is different would be too long for me to comment on here, but they’re rather different games built on the same engine. The short answer is Crusader Kings is a game of the middle ages while Europa Universals models the 1400s through to the Napoleonic period after which Victoria deals with the Victorian age(rather obviously). The last of the main Paradox franchises is Hearts of Iron dealing with the build up to and execution of World War II. All these games use different systems to reflect the very different times they take place in.

      You should get CKII or try the demo, it’s brilliant.

    • bstard says:

      From a players point of view EU3 is bare compared to CK2: in EU I’m too often just waiting for the tick, where in CK2 there often too much to manage. Secondly CK2 has more human touch, since you play a dude(ette) ruling some land, and you have to survive the backstabbing bastards around you ;)

      • thebigJ_A says:

        Depends on the country you play, but more often than not I’ve not had experiences that match this statement, at all (except the human touch bit, that’s accurate). EUIII is *more* complex, and deeper, than CK2.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      They are nothing alike, except that they’re both played on big maps.

      They’re both among the best games I’ve ever played, though.

  9. AimHere says:

    Heh, over at Strategy Informer, the guy playing as Austria happily mentions that all those Lollard rebels were being funded by himself, for “shits and giggles”. Seems Venice was being toyed with for the amusement of the big boys next door!