It won’t come as a surprise to anybody who saw my picks of 2013 that I spend a fair amount of time messing about in Europa Universalis IV. Paradox Development Studio’s century-spanning grand strategy tale of national strife is one that I just don’t get tired of, mostly thanks to how different it is to play as a historically powerful European country versus a (say) minor Asian state. One day I might even carry a game all the way to 1776 instead of getting all excited for a new start about halfway through.
The new Conquest of Paradise expansion isn’t making that easy, because it gives the Native American tribes a much needed overhaul and adds a bit more nuance to the game for colonial powers. Plus, it has a feature that could just about be described as “earth shattering” without falling victim to awful hyperbole; randomised land masses for the New World.
As is now almost a tradition for a major Paradox expansion, the Conquest of Paradise DLC was released in conjunction with a major patch that gives all players access to certain thematically appropriate features. That means whether you have the DLC or not, things like changes to the way tariffs work and the new colonial ‘liberty desire’ will be affecting you too.
For review purposes though, I’ll be concentrating on the things Conquest of Paradise specifically adds. The way ‘Protectorates’ work at the moment is kind of rubbish, but they were added in the patch, not by the DLC.
The headline-grabber is probably the option that allows Europa Universalis IV to generate a completely different New World. Randomised terrain is a pretty big deal for a Paradox Development Studio title, because it’s a thoroughly ahistorical addition to a series that has always grounded itself in something approaching reality. A very strategy-game-centric one where progress is measured only by dominance, technology and power, but a version of reality nonetheless.
Some of the developer’s more intransigent fans didn’t take kindly to Crusader Kings II introducing the possibility of an optional Aztec invasion. So shaking up the geography of the globe represents a further willingness on the part of Paradox to be flexible with history, even at the risk of upsetting their player-base.
In effect, though, it’s no more outlandish than when a player-controlled England sweeps across France and holds Paris for a couple of centuries. That’s ahistorical too, but, the game says, maybe it could have happened with the right circumstances. Conquest of Paradise is just saying hey, perhaps some unusual plate tectonics turned the Americas into a large archipelago.
In the weird numerical brain-world of Europa Universalis IV’s seeded terrain generation, America really does become a large archipelago quite often. The new New World system’s main failing is that the shapes sometimes turn out quite bizarre. Maybe that’s just my brain reacting poorly to seeing a familiar set of names (areas of the map are still assigned as Brazil, the Caribbean and so on) in very unfamiliar places, but there’s some sort of dissociative effect going on when Conquest of Paradise decides to toss out an America shaped like a giant snake with major trade nodes in odd places and a climate that makes no sense.
That’s just something your brave explorers (or indigenous peoples) will have to put up with if you want the intrigue of genuine discovery. As a concept, it does definitely shake up the game for a colonial-focused power. Knowing precisely which area to point your ships towards might still be fun for those who just want to hit the lucrative trade points as quickly as possible, but shares about as much in common with exploration as me ‘exploring’ the rooms of my apartment. Oh look, I found a rich source of trade goods in the fridge. Again.
Discovering the New World in Conquest of Paradise can be underwhelming, but it can sometimes be magnificent. The point is, it does return some mystery to heading out across that uncharted ocean.
Once you’re there, you’ll be wanting to colonise that sweet, fertile land. This process is pretty much the same as the base game, only now it’s possible for separate colonial nations to form. It’s an automatic event that happens when you have five provinces in the same colonial region, even if those provinces are disconnected from one another and have totally different cultures or religions. The chance for such a disparate ‘nation’ to form is a bit weird, but it might explain an incident that cropped up in my recent Portuguese game.
After settling five provinces in the Caribbean region, the proud colonial nation of Bortugal was born. Most of it stuck around in that area, but one lone Bortuguese province also appeared much further north, amongst my separate North American colonies. Bug, or feature functioning as intended? I’ve not yet decided.
Like the ungrateful brats they are, colonial nations may eventually want to leave home and create their own flags and put on fireworks shows at your expense. Too much taxation will push the ‘liberty desire’ gauge to breaking point, triggering a war for independence. Other national powers can (just like real life) be drawn into this struggle and, brilliantly, it’s possible in Conquest of Paradise to switch play to your own colonial nation and push for autonomy against your old power. Colonial powers have their own set of unique national ideas and prospective missions like ‘form America.’
In short, Bortuguese global dominance awaits.
That is, unless Pueblo dominance happens first. Conquest of Paradise gives the mechanic-starved Native American tribes some of the attention they need, making them quite a bit more interesting to play. Previously, starting as a Native American nation meant waiting an age for your monarch points to reach about 5,000 so that you could understand boats and then watching colonising European powers kill you. Not a whole lot of fun, really.
Now, all Native American tribes have three unique tech-trees, separate from (but not replacing) the regular ones. These each include an unlock that will make the regular administration, diplomatic and military trees a bit cheaper to obtain too. Single province tribes have a ‘migration’ mechanic that allows them to move around the New World and gain additional monarch points for each change of scenery. In addition, every Native American nation can build special buildings, and certain tribes get unique national ideas.
This means there’s a whole lot more to do than just sit around and watch monarch points slowly tick upward. Sometimes you still have to fall back on doing this, but the finite amount of interesting things to do in peace time is something the whole game suffers from to an extent.
I’ve not yet encountered a full-on war with a European settlement, but further new mechanics like the ability to form defensive Federations (and the new way ‘Westernisation’ occurs in the main game) give the Native Americans more of a fighting chance. Screenshots like this one certainly back that up.
Inevitably, there are few quirks and bugs with this release. Some of the ‘events’ for Native Americans are straight cut and paste jobs from other nations with a more appropriate piece of artwork appended. This can seem a bit out of place if the tone of the event is going on about something like bailiffs and aristocrats. I also came across the situation where my tribe couldn’t trade in its home trade node because it couldn’t see it; something I’m fairly sure Patch 1.4 was supposed to fix. Colonial nations can pull some unusual stunts too, like siding with a protectorate rather than their rulers when the latter goes to war with the former.
Paradox is working on this stuff, and there’s said to be a Patch 1.5 on the way in addition to the current hotfixes and beta patches floating around.
Overall, Conquest of Paradise delivers on its promise of randomised New Worlds, fleshed out Native American tribes and restless colonial nations. But each feature has one or two oddities that make them less satisfactory than they might have been, be it weird shaped landmasses, strange colonial formation conditions or underwhelming event messages. Exploring this DLC will uncover its treasures, but you may also come across a nasty surprise or two.