13 December 2015

#2LR Too Late Reviews -- Europa Universalis IV (EU 4)

Weirdly enough, strictly speaking this is not one of my too-late reviews... the thoughts that I have below are directly related to changes that Europa Universalis IV has undergone since I've purchased the game in March of 2015.  I bought EU4 during one of the discounted Steam sales.  I had heard that it was more complex and interesting than Civilization V, which is definitely one of my favorite strategy games of all time.  The reviews weren't kidding, EU4 was complex and it has a learning curve associated with it.  This learning curve was not helped by the fact that I had an extremely hard time finding any sort of instructions for the game... I played it for about two months until I realized that I could do diplomatic annexations of vassals, for instance.

I was finally getting the hang of the game though, until I ran into the dreaded update cycle.  The developers pushed out an update to the gameplay of EU4 (titled "Common Sense").  When I read about the update it seemed like it would bring a lot of interesting things to the game.  But when I opened the game and started to play it, I was even more confused over what was happening in the game, going to the forums to try to figure out how things were happening, even going to Youtube.  And that's when I found out that unless you paid for the "full" DLC upgrade rather than just getting the pushed-out half-updates, you wouldn't get all of the interesting benefits.  And as far as I can tell, waiting out any of the DLC is not worth it... the developers will still charge for the previous DLC even though they've pushed out a new DLC, so there's no benefit to try to hang on through the game's updates when you don't have much money to spend.

I have played EU4 for a bit over 100 hours, while I have played Civ 5 for somewhere close to 1500 hours.  And there are two reasons that I can play Civ 5 for far more time and have started far more Civ 5 games.  The first is that while the Civ 5 folks have put out paid DLC upgrades to the game, they don't alter the gameplay for the people who don't want to pay for the DLC upgrades.  And the second is that I feel that Civ 5 has a lot of replayability compared to EU4, in that Civ 5 has multiple different ways to "win" the game, where you have to manipulate all of EU4's different strategies in service to basically one goal, expansion... for instance, I have won games in Civ 5 with only one city, but I do not believe that it's possible in any way to "win" a game of EU4 with only one province, or to build a military purely to dissuade others from attacking.

The last note might be related to only having played EU4 for a bit over 100 hours and only against the computer on "normal" difficulty.  However, I would have thought that by this time I would have understood the mechanics of the game much better.  I continue to end up with bad beats rolling dice on military expeditions.  There are more than a few times that I have declared war as a stronger country against a weaker country only to find out in the next forty-five minutes that I can't win... and when I restart the game and try to use the knowledge I just gained from the previous forty-five minutes, I'll get defeated in a new and less creative way.  I can tell stories of armies skirting my main force, of getting beat to a province by a day but getting the complete and full crossing penalties in the subsequent fight, of defeating a lesser force to only 5% of their morale only to have a far larger force join in the nick of time to completely upend the battle, of having better generals and equal forces yet losing anyway, and having my allies never consolidate their forces with mine against my foes when my foes consolidated all their forces the whole time.

TL;DR: I had thought that I was right in the wheelhouse of this game's target audience.  I love history, I love geography, and I enjoy the alternate histories that EU4 can spawn.  However, between an inability to learn the game over 100 hours, not being able to pay for each DLC that comes out, and the fact that the game is somewhat broken without the DLCs, it's not worth playing unless you have a LOT of time and the money to keep up with the updates.

This review has been cross-posted to some Steam board or another as a review.

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