An Introduction to: Customization in Paradox Grand-Strategy Games

By Craig Robinson 20 Apr 2017 0

Paradox's grand-strategy games have done a great job at entrenching themselves in the mainstream PC gaming consciousness. Going from strength to strength, the company can now offer epic gameplay experiences across multiple eras, from medieval Europe, to the Age of Exploration and WW2... even Space.

The sandbox nature of the games offer near-limitless replay value, but sometimes you find yourself treading the same old ground while you wait for a new expansion or a particular update. Arguably one of Paradox's greatest features in their new generation of games, and one that people may not readily appreciate, is their customization options. First coming to light in Crusader Kings II with the stand-alone Ruler Designer DLC , customisation spread to EUIV via the El Dorado expansion. Finally, Stellaris as customisable races built into the base game, allowing you to conquer the stars in any way, shape or form you please.

But where do these customisation options fit into the game? What do they mean for games like CK2 and EUIV especially, which are so rooted in historical plausibility despite their flexible design?

Allow us to give you a brief introduction.

Hive mind

The Basics

In Crusader Kings II, you can design a ruler with the appearance, ethnicity, and dynastic coat of arms of your choice, which is then followed by traits that either increase, or decrease the character’s age. These traits can be virtues, sins, hereditary traits, or personalities that have bonuses to certain skills the character has. You can also choose to have a Son or Daughter with your character. If you have the Way of Life DLC, there are additional options available for the way your character is specialised.

In Europa Universalis IV you can use the tools to create multiple nations across the globe; or just one nation, it is up to you. The EUIV Nation Creator allows the player to give a name and flag to the new entity, then select religion, government type, National Ideas to work towards, and then starting provinces. You can also determine how good your starting ruler, heir and Consort is. This is all controlled by a points system you can define in the game lobby. The better options and the better provinces cost more points (and you can also give yourself negative point options to squeeze in that last boon). The values are normally 200. 400. 600, 800 points. Recent expansions have added some nice support for this feature, as there are multiple achievements connected to doing an Ironman Save with a custom nation - perfect for those looking for a challenge.

Since Stellaris is devoid of any kind of historical context (and there are few things connected to pre-made races), the customisation tools on the one hand have less impact, but on the other also provide the most freedom. The Stellaris Race/Empire tool allows the player to select a species from a pool of lifeform categories. There are many different types of appearances to choose how your first leader, cities, and ships will look like. From there you can select how you want to govern, what civics, and what race traits come along with it. With the Utopia DLC just released, you can now choose to play a Hive Mind, which adds a whole different style of play.

Count of Reggio

My custom CK2 character. I played in the Age of the Mongols. Picked count of Reggio and made her male for an easier playthrough. Gave the traits Strong, Wounded, Cynical, Arbitrary, and Brilliant Strategist. Then proceeded to Holy War Iberia and North Africa to make my own Empire within the HRE and Sicilian Realm.

Best Practice

Generally, every Paradox grand-strategy title has different archetypes that allow for varied types of play: Trade or Diplomacy, Great Power or Minor Power, Explorer or Conqueror. Some nations or rulers can involve multiple aspects but if you've got a strong military character in CK2, or are playing as a Merchant Republic in EUIV, you're generally skewing one way or the other.

Duke of Swabia

So what is the main reason for using this feature? At it's core, these customisation tools are a great way to experience the games in different from the norm.

As an example: In Crusader Kings II, building your own Dynasty and designing them to be the strongest warlord always makes a good save to build an empire. Normally I do this by declaring Holy War on nearby heretics and heathens. You can also make a cynical possessed character and commit atrocities to subjects and courtiers; with the addition of Monks and Mystics, worshipping Demons and the Devil through cults makes for exciting saves.

It is also good to note that taking the wounded trait is a free -11 score trait to take. Wounded normally heals and is replaced by a slight attraction penalty, whilst giving a bit of prestige; so, the losses of it is not that big of a deal. Unfortunately, the strategy is a little more dangerous since the Reaper’s Due DLC. Wounds can become infected, thus making death possible. Although this has not happened to me yet so I would still recommend doing so.

In Europa Universalis IV, the custom nation saves are some of the best saves I have played. You can make alternate history nations and build an empire that adds a bit of flavour to your experience. You can make something small and become part of the H.R.E. You can make large kingdoms and rival nearby powerful kingdoms for early Balance of Power. Custom nations usually cause weird fluctuations and differences vs. how history actually played out, which never stop getting amusing.

The Med

One of my other playthroughs on 200 points. Mediterranean merchant republic (territories are yellow) with national ideas.

Again, since Stellaris has this idea of customisation built-in, it feels the effects of this more acutely. A lot is defined by the government type and racial traits an Empire has, so the 'builds' are a bit more obvious. Your starting government type will provide certain bonuses to specific things based around a theme, and your race will also be given certain traits and ethos that also give specific boons. You generally want to combo these together to give you the upper hand although there is a lot less wiggle room here. You HAVE to choose a government and starting ethos, and the 'point buying' concept from EUIV doesn't really appear until the race designer. You can give your starting race negative traits to take better positive ones, so it's very much a trade off.

Lizard Wizards

Here is a picture of one of my races on Stellaris. You can see how the government works, what ethics they have, as well as some positives and negative racial traits.

A New Frontier

One of my favourite saves in EUIV was a multiplayer save with me and three other friends where we set up 800 point custom nations. One friend made a Norse Netherlands for a huge market and naval power playthrough. The other friends united Italy and England for early centralised power bases. As for me, I created a New Crimean Horde of Sunni Muslims that threatened Russia. Immediately, The Ottomans and I became close friends, and together, we carved the east between ourselves with the bulwark of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth holding us from entering Europe.

When the Thirty Year War arrived, me and the Ottomans joined the Protestant side to beat the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Little did I know that my English and Italian friends had remained Catholic. This war went down as one of the best experiences of EUIV I have ever had. Using my 450k manpower to maintain the Eastern Front for France to penetrate the Western Front proved challenging, as France was defeated and so my front was the major theatre. We were quickly routed and so had to make do with making a Sunni Russia for the rest of the game instead.

New Crimea

I encourage everyone, if they have not done so already, to play a custom character or nation (or choose something different in Stellaris). Set yourselves your own aim and see where the game takes you. I promise the experience will give that extra flavour to your grand strategy!

What's been your favourite experience with a custom nation or ruler in a Paradox game? Got any additional tips and questions? Let us know in the comments!

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