The End Of Days: Europa Universalis IV Diary Part One

By Adam Smith on May 31st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

A few weeks ago, Paradox invited a group of journalists to Stockholm in order to see how much violence we could do to one another in a massive two-day multiplayer session of Europa Universalis IV. I packed my bags, steeled my nerves and prepared to present Rock, Paper, Shotgun the only way I know how – with fruitless acts of violence and a burning desire to reduce France to ashes. Inevitably, it transpired that I would be playing as France but I wasn’t going to let that petty detail shake my resolve. Europe was about to meet its maker.

It was on the dawn of the second day that my horrific plot became fully-formed somewhere at the back of my sleep-deprived skull. Do skulls even need to sleep, I wondered, thinking of Mort, Boni and other skulls I have known in the long days of my life. Stockholm’s old town seemed as brittle as a city of glass as I walked through the streets toward the Royal Armoury, Sweden’s oldest museum and a suitably historic venue in which to play out the end of the alternate timeline we had created during several play sessions the previous day.

‘We’ were a collection of games journalists, summoned from distant lands to this place, just a few blocks from Paradox headquarters. Inside the armoury, which contains a fine and macabre collection of dead kings’ clothes, we were instructed to build and destroy nations in an enormous multiplayer event. Grand strategy games diverge from the true course of the past quite swiftly, particularly when there are twenty player-controlled entities in the game and those players have regular breaks in which to scheme together, cliques of heels murmuring over Viking beer and assorted meats afflicted with the Ikeacidic bite of lingonberry jam. Matters become more complicated still when several of the players are members of Paradox Development Studio. They are masters of the map.

Before the event, I had played for several hours alone and was pleased that, along with Crusader Kings II, I’d discovered a ‘next generation’ that I was actually interested in. That’s not to say there aren’t releases I’m looking forward to that might appear on the FourthStation and Xbone (that one will have games, right?), but this second in what will hopefully be a complete new batch of Paradox grand strategy games has the mark of a localised, PC-based generational shift. The key is in refining the core complexity that has always made the games so fascinating while attracting new players with robust code, more accessible interfaces and lovely maps to look at. EU IV should successfully bring across at least a portion of the new CK II audience, though perhaps not those who love the game purely for its family feuds, and will almost certainly please those who have been waiting for more EU since the Divine Wind blew two years ago.

The lives of feudal lords are simple, in retrospect, despite the possibility of being stabbed in the beard by your mum’s brother’s dad’s nephew, who is also your son. Don’t think about that for too long. But do think about the humans at the heart of CK II. They’re mostly gone by the time of EU, replaced by robot overlords following the final straw in social evolution that was the Hundred Years’ War. When a scrap goes on for that long, somebody is bound to take it upon themselves to build a legion of clockwork infantry and then, BOOM, it’s judgement day.

Admittedly, that last paragraph is mostly made up of half-truths, stonking great lies and fantasies about machine men, but it’s fair to say that relationships, family matters and individuals’ quirks and traits are much less important in EU. Advisors, generals and rulers have names and lifespans, but they’re really just a group of statistics, albeit statistics that can have a huge impact on the game. A terrible heir is still a problem to be solved quickly, lest a nation enters into a decade of discontent under his rule.

I had no such problems. Playing as France, a decision made for me, or more likely against me given my known preference for smaller nations, I had allied with England before the game even began. Destructoid’s Fraser Brown was the man in charge of England’s destiny. As a proud Scot, he was, like me, a victim of the event organisers’ malicious tinkering. We were out of our comfort zone and it seemed only natural to stir the pot yet more, so we put our neighbours on notice and diverted the tides of time before the first move had been made. England and France are natural enemies, each keeping the other in check, so brows, hackles and heckles were raised when the game began and a global notification told everybody in the hall that an alliance had been forged between the red and the blue.

The constant warring and bickering between the two mighty nations is natural – they have fingers in the same provincial pies when the game begins – but it’s also somewhat desirable to have the giants slogging it out. Their armies and navies require checks lest they become too powerful and they are ideally situated to chip away at one another, neither likely to become entirely dislodged. As allies, they form a formidable block between Iberia and central Europe.

The northern coast of France remained English and I quickly conquered all of the smaller independent regions within my borders, even swapping territories with what was rapidly becoming the United Kingdom. I was happy to give up the north coast as long as I controlled the west, which opened up naval trade routes in peaceful waters. In the early game, my goal was to consolidate my strength, unite France and avoid war so that I could focus on improving my economy and technology. With one eye on a future of violent conquest, I focused my national idea progression on diplomacy, which may seem a pacifist pursuit, but would actually allow me to secure more rewarding peace deals whenever conflict ceased.

While a large stack of armies is useful, cutting a path through enemy lands is only one part of any battle. To take lands, a ruler must have a reason for doing so (casus belli) – historical, cultural, personal, diplomatic, religious or forged – and must then pummel his opponent(s) into submission, wreaking enough carnage to force acquiescence to his/her demands. The AI is predictable, to a point, and the warscore is measured in numbers making it clear when the balance has tipped. Humans, contrary sods that they are, occasional require a tap on the shoulder and a lesson in the art of submission.

I’d feast on human prey later (Burgundy looked delicious). First, I devoured the small AI-led territories, ensuring that my marauding forces were occasionally visible at the borders, bristling with advanced weaponry and numbering in the tens of thousands. The show of power was expensive but keeping a large standing army seemed essential. I needed Aragorn to know that any expedition to the north would meet with fierce resistance and whatever was happening to the east, which judging by the shouts and recriminations was on the verge of becoming an unpredictable mess.

That was the immediate east, in what would one day be a big German blob. Farther still, violence had already broken out but that didn’t concern me. England concerned me. I didn’t intend to break the alliance but while I was stitching France together, the British were uniting under one king. They were screaming and dying as they did it, but Wales and Scotland were both stained red with more than blood. I was quickly becoming the weaker party.

The enormity of the world is immediately obvious when sharing a room with people battling in almost every region. Over lunch and dinner, I heard tales of conflict that I hadn’t even suspected. Africa and the Americas were still mostly untouched by human players as the day ended, but that wouldn’t last. As people took their different approaches to the problem of surviving and expanding, the possible approaches to success and experimentation became slightly bewildering. By the end of the first day there were great trading nations, warmongering emperors, a nascent British empire, and the beginnings of colonisation and subjugation.

In the middle of it all was France, no longer a royal blue block but a patchwork quilt. I screwed up. Too many months in the feudal era had made me dull to the realities of the more modern world and when my nation’s stability dropped, I created vassals, dishing out land in an effort to placate my people. Big mistake. To counter the stability hits from expansion, it’s necessary to expend diplomatic power to make regions into core assets and to convert the populace to your own culture. Vassalisation is no longer a band-aid.

As we gathered our belongings and our tales, and headed out of the Armoury en masse, I wasn’t much better off than I had been at the beginning of the day. Tomorrow, the second and final meeting, would involve repetition and regret. Or at least it might have done. Instead, I decided as I sat in the unexpectedly scorching Swedish sun that that if the game was going to end the next day, France might as well end along with it. And if France was going to end, the rest of the world was going to burn along with it.

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36 Comments »

  1. Captain Joyless says:

    I tried to play EU3 once (with all expansions) but it lacked the charm of CK2. Does the new engine help in that regard?

    • Sakkura says:

      It doesn’t lack the charm, it’s just a completely different type of game.

      Running in the exact same engine, but still…think of it as Half-Life and Counter-Strike, that sort of thing.

      • kazmakoze says:

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    • Astroman says:

      Yeah, it lacks characters. There’s always something or someone to look into in CK2 while EU3 has long chunks of fast forwarding. Or beer drinking if your playing multiplayer I guess.

  2. Wednesday says:

    Poland-Lithuania is called the commonwealth!

    Ace!

  3. pack.wolf says:

    Looking forward to the second part of the diary!

  4. jonahcutter says:

    Geez…. Jaunting off to Stockholm for a lan-party.

    You Euros get to have all the fun.

  5. Andy_Panthro says:

    I remember running into problems in EU3 when trying to play as one of the American nations (I think it was Cherokee). It seemed I couldn’t advance beyond a certain point without changing culture or something (it’s been a while I can’t quite remember), and to do so you need to have bordering territories with someone of that culture.

    Basically, I want to have the ability to start as a non-European nation and try my luck at forging an empire. I’m hoping EU4 will have less restrictions on this.

    • Lanfranc says:

      Yeah, to increase your tech group in EU3 (or “westernise”), you must have a border with a nation that belongs to a higher tech group. That makes it extremely hard (though not actually impossible) to get anywhere with the Native American countries, since they’re extremely limited in their development until the Europeans arrive… and then they have even greater problems, because the Europeans have arrived.

      For a somewhat easier and frankly also more interesting non-European game, a country in e.g. India or the Far East is a much better choice. For instance, I had a really excellent game with Rajputana once.

    • Canisa says:

      C > Program Files > Steam > Steamapps > Common > Europa Universalis III – Complete > History > Countries

      Find the .txt file matching the country you want to play as (e.g. “CHE – Cherokee.txt”), open it up, search for the line “technology group = new_world” (should be around lines 10-15) and replace ‘new_world’ with ‘western’. Congratulations! You are now massively more powerful than all of your neighbours and all set up to be an incredibly nasty surprise for whichever European nation has the misfortune of ‘discovering’ you first!

      • Andy_Panthro says:

        That’s a good fix, but perhaps a bit too much of a cheat! Especially given the amount of time it might take for the Europeans to discover the Americas.

        If this situation isn’t resolved for EU4, I might have to go for an Asian nation instead, as Lanfranc suggested.

        I might have to give CK2 a try first though (if I can find a space in my endless backlog of games)

  6. JB says:

    “I needed Aragorn to know”

    There’s a LotR mod already? ;)

    • Adam Smith says:

      I should fix that. I won’t.

    • Sakkura says:

      EU3 has a mission for Aragon, once it discovers a particular province in East Africa. It’s called “Become King of Gonder”.

      There’s also a mission called “Defeat Saruhan” (one of the Turkish principalities in Anatolia at the beginning of the game).

  7. nindustrial says:

    Yesss! So excited for this one; EU3 was my first intro to Paradox games (I’d had a couple brief, aborted attempts at HoI 3, but didn’t commit until EU3… and that was like getting thrown into the deep end and being told to swim. I basically used a xmas break with nothing to do at my parents’ to learn the game). I adore CK2, they really knocked it out of the park, but I’ve been salivating at the thought of a new EU once I saw what they did with CK2.

  8. Bobsy says:

    The number one concern for me as a CK2 player remains this: will I be able to import a CK2 final-year save to start off EU4? It would instantly mean a preorder from me if this were possible.

    • nindustrial says:

      I may be totally wrong here, but I think in the past (like CK1–>EU3) that kind of implementation has been fan-made, in which case I doubt that it would be built in from the get-go. That’d be great if it was though!

      • Havok9120 says:

        You are totally wrong there. :p

        Usually Paradox makes one, and when last I heard they were planning on doing so for this as well. I’m not sure if it’s coming with release or not, but it was in the works as of a few months ago.

        • Soulstrider says:

          Nope you are the one who is wrong, Paradox never once did a savegame converter, all of them have been fan made.

          However Johan did say they would like to release their first official one as dlc for EU4, but nothing has been officially promised since a converter is actually quite a commitment , it’s just what they would like.

          • Havok9120 says:

            I knew EU3′s were fan made, but I thought CK I was official. Oh well.

          • Haplo says:

            There was an official save game converter built into the CK1 engine, it was part of the main menu and everything.

          • Fiyenyaa says:

            By the time they released the Deus Vult expansion for CK1, and the Revolutions expansion for Vicky 1, they’d included a save game convertor in the menus (CK1 > EU2 and Vicky > HoI 2).
            It’s something I miss about the newer games, actually. I’d love an easily usable one of those things again.

  9. FhnuZoag says:

    Is this the same match as discussed in the most recent Three Moves Ahead, or a different one?

  10. Elmarby says:

    What drew me to CK2 was what eventually put me off.
    I enjoyed starting out as a duke well enough but once you start getting a decent sized kingdom together things spiral out of control and people that owe everything to you use that everything to undermine you and take you down. After the tenth annual rebellion, CK2 becomes a lot less fun.
    So if in EU4 there is more foreign war and less internal strife I think it would suit me much better.

  11. King in Winter says:

    It will be mine

  12. Bluerps says:

    I’m so excited for this!

    A couple of weeks ago I decided that I could not longer wait for EUIV – so I started a EUIII campaign. It was a good one too – did you know that the entirety of North America was settled by Scandinavia (a nation that emerged after Sweden had conquered Denmark and Norway)? They conquered or vassalized most of the british isles too – in fact, at the end so-called Great Britain controlled about half the kingdom of England, and nothing else on their island (I even took away its cores on Ireland, Scotland and Wales).

  13. Pheasant Plucker says:

    You might notice that there’s a subtle clue as to where the developers are based in the first screenshot. They must have maxed out the font machine doing that one!

    • Dozer says:

      You know the font sizes are dynamically set, right? :)

      A big region has a big title. As it shrinks the title automagically changes size to fit.