Europa Universalis IV Preview

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France taking over? Pfft, yeah right! Not happening in my game…

In the midst of Paradox Interactive‘s Pan-Asia tour we were given the opportunity to meet with Henrik Fåhraeus – project lead at Paradox Development Studio – and be given a hands-off demonstration of the grand-strategy game sequel Europa Universalis IV, set for release at $39.99 on August 14th via Steam, for PC, Mac and Linux.

Henrik gave us a good run-down of the major features of the real-time title, and what makes it different to other strategy games out there on the market, like Civilisation. Of course, if you are familiar with the series, then much of this will be established knowledge for you. So you can basically start a playthrough on any date between 1444 and 1821 – a time where nations arose, as opposed to the focus on families and bloodlines in their last game Crusader Kings II. The purpose, like in most world strategy games, is to expand and conquer.

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Being an RTS, elements are always in motion, however you can pause the game to take a brief moment and assess your standing. The play-speed can also be altered on the fly, although you may want to take a slower approach in multiplayer games – which can include up to 32 players, who can join into an on-going game using the new hot-join functionality. There is a seasonal weather system in place that is not solely aesthetic, but affects combat as well. When provinces are besieged, they can be occupied but are not automatically owned by that attacking nation. From that point, negotiations must be entered with the invaders and invaded for the fate of that piece of land.

Europa-Universalis-IV-Coverart-01With this latest instalment in the series, skills can be attained and attributed to your country like in an RPG game. To achieve this, you must first learn the related ‘ideas’, such as exploratory concepts for example, enabling you to hire an explorer, assign them to a fleet and send them out to sea to explore the globe. Ideas are unlocked through the use of Monarch Points, which are broken up into three types: Administrative, Diplomatic and Military. The amount of these points that you gain on a monthly basis corresponds to your ruler and state of the nation.

Monarch points can also be used to change cultures and religions in an area. And you don’t have to imagine the consequences and conflict it can cause. Talk turned to the real-life implications of representations of religion and culture in Paradox’s games, to which Henrik could attest that there had definitely been issues with one nation in particular: China. In one case, although everything included was accurate to the time, politically, China took issue with Tibet being an independent country in Europa Universalis II.

Unfortunately, these things are to be expected…some Balkan nations (being half-Croatian, I can guess who) also took umbrage with certain details and there have been general complaints about just where borders should be drawn on the map. But a lot of research goes into these titles, the results of which are especially impressive considering no one on the current team has a degree in history or anything of the sort. Although, for the couple formative years of the series back in 2000-2001, a formally educated Historian was brought on board.

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Going back to Monarchs, just like in real-life, they are not immortal (go figure) and must be replaced at one point or another. If you have a legal heir, then they will take over with some hopefully better statistics. If there is no legal heir to speak of, the dynasty will change and this process may initially breed internal turmoil. Henrik showed us a sneaky method of…”influencing” a terrible Monarch’s fate by putting him on the front-line and effectively leading him to the slaughter, so that he may be succeeded by a worthier ruler in a time of need.

Technology and its development is a big element in the game, with its most obvious effect being an upgrade to your unit types that is visually communicated. Exploration even more-so…the entire world is discoverable, although the uncharted zones will be greyed out until you set foot on them. The main form of income in the game is taxation, but you can also take advantage of trade routes for an alternate source of income – a feature which the team were never totally satisfied with in Europa Universalis III, but feel is most improved now. Generally, most trade routes will flow through China, although you can assign merchants and redirect trade along the path that suits you the most. Certain nations are very rich, and so there is a great strategic factor in choosing where to trade through.

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We briefly spoke about the challenge of making sure not to overwhelm the player, as there are many facets at play here – many of which are hidden away for that very purpose. Constant work is going into ensuring the interface is practical and allows for both beginners and expert players to get the most out of the experience. That being said, a tutorial has been integrated into the game – an aspect which Henrik admits the team has maybe overlooked before. Steam’s multiplayer matchmaking capabilities are being utilised as the game is being released solely on the platform.

Finally, we touched base on how the series can continue to evolve outside of visual quality, which is treading a fine line because the established features that are appreciated cannot be altered too heavily, but new features must be added to stay fresh (a Scenario Mode as I brought up is seemingly out of consideration as previous trials showed that people didn’t really play them much at all). Mostly, it’s just about looking at what isn’t working as well as could be and perfecting it for the next iteration. Henrik has no doubt that their success, in part thanks to the fans’ contributions through community interaction, can carry through for multiple titles to come.

For Europa Universalis fans, this entrant is looking to be the best yet, bar none. You can try out the Europa Universalis IV demo and make your pre-order right now. Also, check out our first look at War of the Vikings. And if you were lucky enough to have attended ‘the Platypus Homecoming Event’ on August 7th, let us know about the experience in the comments section below!

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I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment (w/ major in Games Design) course at Qantm College, Sydney.

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