Blood on the Templo Mayor - Europa Universalis IV: El Dorado, a review by James Tanaleon

By James Tanaleon 16 Mar 2015 0

It's time to break out the ritual cutlery again since the bloodthirsty game developers at Paradox Interactive have released a whole new expansion for their critically acclaimed title Europa Universalis IV that's sure to steal a heart or two. “El Dorado,” as the DLC's name suggests, is an expansion that greatly bolsters the experience and detail of the indigenous nations of North and South America as well as increasing the level of interaction for colonial powers looking to plunder the silver and gold rich hills of the New World. Building upon their previous expansions that significantly changed the entire dynamic of colonialization in EUIV through their Colonial Nation mechanic, Paradox has now given the native counterparts something of a unique experience as well.

 

 

 

Added in this expansion is a greater spread of native religions as well as an entire battery of events specifically tailored for the various native tribes from the Huron to the Incas. When I heard about these changes, I have to admit that I was not initially interested in whatever they had added for the great Meso-American tribes or the burgeoning empires of South America. I have seen plenty of DLC in the past that would simply add on various cosmetic changes or tweak the events. However, what I came to realize was that the New World became even newer. Installed with the expansion is a new system known as “Doom.” This rightfully ominous mechanic represents the impending apocalyptic mindset of the peoples living among some of the great empires of Mexico and Central America. Ranging from 0 to 100, the “Doom” meter tracks the progress of this sentiment until, once it reaches 100, chaos and destruction afflict the nation; your ruler is beheaded in order to stave off the apocalypse and a 0/0/0 placeholder takes his place and you can kiss all of those monarch points goodbye. This is not a death sentence, but, let me tell you, it's something to be avoided at all costs. And this cost is usually tallied in blood. Human blood.

 

 

The infamous practice of human sacrifice to appease the gods of old makes its return in this DLC. I say “return” because this isn't the first time that Paradox has introduced this shocking spice to their gaming stable. Crusader Kings II, in the rather fantastical “Sunset Invasion” DLC also prominently featured the Aztecs in their completely fictional invasion of Europe. Far from a simple mechanic that one can quip about around the watercooler (“oh yes, I sacrificed my vassal's son to the gods today in order to avert the end of civilization”) these sacrifices have real implications and—some might argue—necessity. As the doom meter racks up, there are some events that keep it down. Fighting other nations around you and successfully showing that the gods favour you through victory also lowers the meter, but if a poor prince finds himself with too much doom and not enough victories to alleviate the tensions, his life or the life of his vassals may be asked in order to appease the deities. In the vassal screen while playing one of these nations, one can choose to sacrifice vassal monarchs or their heirs with a click of the dagger-iconed button. This action, however, needless to say, absolutely incenses the vassal as well as makes the rest of your vassals collectively recoil in horror. In other words, be prepared for rebellions. However, if it means averting the destruction of your own civilization, perhaps it's worth it?

 

 

One is not doomed to play with the Doom mechanic forever, however. There is a process of reforming the religious practices so that the general population no longer has imminent structural collapse on their minds. Certain changes to the state religion such as a relaxation of consumption laws or the institution of military ranking lead towards a path of abolishing the Doom mechanic for good. Various bonuses such as added discipline or acquiring a colonist are some of the various effects that one can acquire when doing each of these reforms. There is a cost, however. Doing any particular reform will tank one's stability and will trigger reactionary tendencies in one's vassals which will break away. Here's the catch: reforms can only be enacted when one has at least five vassals which means that each of the five reforms requires several wars of acquiring and re-acquiring neighbouring vassals. This new mechanic, therefore, creates an entirely new gameplay style. This is exactly the kind of unexpected scenario that makes this DLC a lot more than just mere fluff or event add-ons. It effectively creates an entirely new kind of game where instead of the usual expand and conquer mode of anywhere else in the world, the managing of internal reform and vassal contests makes central America a truly fun arena. Banking each reform and then having to realign one's self to take on various former vassals is an arduous but ultimately rewarding task if one can end up westernizing. In other words, Paradox has successfully delivered a content package that actually expands not just the content of the game, but also expands on the ways to play the game. 

The best part is that this isn't even the extent of the changes added in this expansion. The Doom and Vassal dance that goes on is only for the Nahuatl states of central Mexico. The Mayan states, for example, have different mechanics. Their reforms come only if they create a massive land empire as opposed to the vassal-tribute system of their Aztec counterparts. Once they pass reforms after they have achieved a certain size, a big chunk of the empire breaks off once again representing the reactionary forces outside of the core that wish to maintain the old ways. The Inti in the South have an entirely different system which all centers around the worship of the Inca ruler through a metric known as “Authority.” Initiating reform sparks an internal conflict with a reactionary pretender who wants to bring the Empire back to what it once was. What I found encouraging about this was that not only was this a new contribution in available game modes, but also a method that pushes the player to emulate the way in which these nations traditionally sought their own destinies. The difference in flavour between the states truly adds depth and respect to the complicated relationships between the various warring factions of the New World and finally makes them independent nations that have their own center stage with their own fun mechanics. No longer are they simply just the placeholder nations for the Europeans to come along and conquer, but they have their own vibrancy and storytelling capability.

 

 

I have always been a big supporter of Paradox grand strategy games because they imply a kind of storytelling immersion mechanic. Anyone playing can understand this by recognizing the epic history of his or her state as it goes through time. The famous battle where the French were finally crushed or the first time one of our explorers reaches China become milestones and represent using mechanics to allow the player to determine the story for his or herself. The great thing about these additions is that it doesn't attempt to input a strictly European gameplay or mindset onto the experience of playing as a New World nation. Instead of having to worry about succession wars and fabricating claims which are all European in ethos, we are given a totally new set of mechanics for each region that gives some justice to that entirely different experience. This has been a very encouraging trend in Paradox recently as we have seen in their CK2 expansions which gave us the ability to play as Muslims and as Indian nations so it is amazing to see it make some headway in EUIV. 

The additions to the native nations was probably my favourite part of the expansion, but it was by far not the only thing that was added. There are little fun perks for colonialist players. One thing which I thought was a completely necessary mechanic is automated exploration. For us diehard Europa Universalis players, we are very familiar with the tedious job of exploration. The frustration of having to go back and forth between sea-zones in order to try and explore that single coastal province. All of these things should evoke a collective sigh from Paradox's fan base—and not in a good way. Finally, the day has come, fellow conquistadores, because now exploration on both land and sea can be automated. Now, whenever you have a conquistador in the New World, you can set him on the quest to find the Seven Cities of Gold. El Dorado, of course, is one of these goals. He will then go on an automated and random path around the continent going from unexplored space to unexplored space like a terra incognita-eating Roomba. 

Far from simply being a quality of life addition, however, his quest will also trigger various events that will randomly trigger every few province he discovers. Some of these events deal with his travails with his group of men in that zone. Many times, these “random encounters” are hints of various gold mines that might be acquired or other opportunities to explore areas for gold. Most of the time they end in nothing and sometimes they even end in ruin for the conquistador himself. However, there are some times when he will strike gold and those days are always happy days since Paradox did not skimp on rewarding the player for his perseverance. The other great thing about this new mechanic is that units sent on this journey (which is activated by clicking on a button displayed on the unit with a conquistador in it) is that it will automatically pass through native territories so that even if the Aztecs or Mayans are blocking your way from South America to North America, your unit will simply pass through them under the “black flag” mechanic until he reaches other unexplored areas on the other side. 

Explorers at sea have a similar mechanic although they don't trigger as many fun events as their landed counterparts do. There are some ominous events that follow when exploring certain coastal areas, but otherwise sea exploration is not as fun. It is also not as easy. Instead of randomly searching around, you have to select the exploration “mission” through another button on the Explorer's unit similar to how someone assigns fleets for duty at a trade node. These missions usually just explore various zones close to you and the menu refreshes the more you've explored so that you can continually explore new areas on the high seas. Attrition is greatly negated during these missions which helps and the exploration is always guaranteed to succeed so long as your ships aren't lost to enemies along the way. The mother of all exploration missions is, of course, circumnavigating the globe, but this mission has a particularly high level of mortality. Someone who accomplishes it, however, gets a pretty hefty boost to prestige. 

Exploration goodies aside, there are a ton more that were added to the game. Gold fleets, for example, are now a fun mechanic that represents the real treasure fleets that sailed from new world colonies to their home ports in Europe. Piracy has been updated to be more interactive while assigning ships to “anti-piracy” missions (much like protecting trade in a node), actually engages enemy pirate vessels without having to go to war. This makes the cold wars around piracy and trade an actual living and important element of the game as treasure fleets become actual targets rather than just abstractions from overseas tariffs. This goes hand in hand with the increased focus on the relationship between trade and colonialism. Colonies which have ten or more provinces now give the home nation another merchant which creates massive networks of trade finally possible much like the way in which the trade companies do. That doesn't mean that landlocked powers didn't get attention this time around either since the inland power mechanic is now replaced by a caravan power mechanic which is based off of provincial tax. There are a few other minor changes such as the Treaty or Tordesillas and the changes to Liberty Desire which I personally found more cosmetic since it didn't affect my playthrough as much this time around except pushing me to grab colonies faster as a Catholic nation than usual.

 

 

The final thing I wanted to touch on, however, was the Nation Designer. The Nation Designer is another feature of this expansion which allows the player to customize a nation to create even to the point of selecting what kind of national ideas are identified with that nation. The nation can be made anywhere on the map even on top of other states. This new addition didn't really stoke my fires as I prefer a more pseudohistorical spin on my playthroughs, but I can definitely see this as an excellent addition to anyone out there who wants to have a little bit of fun or to test how his state with the ideas he's chosen would do against the rest of the world. All in all, this was a definitely worthy expansion and I'm sure Johan at Paradox will be happy to hear that we won't be needing his still-beating heart anymore since this wargamer is very much appeased.

 

You can get the El Dorado DLC here - https://www.paradoxplaza.com/europa-universalis-iv-el-dorado

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