Enter the age of exploration in our review of Europa Universalis IV

Trade, Warfare, Colonisation and Diplomacy are your aims in a game of Europa Universalis IV; a beloved long running series of grand strategy that puts you in charge of the decisions of a nation rather than a small group of troops in battle, doesn't sound too different from what you'll be playing in a Total War title? Well This is no ordinary strategy, it's a sandbox experience ready to rip apart history as you know it! A game of Europa Universalis IV does not take place over a couple of decades, but hundreds of years, allowing you to nurture your nation to a level that'll rise you up the ranks and into the history books.

How's it work? Well Europa Universalis IV allows you to pick any nation 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, as you progress through the years alternative paths will open up, which is where the true fun of Europa Universalis surfaces, if you're skilled enough you can conquer the world with the fan favourite Ulm or perhaps relive the grand British empire and conquer the whole world!

In Europa Universalis IV the possibilities are endless, and with so many nations to chose from you may find yourself spoilt for choice, it's the sort of decision that throws me in limbo for hours, you may come to the game with a clear goal of the exact nation you wish to take on, well good for you! Thankfully for helpless fools like me the folks at Paradox Development Studio know our pain, and possibly one of the smallest, but most effective options in the game is the 'pick a random nation' button, perfect if you want a little spontaneity in your life, and may find you the perfect nation that'll set you up for hours upon hours of gameplay, just like my most recent encounter with the nation of Castile!

If you're familiar with Paradox Development Studios' hit Crusader Kings II, then you may find some similarities in Europa Universalis IV which really helps propel you up the learning curve of the game, which the game will suffer from if you are new to the sub-genre. At the helm of your empire you'll recruit manpower from your provinces, manage diplomatic matters and reclaim land that you rightfully own, much like Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV is a sandbox strategy so you can do whatever you want with your nation, and there's no wrong way to play, the experimentation aspect is possibly one of the best features of the grand strategy sub genre!

The game runs on three main resources; Diplomatic power, Administrative power and Military power, these are governed by the advisors sat on your council among other factors and are used for constructing buildings, swaying dynamic events and more importantly investing in technology. A great focus in Europa Universalis IV is on technology, as it's difficult for a nation to succeed through 400 years of discovery without investing in a few new skills, these are spread across the three powers Diplomacy, Administration and Military, these follow fairly bog standard patterns until you open up a wealth of choice later on in the life of your realm, these choices will allow you to take your empire in particular directions, allowing you to sample pretty much anything you want despite what history dictates of your nation, however much like the fantastically risky new 'Ironman' save mode, once you've made your decisions in Europa Universalis IV there is no going back, making for an unbelievable need of strategy before you so much as agree to an alliance with that nation that nobody else likes!

If you're unfamiliar with grand strategy they aren't turn-based, and nor are they your typical RTS, so you won't be commanding your troops on the field of battle; instead your regiments are counted in the thousands and are represented by a single man on the province that they are currently in, when active they can march to battle or to siege a rival province, this may take a matter of days or months depending on how far they are from their target. Like your standard turn based strategy simply waltzing into a fight will infrequently benefit you, more often than not you'll want to wait for your enemy to come to you, because having to cross a river to get to your troops in the mountains, they'll stand no chance on the dice rolls that dictate how a battle fairs. It's not all quite so simple though, you will need to keep your troops happy too, if you don't your losses will be great, which in turn may well damage your stability, everything in EUIV is linked like an intricate machine, forget to maintain it and it'll stop performing.

Unlike the grand Crusader Kings II, warfare is something that you can't really shy away from in Europa Universalis IV, in fact as one of the pillars of the game it makes up a very large portion, unfortunately global domination plays hand-in-hand with bloodshed, and you'll never manage to swoon a province from your enemies or indeed your friends. For those unfamiliar with the playstyle the particularly hands-off approach of warfare may alienate those used to the rough and tumble of your standard RTS, Grand Strategy's are real thinkers, you cannot expect to act on impulse in EUIV and rule over all, simply heading into war without a moment's thought will leave your armies crushed, your empire bankrupt, and no one is going to want to talk to you.

Grand Strategy games are particularly prolific for their complexity, and it's quite a climb to fully understand every aspect of Europa Universalis IV, there are interactive tutorials to goad you into the game, but with all the information thrown at you, there's bound to be a few aspects simply lost on you, herein comes an ingenious hint system, that many would agree that would benefit Crusader Kings to no avail, enable hint mode and you can request what particular buttons, resources and practically anything does! Unfortunately whilst the game's interface has been greatly simplified, you may have some trouble getting into it, it really depends from person to person.

The game may look a little daunting, however upon closer inspection compared to similar sandbox strategies the game actually benefits from somewhat of a structure; you'll never find yourself with nothing to do thanks to missions and historical events, these give you short term goals to work towards that will better your empire, from something as straight forward as building up an army, recuperating your manpower after a nasty recruitment phase for war, or converting religions in your empire to your own. It's from these short term missions that you start to form long term goals in your mind, alliances are made and Cassius Belli's are gained, and before you know it you know exactly where you want, and how you will take it.

I can't help but name drop the fabulous Crusader Kings II enough, however if like me you loved the game to pieces and sacrificed many an hour to your dynasty, then you may be interested in the Crusader Kings II: Save Converter, the save converter allows you to continue your prestigious reign into Europa Universalis IV! All you have to do is load up your save in Crusader Kings II, chose to export it from the pause menu, and then load the exported save as though it were a mod in EUIV, be warned though, it does count fully as a mod, so you won't be able to unlock achievements.

It's difficult to describe the allure of a game like Europa Universalis IV, there are no explosions, you won't be smashing in heads, it's not inherently charming and there is no intricately woven story, instead what you have is a screen that contains a map of the world, and a lot of stats, figures and numbers, it doesn't sound very exciting. But as soon as you've picked your very first nation, made decisions towards the future of your state and watch as others react to the choices you make, it just clicks, and you realise that a whole world is simulated in front of your eyes, and this is just the single player!

With no two games the same, and hundreds of nations to choose from this is sandbox gaming at its greatest, if you've got the patience to learn the systems, you will wonder why you have been wasting your time with your bog-standard strategy games, Europa Universalis IV is going to sucker you in, and before you know it your life has just passed you by.

four and a half stars

Europa Universalis IV is available now from all good digital distribution sites for the SRP of £34.99, you can also purchase the Crusader Kings II: Save Converter for £7.99 if you wish to continue the reign of your dynasty in the alternative history you have come to know and love, unless you were one of these clever-clogs who pre-ordered the game before its release.

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