Conquer the globe or sit happy and rule an empire in our preview of Europa Universalis IV

It's hard to believe that a year and a half ago I was experiencing a brand new world of gaming in the grand strategy with Crusader Kings II, well I may no longer rule my dynasty for I have found a new love with Trade, Warfare, Colonisation and Diplomacy in Paradox Development Studio's upcoming Europa Universalis IV.

Europa Universalis IV is part of a long running series of grand strategy, similar to the board game Risk, instead of focusing inside of battles managing your troops, the game becomes more about the military strategy of a whole empire, where you'll be dealing with the economics and politics of your land.

Upon first glance, Europa Universalis has a very similar setup to Crusader Kings, however the two games couldn't be anymore different, your empire is a faceless kingdom ruled by yourself, and rather than dealing with family matters, you are tramping rebellion in your provinces, or constructing buildings to help advance your empire. That said there are four different ways to play the game; through trade, warfare, colonisation and diplomacy, but of course this is a sandbox strategy so you can play the game however you see fit.

Europa Universalis IV allows you to play as any viable state between 1444 all the way up to the 1800's, like with most grand strategy titles it sticks to general history, but you'll find that the earlier you begin your game, and as you progress through the years alternative paths occur, perhaps England won the Hundred Years War, or different empires reached the new world first and set up their colonies.

Rather than pick the large big-boy states such as England, France or Germany we decided upon the closer-knit region of Burgundy, the state owned a fair amount of provinces across France and Belgium, but beginning in 1444 also created the possibilities of expansion with provinces like Aachen, Liege and Namur who are trapped amongst Burgundy's core-provinces.

The possibilities are endless as to where to start with your empire, however there are missions on hand, similar to life ambitions, which give you a little nudge in the right direction for bettering your realm, with practically no army to speak of bringing my forces up to 75% capacity was a no-brainer, especially considering how tasty some of Burgundy’s provinces are, such as the great trading capital of Antwerpen. Missions aren't simply about making your forces bigger however, and we strove to improve diplomatic relations with Lorraine, strengthen the Burgundian culture in some of our provinces, and helped to free our people in Barrois. All of the missions are entirely optional, and can be taken in whichever order you like, or simply not at all, but they lay a great foundation for really getting into the flow of the game.

Of course the great Burgundy didn't have to deal with such trivial matters as diplomacy and culture, it's just the way I was playing. Aachen would look far greater under Burgundian rule, the same goes for Utrecht who were looking far too smug with themselves whilst their peace treaty with Burgundy remained intact. But it's important to remember that the great lesson to be learnt from all grand strategies is that war is costly and can get pretty daunting when allies are called in. So, after allying with Cologne, who often calls Burgundy up to war against their antagonists Trier, Ansbach and Liege, you’d like to think they’ll repay the favour.

Whilst daunting, warfare itself isn't as involved as some standard strategy fans may be used to, you won’t be commanding your armies down to the last man, and instead regiments are controlled in the thousands, and battles are down to a number of ruling factors similar to a turn based strategy, defenders may get bonuses on certain land types, and morale is a big boost on the effectiveness of your troops, which can be enhanced with the presence of a military leader, otherwise everything is literally down to the dice.

I must admit, attempting Europa Universalis in the past I was scared by the numerous windows, that beget more windows, however Paradox Development Studio have most certainly improved the user-friendliness of the game, upgrading your technologies is achieved through a very simple system ruled by the three main powers; Diplomacy, Administrative and Military, these are represented by a figure that will increase or decrease depending on modifiers that can be altered with a well-trained Envoy, or in successfully completing missions. When you reach the desired figure required, you can choose to upgrade your technologies to the next level, or you could risk bringing in new Ideas to your empire to help you advance in the ways of the world.

You won't simply be sat idle occasionally making the odd decision on which technology to invest in, or whom to improve relations with next, and throughout the years you'll come across special events that may be beneficial or detrimental to the stability, or legitimacy of your empire. Because ruling over a province will not always work in your favour, and the choice to hand out titles or your opinions on a particular individual may sway your support from your peasants, and they are pretty easily swayed. Especially when you consider how some special events can be completely random, and when yokels spy a comet and immediately mark it as a bad omen, you aren't exactly going to convince them otherwise. Stability is a big factor in Europa Universalis IV, but if you're a pro at keeping your dynasty and family in-check, you shouldn't have too much trouble with a whole empire, right?

If you thought Crusader Kings was dauntingly expansive, Europa Universalis is a completely other experience, there's literally a whole globe at your fingertips to explore, colonise and trade with, if you thought that the possibilities in Crusader Kings II were endless, well the world is your oyster in Europa Universalis IV, and I can't even begin to imagine how many hours of my life it will eagerly take away.

Europa Universalis IV is scheduled for a release August 13th 2013 for Windows PC, Mac and Linux, and you can pre-order it now from here and receive DLC such as the Purple Phoenix pack and more to be revealed soon.