Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise

By James Tanaleon 29 Jan 2014 0

Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise

Released

Developer: Paradox Development Studio
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available from:
Steam
Direct

I'll be up front: my initial reaction to the fourth incarnation of Europa Universalis was lukewarm. I had expressed my dismay at the simplification it underwent, especially in the realm of national ideas and national technologies, but when I had spoken about it a few months earlier, I held out hope that just as Paradox Interactive slowly but surely delivered on a full and immersive experience through DLCs and expansions for their other flagship franchise Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV would get the same treatment. To my delight, glee, and utter euphoria, their first major expansion for EUIV ?Conquest of Paradise? justified my faith tenfold. 

Unlike so many DLCs and expansions that come out for games nowadays which simply tack on extra gameplay or woefully vacuous additions (I'm looking at you ?Sunset Invasion?), ?Conquest of Paradise? fundamentally changes the way Europa Universalis IV is played. To many fans of the franchise, we are all aware of the major cornerstones of the Europa Universalis game experience: politics, military, trade, religion and colonization. It is to colonization and, specifically, of New World colonization that ?Conquest of Paradise? completes the initial Europa Universalis IV setup. The newest change to the game mode is the establishment of ?colonial states.? These semi-autonomous states regulate their own internal affairs such as constructing buildings or recruiting armies and navies while offering tariff income to the mother country as well as a permanent alliance and half their trade power. These states are created automatically once a colonizing power has acquired a minimum number of provinces in any given ?colonial region.? For example, if Portugal colonizes enough colonies in the Colonial Brazil region and watches the colonies mature into cities, they will automatically group together and create a new colonial client state. The player can choose to name their state whatever they wish (which was a beautiful touch). 

Multiple powers may have competing states in the same region. France may have set up Quebec right next to England's Canada. Each new colony that matures into a city is automatically annexed into their respective colonial state, so a mother nation can still ?grow? their client states larger and larger through subsequent colonization. Any cities captured and acquired in wars will also get automatically transferred to their respective de jure states. Spain, for example, having annexed the Aztecs will suddenly find herself the master of ?New Spain? and any subsequent native power Spain decides to conquer in that colonial region (such as the Mayans) will continue to be added to New Spain. Thankfully, these new colonial states do not count towards a nation's ?diplomatic? relations limit or ?overextension? and for all intents and purposes of mechanics count as sovereign territory of their mother nations. 

I have my hunch that this change to the game mode was planned from the beginning (perhaps as a strategy to monetize the title and give it longevity), but regardless of the motivations, the extra cost of this expansion is definitely worth it. This is the way Europa Universalis IV is supposed to be played. Ever since Paradox decided to cleverly switch to the ?Monarch Points? system where improvements, advancements, and province buildings are all upgraded not through money, but through points, it has been nearly impossible to ?scale? large empires into improvement. That is to say that regardless of how large one's empire had gotten, they still only received a certain amount of monarch points per month. By allowing colonial states to be raised, Viceroys which rule over the regions will now be able to spend their own ?monarch points? for their respective areas. This effectively ?scales? large colonial empires by providing more monarch points for buildings. Viceroys and colonial governors are ?chosen? by the mother country through events which prompt the player to select a bureaucratic, diplomatic, or military candidate with their monarch points concentrated in the field which the player chooses. Every few years, these viceroys and colonial governors are ?replaced? in a new election. Effectively, this allows the player to indirectly guide the destiny of its fledgling colonial empire. 

I had always praised the Europa Universalis franchise for its ability to more accurately portray the nuances of historical development better than any of its competition on the scale that it has, but I had never been more genuinely surprised at the ?leap? forward this expansion has given for historical accuracy. The client state system much more accurately depicts the complicated and often indirect relationship between metropole and periphery. What surprised me about this addition was that although I had always believed that Paradox could tweak their engines for smaller increments of historical sandbox satisfaction, never had I suspected that they could pull off a seamless evolution of their own historical model. The way new provinces ?snap? to their colonial region happens without a blink, and the way in which the colonial states behave and manage themselves cuts down on the mountains of micromanagement. Don't get me wrong, I am not against micromanagement: anyone who loves the Europa Universalis franchise is well aware that micromanagement is part of the fun, but what I find more entertaining is the feel of rulership; the handling of it, if you will. ?Conquest of Paradise? reproduces a tidbit of how monarchs of the time expended their influence and power over their colonies. Instead of direct interference, it was indirect guidance and ?hope for the best? laissez faire best wishes. 

This new mechanic is made easier to direct through a new tab which lists all of a nation's subjects. This includes all colonial possessions, vassals, personal unions, etc. Although the tab itself is a bit on the clunky side information wise, it helps to tie all of the information together into a manageable interface. In this tab, one can also set the ?tariff? level of a colonial client state. These tariff levels (which are percentages) represent the level of income a mother nation takes in from that colony. The player may increase the level by spending administrative power or through certain events in order to increase the monthly income taken from the colony. However, as the player increases the taxation level, the level of liberation desire increases as well. This is obviously an abstract homologue to the ?taxation without representation? of the Thirteen Colonies and Britain in the 18th century. The player can never choose to lower the tariff level except through certain events, but there are always tradeoffs. For example, whenever the election of a new colonial governor occurs, the colony will give its preference on what kind of candidate it would like. If the player decides to abide by this preference, the liberation desire decreases slightly, however it does come at the cost of national prestige.  

There is a chance of rebellion once the meter reaches fifty percent, and independence will automatically trigger at one hundred percent. There is also the ability by other nations to ?support? the independence of client and vassal states, which is an ingenious addition on the part of the developers (think of the French support for the Americans during the Revolutionary War). This level of diplomatic tie-in and nuanced relationship between the mother country and its client states helps to truly make this expansion a must have.  

The ?Colonial Conquest? casus belli has also been reworked. There is now a new type of client state available known as a ?Protectorate.? Under this arrangement which can be brought on by a colonial conquest war or through diplomacy, a protectorate state is allowed to ally only with their presiding power and will receive technological benefits over time in exchange for half of its trade power. This setup is not unlike the way the British ?conquered? the Indian sub-continent. Unlike the Spanish model in the New World where conquest and annexation were the norm, the British, through the East India Company, established a trading empire first which later developed into a full blown colonial takeover. This intermediary step is represented in the Protectorate relationship presented in the game. I was mightily impressed with this new possibility because it shows the level by which Paradox is willing to abstract complex political and historical events and reaffirms for me their commitment to providing a game which appeals to the true grand strategist. Instead of merely being satisfied with one type of overseas colonial model (such as the viceroyalty system of Spain), ?Conquest of Paradise? also provides the British model giving the player a vast array of historically abstracted methods of expansion and colonization. 

Both of these new methods of colonization dovetail perfectly with the new method by which Paradox structured international trade in this incarnation. By making ?trade power? as important as regular taxation and production, colonization on the scale discussed above finally makes more sense. Trade empires are now as viable as massive land empires allowing the player to exercise a historical model much more akin to reality. This expansion finally puts to work the trade route model that Paradox has implemented and, in a way, ?completes? something that was missing from the vanilla game. In essence, I would go so far as to say that ?Conquest of Paradise? is a necessary component of the game. I find it to be all the more fun, as well. Watching my budding colonial empire grow through conquest and colonization, I could not help but feel like the proud mother-nation watching all of the children become strong. Being able to focus on European matters while receiving tribute from the peripheral nations took a big load off of my mind. Furthermore, with improvements in AI, I have been more than happy with the way my colonial possessions fight wars. I don't even bother sending any of my own troops to the New World since I can watch with some measure of pride as my colonial forces overpower my rival's colonies or native nations. There is something satisfying in watching my Floridians stomp on the Thirteen Colonies of Britain. There are even times when I have watched my Spanish Armada sail up to the Isles only to look over at the New World to find Tercios swarming New York. These Proxy wars should provide any would-be megalomaniac with the kind of vassal-states he has been looking for all this time. 

Are there downsides? Sure. As smart as the AI can be, I almost never see colonial troops participate in cross-Atlantic expeditions. Although I understand that historically, we almost never see colonial troops ?coming home? to defend the motherland (a few notable exceptions are obviously there such as the Algerians in World War I), but it would also be nice to have the ability to ?take direct control? of one's colonial armies. The AI also has a bit of trouble if your colonial state is not contiguous although once one's colonies start building navies, they tend to be competent. Other setbacks include the inability to ?collect trade? from a particular trade node because one requires a province in that trade region to collect trade and since all of one's provinces automatically go to one's colonial states, it is often that the only option is to ?forward? that trade node's income. This could present a lot of problems if one has made a colonial state far enough away that there is a troublesome competing power in between with massive amounts of trade power in the node between one's state and one's home. This is why the Atlantic trade node is a major bottleneck for New World trade. 

There are a few things that Paradox could definitely improve upon with this model. One is that although a colony receives ?cores? on the initial provinces that constitute it, it does not automatically receive cores for conquered provinces subsequently. This could lead to a rather dangerous situation where if one starts a small colony, but then ends up annexing large swaths of land from rival or native powers, that small colonial state will find itself with massive amounts of ?overextension.? This is especially troublesome if it's a native nation which is a non-accepted culture and non-accepted religion especially since the colonial state does not benefit from the mother nation's bonuses. However, these concerns will probably be addressed as Paradox continues to patch in the coming months. 

Lastly, it is worth mentioning the ?fun? bit added onto this new expansion: Random New World maps. In an effort to give the player a taste of how Europeans felt coming to a ?New World,? the player can set the New World to be randomized. Although the Aztecs, Incas, etc. will still be present, the geography of the continents themselves will be randomized. There are already some pictures online on the humorous ways this could turn out (like a giant four-leafed supercontinent of mostly desert). Although I personally am not a big fan of this mode as I find it to be against the historical spirit of the EU franchise, it does give the player a sense of ?wonder? at discovering a truly ?New World.?  

?Conquest of Paradise? was a home run for the first real expansion for Europa Universalis IV. If Paradox continues to surprise its gamers with expansions like these, then this is one very exciting year for all the grand strategists out there.

Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise

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