A delightfully accurate history sim/RTS, Europa Universalis offers depth but also adds the usual learning curve associated with this.
When people think of world domination strategy titles, their answer says a lot about who they are. If they say Risk, you can guess they’re old and not particularly tech savvy. If they say Civilization, then they’re probably a tad younger and into PC gaming. If someone answers with Europa Universalis, you should stop what you’re doing and shake their hand. Europa Universalis IV is the big boys RTS, but it’s an exercise in tactical depth and design frustration in equal measure.
Europa Universalis IV is an 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 you can make) and set to work. You can go for military domination, ally with your nearest and dearest geographical allies, or simply rake in the profit from high taxes and lucrative trade routes.
"Europa Universalis IV had a tutorial that was more like a slap in the face: Painful, flat and leaving a lot of questions unanswered. "
The victory conditions are much less defined than the Civ series, but your goals have an agile quality that is often satisfying. You can select missions from a list that reflect your nation’s prerogatives, and you’re free to ignore or reap the benefits from these missions as you please. There’s plenty of depth with a system like this in place, but learning the ropes was a slow burn.
As with all strategy games, you start with a tutorial. Unlike the gentle and soothing experience of learning Civ 4 and 5, Europa Universalis IV had a tutorial that was more like a slap in the face: Painful, flat and leaving a lot of questions unanswered. After an hour of partially informative text, I was ready to throw the towel in and slap a sub-par score on Europa Universalis IV.
Not satisfied to banish Europa Universalis IV unfairly, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and launched a real game. I picked Spain, hoping to take advantage of their size and military abundance and, being a good history student, launched a two pronged attack of allying with Portugal and invading Granada. While annexing my Granadan neighbours though, Aragon invaded me and wiped out my weakened armies. Why? Because Aragon really hated Spain in 1478. It was unfair, swift but delightfully accurate. I had to hand it to Europa Universalis IV, I died through my own bull-headedness. Nothing more.
"The depth, strategy and tactical variety on offer is unparalleled, but Europa Universalis is a game that is often enjoyable in spite of itself. "
My second game was far more interesting. Spain again, I rushed the Aragonese threat, forged a political allegiance with Muscovy and managed to marry into the British royal family. My knowledge of 16th century European history isn’t exhaustive, but I know enough to realise that things didn’t happen that way.
Europa Universalis IV is happy to accommodate these what-if scenarios whilst maintaining a pleasant level of historical realism. The English still didn’t trust my rule, resulting in riots and civil unrest. Throw in the in-fighting I was forced into as Muscovy’s ally and you have a hell of a game to endure. I lost, of course, but it’s the most fun I’ve had being invaded in quite some time.
The depth, strategy and tactical variety on offer is unparalleled, but Europa Universalis is a game that is often enjoyable in spite of itself. Even after learning the game through trial and error, the interface never felt particular intuitive. Clunky menus hoard screen real estate, and the reams of text display in a small font that is tough to read on any resolution setting. It isn’t so bad when you learn where everything is, but those first few games are arduous exercises in squinting your eyes.
"Europa Universalis is like the model train set of strategy gaming. It doesn't look especially fun to an outsider, but those who are in on it will find that the attention to detail is an impossibly pleasing call to action."
Add in some mechanics that are far more obscure than they need to be (mostly the trading systems), and you have a game that often feels a little bit too much like hard work. It is infinitely rewarding when your work pays off, but those looking for quick bursts of fun won’t find it here.
When it comes to crowd-pleasing, Europa Universalis 4 doesn’t make much of an effort at all. Repetitive music and sound effects become irritating after a short while, and visuals remain fairly flat. It’s in the graphics that Europa Universalis’ board game roots come to the fore. The visuals represent a glorified game board and, as kinetic as they try to be, animations and visual details are unimpressive at best.
Europa Universalis is like the model train set of strategy gaming. It doesn’t look especially fun to an outsider, but those who are in on it will find that the attention to detail is an impossibly pleasing call to action. History and strategy unite in Europa Universalis IV in a way that few games are able to master. It certainly has problems with accessibility and presentation, but the deep gameplay, great lifespan and historical accuracy will be enough to justify the price of entry for any history boffs or strategy aficionados.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Amazing depth, Great use of history, Loads of nations, Massive lifespan, Satisfying to master
Dull tutorial, Cluttered interface, Frustrating learning curve, Flat presentation
An RTS for grown ups, Europa Universalis is brutal, difficult and annoying to learn, but its historical bent and rich strategy make it a glorious experience