Over the course of my Crusader Kings Chronicle , I built up a dynasty that jockeyed for power across the middle ages. Paradox's sister series, Europa Universalis, picks up in the late 1400s where Crusader Kings leaves off and gives you the entire world (instead of just the medieval Eurosphere), the Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration to play with. I had a chance to explore Europa IV , due out in the second half of next year, which looks to bring the grand strategy series' trade, warfare, and politicking up to modern spec.
I didn't have more than cursory experience with Europa when I sat down in front of the massive world map. As a Crusader Kings player, it looked familiar... except that the world didn't stop with a box mostly consisting of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The entire world is rendered in 3D, including some shiny new water effects and ships that move along major trade routes in real time. Most of the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Australia are initially labeled as "Terra Incognita," a more educated-sounding version of "Here Be Dragons." Part of the game will be sending out explorers to wash away this fog of war and replace it with the names of native provinces to exploit and conquer.
Or, if you prefer, you are fully permitted to start as, say, the North American Shawnee Nation, and try to build a strong and independent empire that points and laughs at actual history. The devs said that such a task won't be easy, and they wouldn't recommend it for a starting player. The game is called Europa Universalis after all. But there's nothing stopping you from trying. In my book, that's grounds for a "Challenge Accepted."
The other big difference from Crusader Kings is that you play as a nation and not a dynasty. This means that no matter who comes to power, you will always remain the "disembodied guiding hand" of your chosen empire. Some playable countries will have monarchies with lines of succession, while others function as republics with elected leaders. While you won't play as your head of state, they will still have a significant impact on how your empire functions. A king who is a great military commander will give you bonuses for fighting and conquering. When his son, who is a bit of a pansy, succeeds him, you'll probably want to transition to focus more on trade and internal infrastructure.
I was pretty impressed with EU IV's trade system, come to mention it. The world is streaked with land and sea trade routes that bring wealth to your nation. The catch is that these trade routes branch at certain places, and which "branch" gets the lion's share of the cash flow is determined by who has more influence in the region where the diversion occurs. The concept of trade bottlenecks is also significant: a relatively small nation that controls the one trade route between two wealthy regions can become filthy rich despite their size. Denmark and the Netherlands provide two notable, real-world examples. On top of all of this, establishing colonies in the New World gives you a new, lucrative, trans-oceanic trade route.
Also of note is the introduction of "rebels with a cause." Rather than just a stack of malcontents who want to ruin your save file and chew bubble gum (and bubble gum hasn't been invented yet), opposition factions within your borders will have clearly-stated goals which you can of course cave in to and make them go home. It seems to be sort of an evolution of the Faction system introduced to Crusader Kings II in the recent Legacy of Rome DLC. Examples I was presented with included ethnic natives of conquered territories demanding more autonomy, and of course the crapstorm sure to ensue when the Protestant Reformation event rocks the balance of Catholic Europe.
Europa IV looks to be shaping up to be a deep, multi-dimensional, open-ended grand strategy title that will require at least 45 minutes of YouTube videos to figure out what the hell you're supposed to be doing. And that's just the way I like it.