Hands-On with Europa Universalis IV multiplayer: The Some Years War

It's 1444, and King Henry VI is having a very bad day. What came to be known historically as the Hundred Years War is being micromanaged by a Yankee with only a meager grasp of the political and economic situation of the time. A person who typically plays grand strategy games by pausing every 12 seconds to consider his options, but is denied this luxury as the multiplayer clock in Europa Universalis IV ticks on, leaving him at its mercy. Things aren't looking up for merry old England.

Europa IV, which I previewed in a hands-off capacity not long ago , is a completely different animal when you take the reigns. As I clicked furiously through menus and tried to speed-read tooltips, I was watching England veer off the road into a ditch, rolling over, and catching on fire. While monarchs—like poor Henry, whom I pictured with a perma-facepalm about five minutes in—and heirs are represented, and their traits can have an effect on your play, this renaissance excursion isn't focused on characters like Crusader Kings II. You control a nation as some kind of incorporeal regigeist (that's a word now, because I said it is. Such is the power Europa grants you.)

While the others around me met with varying levels of success, I seemed to constantly be dealing with rebels and a broke treasury. The mighty English fleet, dominant as it was, proved surprisingly ineffective when my enemies at home and abroad stuck to the brilliant tactic of killing me without needing to build boats. In the South, I had the French (controlled by none other than frequent PC Gamer writer Rob Zacny ) seeking to push me out of my rightful holdings on the mainland. Back home, I had bands of rebels popping up everywhere: Welsh nationalists, angry peasants, heretics of something called Bogolimism (do they worship blogs? Or Boggle? Damned if I know), and probably a significant portion of bandwagon-riders shouting, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT WE'RE REBELLING ABOUT!"

This, as it turned out, was due to my ignorance of Europa IV's Stability mechanic. Stability is a metric that runs from +3 to -3, and has a vast impact on how likely your people are to press an issue with their government. It's an abstraction of the task of keeping your vassals happy in Crusader Kings. You can spend Monarch Power, your main non-money resource, to boost Stability. But if you're always paying MP to maintain order, you won't have that power to use in other, more progressive ways. Stability drops when you do things like declare war for no reason. Unlike Crusader Kings, you can do that, it's just not a very good idea.

I managed to get my national stability under control, but not before accepting the demands of several rebel groups, leading to Wales becoming independent, and Bogglemania, or whatever, probably becoming the official religion of England. Rebels in EUIV always have some sort of demand you can agree to, and stop them from killing you. The problem still remained, though, that I was bleeding money like a stuck pig with money instead of blood, and Zacny's Frenchmen were stomping all over me on the Continent. I started abandoning large portions of my fleet to get out of debt, taking about a dozen loans so I could hire mercenaries and try to turn the war around.

That didn't happen. I raised the white flag about six years earlier than the English did in actual history. In my defense, that put the Hundred Years War closer to actually being 100 years long. (In real life, it was actually The 116 Years War.) It was around this time that I discovered why I was now in an amount of debt comparable, in the currency of the time, to the current U.S. deficit: In my frenzy to set up my realm at the very beginning, I had hired a tier three adviser to help out my armies. These function like the councilors in Crusader Kings, but you have three general spots, instead of a handful tied to specific jobs. There are well over a dozen advisor types, that can benefit everything from military to economy.

The problem was, this money-grubbing bureaucrat was an "expensive luxury," in the words of the developers, and had essentially ruined my entire nation single-handedly from the get-go. The other players who had settled for tier one advisers were doing just fine in the treasury department. Personally, I hope there's a giant, flashing "Greedy Bastard" warning on these guys when the game launches. Once Lord Extravagance, Esquire got the sack, I started to slowly repay my loans and plot the reconquest of Wales. Alas, with the limited time we had to play, it was only a dream.

Europa IV is an incredibly deep and dynamic game, where each new menu you open is daunting, while simultaneously filling your head with possibilities. You mean I can play as Denmark, kick off the Protestant Reformation, colonize Canada, foment a rebellion, and play as the new nation that emerges from my former subjects? Why yes, yes I can. And that's only the beginning. Europa IV sets sail later this year, and with the train wreck of 15th Century England behind me, I look forward to discovering the rest. And maybe giving Zacny some payback.