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Europa Universalis IV requires an empire-building state of mind

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 14, 2013
It's 1467. Christopher Columbus, son of a Genoan weaver, is barely 16 years old. He's nobody.

You spend a lot of time looking at beautiful maps in this game. On the trade map, arrows represent trade routes. In motion, it's a work of art.

With that in mind, let me tell you what my "grand strategy" has traditionally consisted of when approaching a new Paradox title: launch the game, marvel over the epic menu music, load the tutorial, complete the tutorial, feel like I've got a pretty good handle on the game, start a real campaign, play twenty minutes, realize I understand nothing at all, watch as my empire crumbles to dust, exit the game, and load up YouTube videos with titles like "Learn to Play Europa Universalis!" or "Europa Universalis for noobs!"

I go through this cycle every time. I did it with Europa Universalis III, with the Hearts of Iron games, and even with Crusader Kings II.

When I started playing EUIV for review, I forgot there wouldn't be any helpful tutorials out there for me to fall back on. No beginner's guides. No arcane forums to pore over. By and large, I was on my own.

There were mishaps. One game I decided to play as the Golden Horde because it sounded like a suitably bloodthirsty experience, only to find out the Renaissance was far past the Golden Horde's prime. Within minutes of starting the game I found my entire country partitioned up by four other tribes. Oops.

But Paradox, perhaps spurred on by feedback from 2012's Crusader Kings II, has made EUIV a much more user-friendly experience than previous games. That, or I've just gotten better at playing grand strategy games. Maybe both.

The tutorial is still a bit lackluster. It gives players the absolute basics: how to move, how to navigate some of the menus (trade, technology, etc.) and how to wage a humble war in Spain. Forget jumping into the deep end--leaping from tutorial to core EUIV experience is like leaping out of a burning helicopter directly over the Mariana Trench.

For the first time, however, Paradox throws you a pair of swim floaties after you've plunged into the main game. Directly above the minimap there's a new hint system; activate it, click on whatever you're confused by, and the game will supply you with information about the most applicable system.

The hints system (lower right) should help newcomers surmount the grand strategy hump.

I never thought I'd be so happy to tout glorified tooltips as a feature, but it's a welcome addition for those times when you just need a quick refresher on some of the game's many systems. Once you've pulled up information on what topic, EUIV will also prompt you with related topics. Confused by Trade Nodes? Why not learn about Trade Goods, Trade, and Trade Value while you're at it.


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