Review – Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise
When we play video games, we typically have varied reasons as to why we enjoy them. For some, it’s a nice way to relieve some stress from a long, busy day. Others use video games as a creative outlet to push the limits of their imaginations to areas they never dreamed possibly. For me personally, it’s about exploring worlds that are otherwise unexplored. Many games transport you to far away lands, worlds that don’t exist except only in the minds of those creating them. Some use games as a way to present an altered timeline of our own human experience. Certain developers, however, use this outlet to showcase some of the grandest, most heroic and romantic periods in our history. Swedish game developer Paradox Interactive is one of those developers.
Over the course of the past 10 or so years, Paradox has built a reputation of creating some of the most complex, yet historically accurate games in the world. Each game has been carefully crafted to give the player a sense of real historical events, yet offer the flexibility to change the course of human history for their own. EU4 has done this best out of any game in the series thus far, but while the game really pushed you to explore and venture out in the world, it really didn’t give you a real thrill of exploration. Sure, if you stumble across an area that hasn’t been colonized yet, you might get excited. Unfortunately, and this really wasn’t a bad thing, the map is predictable since we have the advantage of knowing where everything in the new world is located.
My biggest complaint last year when I initially reviewed EU4 was that it focused too heavily on the European continent, which to me made sense given the name, but made no sense because you can literally play as any country of the time period. Conquest of Paradise shows Paradox’s willingness to branch out and focus on another area in the world: The New World…or the New World of 1444. The biggest new feature is no doubt the randomization of the Americas, and this feature is what makes getting this expansion oh so worth the money.
While we have taken on a new format for reviews, it’s hard to judge an expansion on a game that would ultimately have no major graphical upgrades. Since the game looked amazing for its genre, I will just compare the gameplay elements that truly make Conquest of Paradise an Empire Builder’s dream.
A Whole New World (Without the Magic Carpet)
As I started to venture into open waters with my Castillian fleet, my goal was very clear: find the New World. I had an idea as to where it might lay, but there was no assurance I was right. Since my game was randomized, I could hit an island, the coast of a larger continent, or just simply tread water till attrition took my ships to their water graves. Portugal seemed content to just slaughter our enemies in North Africa, and while I was technically part of the war, I was not an active participant. My first colony was Cape Verde off the coast of Africa. I established a colony there in the hopes that it would give me a close enough port to where ever the New World lay. As I would need this closer port to establish a close enough colonial range, I poured my navy into making sure the waters around my newfound island cluster were pirate free.
Around 1460 the colony was self sufficient, so I took my navy and began sailing a few ships westward. At this point, Portugal and Morocco were finishing up their war with Portugal taking a few provinces. As aggressive as they were becoming, I started to prepare for France or Aragon to retaliate and curb in the Portuguese expansion by placing some troops along my north and east borders of Castille.
I found the best way to go about exploring the unknown sea was to send my small fleet into Terra Incognita and once explored bring them to a safe port to repair and set sail again. Rinse and repeat. My exploration was put on hold as Portugal did get involved in a war with France, but this was due to their alliance with England. Thankfully this made it so I didn’t have to get involved myself, but I thought it best to keep an eye on my European holdings until that war was resolved.
Three years later, France occupied most of Portugal’s home provinces. I was starting to think that I would have new neighbors when a peace agreement was made. France would withdraw, but Portugal had to pay a ton of money and annul her alliance with England and myself. I thought nothing really of that, as my relationship with the country had always been great. So my great exploration began anew. As I sailed west I started to notice something weird: the game was not allowing my ship to go to the next tile. Could this be land? I brought my ships to the Canarias as my group of Cogs and Conquistadors were awaiting this very moment. Excitement took hold of me five minutes later when my conquistadors landed in Pernambuco. It was exhilarating! I quickly began to try and explore the outline of the coast I had just discovered.
Since the game map was randomized, I truly felt as though I discovered the New World. I was freaking out! I had also discovered it over twenty years before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the Caribbean. The rush of excitement was overwhelming. I needed to find out more about this land I discovered. Was it just an island, or a part of a greater landmass? It was here that the stunning realization hit me. This was exactly what the developers were hoping for – this feeling, this true feeling of exploration. I knew right then and there that no game would match this feeling afterwards. Paradox had done something special.
The main focus in Conquest of Paradise is obviously the New World. In my previous review, I stated that while you could play any nation, not every nation was viably balanced. I honestly felt that was a good thing for the game, though I said that because of this the rest of the world outside of Europe lacked some polish. This expansion aims to focus and hone in on making the New World a viable playing option. With the overhauls to the way North American Native states operate and interact, playing the Creek or Iroquois became more enticing, though the changes don’t allow the larger native states to dominate the lesser ones. Federations, which could be seen as a coalition against another state, can be formed and are actually run a lot like a Republic would be in Europe. The Leader of the federation starts out as the one who forms the alliance, but afterwards is chosen by the amount of prestige and your diplomatic reputation. Fall too far out of favor of the federation leader and you could find yourself being kicked out.
Another addition is the Native Advancement tree. Personally, I love this as it no longer makes playing the Cherokee or Shawnee slow as molasses. North American natives now have their own buildings and technologies they can research, giving you something to achieve before you ultimately take the plunge and “Westernize.” Native Advancements are 15 techs in trees of three that cost 500 points each in Administrative, Diplomatic and Military power. So this means there are 5 Administrative techs, and so on. Once you finish researching all of these techs you can start the process of “modernizing.” Note that this is different than “westernizing,” but thanks to your efforts and diligence in advancing your state you could potentially end up as the most powerful North American Native state in the New World.
Also changed are how colonies are run. Instead of being purely provinces that operate the same as if they were on European soil, you can now form Colonial Nations. These operate semi-independently, a lot like a vassal might. You appoint a Governor that best suites your ideas around how the Colony benefits your Empire, and basically keep them happy. Too high a tax rate and they may seek Independence. This fact is an area you can exploit though in your rivals. If you have a design for war against an enemy, support their Colonial Nation’s bid for Independence. Even if the Colonial Nation loses, you will have tied up the enemy army up in a war while all the while bolstering your own forces.
Europa Universalis IV was already my second favorite game of 2013. Paradox really opened up the world and simplified it’s engine to allow non Clausewitz-sevants to latch onto the complexities of world domination. Had Conquest of Paradise released in 2013, EU4 would’ve been my Game of the Year 2013. This expansion delivers on everything Paradox promised. The feeling of euphoria when I finally discovered land was something I had never experienced in a video game before, let alone a Grand strategy game. As stated before, this review will not follow our normal QGN-Review Score terms, and instead I will just be giving a score out of 10 for this game.
I think we all know what that score will be.
Final Score – 10/10