Review: Europa Universalis IV: Common Sense06 Jul 2015 0
Review: Europa Universalis IV: Common Sense
One could argue that the history of Modern Europe is the chronicle of the rise of the common people. From the Renaissance to the Protestant Reformation to the French Revolution, old systems of hierarchy and order were shaken to their very foundations. It is this high drama that is the focus of Paradox Interactive's “Common Sense” which is the most recent DLC for its critically acclaimed grand strategy title Europa Universalis IV. Following in Paradox's savvy strategy of releasing incremental - though sometimes monumental - updates to their game, “Common Sense” seeks to enhance many of the gameplay mechanics of the present game with a battery of new features.
The most obvious new addition is the introduction of a Parliament system for Constitutional Monarchies, Constitutional Republics, and, of course, jolly old England. How it works is that amongst a player's provinces, he or she can choose various provinces to become seats of Parliament which grants local bonuses including a decrease of autonomy but increases certain penalties such as increased costs for stability and reducing war exhaustion. A number of seats is forced upon a player if he or she has a large realm, so choosing the seats one's self is necessary to try and maintain control over the various commons. Debates in Parliament can occur which is a policy that the player hopes to pass through. These various policies are based off of actual parliamentary bills passed throughout history which run from government reform to military policies to the expansion of civil rights. All of these policies have a particular bonus attached to them. The player is tasked with bribing, cajoling, or negotiating seats to vote for his or her initiative through the debate menu like a checklist so that a majority in parliament can be secured and the highest likelihood of success can be ascertained.
For the most part, I think this is a much needed addition. The many times sordid and dramatic workings of Whig political systems is an engaging topic and was certainly something missing from previous incarnations of the game. Before this voting and debate system, most “decisions” made by a Parliamentary system were simply abstracted into national decisions and national policies. This new mechanic finally brings forward the differences between monarchial and parliamentary governments.
That being said, despite its necessity, the system itself is a bit poorly designed if not outright cynical. The reduction of the kind of drama that goes on in Parliaments to a simple box clicking exercise is not making full use of the potential this could have achieved. True, the game is equipped with various events that go along with the Parliament mechanic, but the base interaction with it leaves something to be desired. They should have built the system similar to the way they had it in their sister title Crusader Kings II since there, passing Crown Laws required a majority of the voting Lords in the realm each with their own dynamic relationship to the sovereign. Without making any particularly interesting local issues that could be used as leverage, none of the flavour text on the boxes make any difference at all except for their bonuses or costs. At the end of the day, it's a much welcome addition though cuts way below the mark.
Despite their unsteady implementation in the secular department, Paradox has triumphed in their customization of the Protestant religions. Protestant religions now have access to four slots which are “aspects” of their particular brand of Christianity. They can range from allowing priests to marry to having Sacraments to other such ecclesiological properties that one acquires through “Church power” similar to how Catholic nations try to accrue Papal Influence in order to garner their bonuses. These “aspects” grant different bonuses though one can only have a maximum of four. Nonetheless, this generally helps to simulate the broad variety of Protestant creeds that sprang up during the time of the Reformation and adds yet another level of historical simulation.
It is not just the Protestant religions that have gotten some attention either. Buddhist nations now have a Karma slider. One's Karma increases through “honourable” actions such as accepting a call to arms or returning rightful cored territory to someone else while Karma decreases through starting wars and conquest. The interesting thing about the Karma mechanic is that both excess Karma and too little Karma hit the player with penalties. Too little Karma causes a decrease in discipline while too much Karma lowers diplomatic reputation. The middle path in between these two values gives a bonus of diplomatic reputation and discipline. Although this is a small mechanic and ultimately almost negligible as a game mechanic, it nonetheless reinforces Paradox's commitment towards a nuanced game. First, the balancing game attempts to represent in quantifiable means the moral balancing act in a Buddhist mindset. Although this is simplistic, it at least raises the Buddhist nations to the same level of superficial attention as any other religion in the game. Furthermore, just like with the Doomsday mechanics for Mesoamerican faiths in the “El Dorado” expansion, Paradox manages to implement thematic elements of different religions without ever “validating” that particular religion's spiritual veracity which is a tight balancing act in itself. For example, instead of presenting Karma as some kind of supernatural buff or debuff, the flavour text explicitly iterates the psychological impact of high and low morality in the Buddhist context which give rise to the various debuffs. This allows Paradox to indulge in the gameplay aspect of religions without entering into the religious debate itself - which I believe is a proper attitude to take. It provides the player both with the external qualities of the spiritual dimension without forcing any one interpretation or all interpretations-as-valid onto the player.
Aside from these major additions, the aspect of the game which I found the most pleasing was the revamped Subjects tab. Now, there is a whole new menu for “subject interaction” which brings up a list of one's vassals, personal unions, colonies, etc. and has buttons under each one designating all of the various actions that one can do with these suffragan states. One of my favourites in particular is the ability to direct a colony to instigate a colonial war. For so long, I would have to deal with the hassle of putting myself into the mode of war exhaustion and political paralysis while I had to declare war on nearly insignificant native nations that are hardly worth the attention of my sprawling continental empire while my colonies were more than a match for them. Now, I can direct my colonies to complete the task themselves and watch my glorious tentacles grab yet another piece of the New World - cackling including. The only problem with this glorious option is that the AI is often incompetent when it comes to dealing with the enemies. Sometimes they even enter into a white peace despite overwhelming advantages prompting me to have them try again in a few years.
Directing one's puppets to fight isn't the only kind of interaction that I found impressive amongst the vast array (and the options are different for the different kinds of vassals and subsidiaries one has). For example, there are now a few options to decrease liberty desire in a subject nation. There is also the option to force a vassal to adopt the mother religion of one's country or to adopt one's mother culture—something which of course increases their liberty desire by a lot. I find these to be rather interesting ways of giving flavour to the vassals. I can finally feel like a grand overlord managing vast minions rather than just some impotent watcher of Chia pets growing in a far off land.
Speaking of revamps, there is another crucial mechanic that has been reworked which is literally a game changer: forts. Before, every province used to have its own fortification level. Conquering an enemy nation usually meant going along and laying siege or assaulting one province or another and usually trying to keep a tight line of armies so that no enemy force can sneak past behind one's lines. Now, all of that has changed - and for the better. Now, not all provinces have forts in them although all have the capability to having one built in them. Instead, forts now “project” their ability to protect and defend surrounding territory. Most importantly, they stop enemy forces from advancing past them. I cannot stress how much of an amazing change this is. Before this change, one can charge armies deep into enemy territory willy nilly and surround enemy forces or take vulnerable rear provinces. Now, that is no longer the case. Forts will stop enemy armies from advancing even to their flanking provinces unless that fortress is taken first. This suddenly creates strategic bottlenecks throughout the map. Have an Imperialism casus belli and usually rush to the enemy capital to take it early? Now, that may no longer be possible until you conquer the border forts or get a military access treaty to go around! This creates an entirely new paradigm of strategic warfare. One can now revel in various fortresses protecting crucial choke points in the kingdom and funneling enemy armies against superiorly entrenched troops. Not only that, but this properly demonstrates the importance of fortifications in Early Modern European history. Now we can finally have a Siege of Vienna and have it be realistic! Various provinces now have greater meaning than just blobs to be conquered and this is yet another part of the theme of the new expansion to focus on the peripheral parts of the realms whether it's the common people or the common provinces. The best part is that this new change comes free whether or not one buys the DLC, but turned out to be one of the most welcomed developments thanks to the release of this new expansion.
This attention to the common provinces extends now to the way in which provinces themselves are developed. Gone are the days where every province has the ability to build everything in it. Instead, each province has a limited number of building slots. These building slots can be unlocked by spending any combination of administrative, diplomatic, or military points on a province. These investments themselves slightly increase the stats of a province, but once they hit increments of ten, they unlock a new building slot. Therefore, with such limited monarch points, a player must now plan on which provinces he or she wishes to more fully develop and therefore buildings themselves are not as universal as they once were. What this means is that Granada can finally be a center of army recruitment instead of just one of a sea of recruiting stations. Cologne can finally be a center of trade and commerce instead of just another one of the Empire's various entrepots. Province specialization finally has meaning when there is a limited array of building space. This was a classic example of Paradox being able to do more with less. Through limitation, they have actually enhanced the personality of each province and given each one a purpose. One can finally feel defensive about defending the provinces of Brittany if one has built up his naval bases there.
Aside from all of these additions which come from purchasing the DLC, as usual Paradox has given the player a ton of free updates with the patch accompanying this DLC which is worth mentioning. Tengri and Zoroastrian religions are now part of the game as well as. Capitals are finally negotiable all the time in peace deals which was a major point of silliness in the previous incarnations of the game. Gold can also be acquired even when fully annexing another country which was also another important addition of realism to the mechanics (not to mention a very lucrative one). There is also a large amount of flavour events and Disasters added that simply give the whole dramatic landscape a much needed booster shot.
Overall, the expansion is a success. The change to the warfare system alone is a worthy change although its main goal and main selling point of the Parliament system did seem a bit underplayed. Nonetheless, I still recommend this as yet another must have in the ever evolving Europa Universalis IV.