Historical paradoxes. What if scenarios. Alternate timelines. For years, I pondered many of these things. My geek credentials begin with my love of history. Early on in my days, I read history book after history book while my classmates read fiction of some sort or another. If they read at all, that is.
 
Paradox Interactive's developers grew up like I did, it seems. From the Crusader Kings series, to their Hearts of Iron games, Paradox focused on historical context. The flagship of this is Europa Universalis. A grand strategy game covering from the end of the Dark Ages to end of Napoleon, the games journey through history of the entire world during the age of colonial expansion. 
 
Paradox recently released Europa Universalis 4, a major upgrade compared to the previous version I played regularly. How much better is the new version?
 
The Good
 
Paradox Interactive updated quite a bit on the new game. Obviously, the graphics quality has been improved throughout the game, taking advantage of the high end graphics now available. Initially, going into the game, the user interface retains much of its old style. The top left corner shows the coat of arms of the country played. As before, clicking on the shield brings up the administrative menu.
 
This begins the start of the changes. While much remains, such as the list of relationships, the three advisors, etc., the first major change can be seen with the technology tab. Previously, the game had sliders to select levels of improvement across multiple technologies. However, in Europa Universalis IV, this reduced to just three technologies: diplomatic, administrative, and military. Allocated with points, which if the player does it right, accumulates over time, technologies can be reached. Though the levels and bonuses remain constant, because of a limit on how much power can be accumulated, technology cannot rise until the amount of points needed to purchase drops below the amount saved. 
 
In effect, a resistor plate prevents racing ahead so far in technology to easily overwhelm opponents. Most Western powers are limited to 999 power in each category. The Ottomans can reach 300 more points, giving them a head start at first, but due to their being in the Muslim technology group, over time the advantage switches to the Western technology group. 
 
Selecting technological groups gives multiple options. Each group has its own specific functions and abilities unlocked with more power points. Before, as technology unlocked, only limited bonuses could be selected. To change out a technology, the country took a stability hit as things changed. In the new game, technologies do not get dropped. The bonuses, though a bit less, carry onward. In addition, as technologies unlock, a country specific list of bonuses unlock as well. For example, England (or Great Britain when it is unlocked) gains bonuses with its shipping. France gains the ability to have less issues with multiple religions in its borders, Spain gets bonuses to allow the take over of colonies of other nations, and so on.
 
The other major change concerns the core province mechanic. Cores are not automatic after thirty years. Instead, time and power allocate to create a core after approximately five to six years. Having a province as a core via a claim does not instantly change the province to a true core, but does give a discount to the cost. Even territories do not automatically become a core province, though the price is far cheaper to turn. This change   has been needed for a long time. Culture can be changed through the same interface as well, assuming enough power is available. The ability to shift a province's culture was never available in previous versions, and thus a very welcome change.
 
Diplomacy, trade, missionaries, and colonists have a different mechanic as well. Only limited numbers of these advisors can be accessed at one time. Only a few colonies can be founded at one time, only a couple of merchants will be out in trading. 
 
All of these changes mean taking over the entire world by the time the game ends may no longer be possible. However, in my experience, it makes things more fun as the player struggles to create an empire. A real sense of accomplishment can be had by what a player has built.
 
Lastly, the game has yet to crash on me. Europa Universalis II had stability issues on my computers, and Europa Universalis III would lock up if I played it too long. The only crash with this version I had was caused by a background program and not the game itself, despite playing it for hours.
 
The Bad
 
I found few things to criticize with this version of the game. Some players will be upset with the leveling of the playing field. Not being able to instantly take over the weaker North and South American countries will frustrate some of the older players used to being able to speed through those two continents plus Africa. Limited diplomats means having to abort actions in order to respond to claims and demands of the game. 
 
Others may be a bit frustrated at the fact the game now has DLC for a price. The Hundred Years War DLC and the Muslim DLC are the first two available. Both add a number of events to give a better flavor of the country being played. 
 
I am not thrilled with the ability to increase stability strictly through power allocation. It is too easy to reduce in this fashion, and with the ability to lower war exhaustion in a similar fashion, it causes these mechanics to be quickly negligible in the overall scheme of things in Europa Universalis IV in comparison to previous games.
 
The Ugly
 
The ledger system revamp indexes the various charts available in the game. However, one of the options in the old game, to be able to click to see what all is being built, was done away with and replaced with a button below the shield to bring up the building menu. Though great for visual people, it is a pain in the neck if multiple provinces need to be processed. Running around, trying to find the highlighted province can be frustrated since any troops in a small province could well cover up the province enough so it cannot be found or clicked upon.
 
Overextension has new maintenance windows as well. Unfortunately, due to the restrictor plate mentioned above, the effects of overextension are massive. Reducing overextension becomes a huge priority in the game because of its devastating effects. I do not know if this is a result of the lessening of the effects of war exhaustion and stability, but it does skew the game and again slows down massive expansion fast. 
 
Conclusion
 
Not only does Paradox Interactive have a winner in Europa Universalis IV, it is easily the best strategy game I have ever played on the computer. The high ratings this game is garnering in reviews are justified. Though having some minor changes to the mechanics, such as overextension, which drive a player crazy, overall, it is a game I plan to play over and over again. I look forward to future DLC, hoping to see both China and Japan specific events, as well as events for the Holy Roman Empire, Russia, and maybe more Native American events in the future.
 
I give Europa Universalis IV a 9.6 out of 10. Buy this game if you love strategy games.
 
Historical paradoxes. What if scenarios. Alternate timelines. For years, I pondered many of these things. My geek credentials begin with my love of history. Early on in my days, I read history book after