SG Top Mods: Total Conversions of Paradox Grand-Strategy Titles

By Craig Robinson 07 Sep 2017 1

Modifications are PC gaming's greatest strength - they allow fans and budding programmers to take something they love, and make something unique out of it. Mod communities are also largely responsible for the continued longevity of many staple (and classic) game series. The Paradox Interactive games are no exception to this - sure, the grand strategy company has now adopted a comprehensive plan of post-launch support that includes free and paid content with new or expanded features, but mods are still a vital part of their appeal and eco-system. 

As these games grow, their mod community grows with them as they have access to more and more tools to make some pretty fantastic mods. In this article, I'll explore my personal favourite total conversions of Paradox’s flagship titles: Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Hearts of Iron IV and Stellaris. Enjoy!

Crusader Kings II

To kick off the list, we must talk about the most iconic strategy mod ever created. A Game of Thrones is the staple user-created content for Crusader Kings II, with its extremely fitting setting and mechanics. This modification is set across many bookmarks based on the different timelines within the A Song of Ice and Fire universe, which allow players to participate in the most interesting historical bookmarks, just like the base game. As for the mechanics, the scheming, alliances, plots, and warfare fit directly into this fictional world, which brings to life the atmosphere depicted within the book and TV series. Therefore, the nature of this fictional universe and the gameplay style of Crusader Kings combine to create an amazing unique experience at a highly developed level.

Not only is the setting natural to the game, the playability of the mod utilises established Crusader Kings II features. For anyone who has played within the Holy Roman Empire, playing as a Westerosi Lord Protector and vassal is similar. Although, the HRE elects its Emperor, whereas the Seven Kingdoms has a hereditary monarchy instead. As for Essos, the continent has Merchant Republics, Horse Lords, and other forms of government types, which make the modification familiar with regular CK2 players.

Meanwhile, warfare in Westeros is unique to every character's decisions.  Playing from the Clash of Kings bookmark, I found myself not getting involved in a war while my vassal decided to support the claim of Stannis Baratheon. The map updated to show the fragmentation of Westeros, without ruining the hierarchy of titles within the game. This feature is exceptional as it encourages every playthrough to be unique in approach which is very important for creative players.

Dorne

The Stone Way making its own decisions independently but still a part of the Dornish realm.

In addition, ASOIAF expands upon character-defining features of the game. With Way of Life and Monks of Mystics being character enhancing DLCs of the game, these elements created an opportunity to bring in legendary elements of the Game of Thrones universe to the mod.

In the base game, selecting certain character focuses allowed the player to enhance themselves in various ways. For example, Robert Baratheon could be attempting to hone his skills in combat and would seek out a sparring partner, this partner could be Eddard Stark, which could create lifelong friendship, whilst still improving the marshall mechanic. Following on from Robert Baratheon’s combat successes, we know he became a master of the warhammer. In the clash of kings bookmark, Robert Baratheon’s warhammer is inside the King's Landing treasury and can be used by characters and gives of effects for the owners of the item. Other atmospheric content exist, such as Valyrian Steel or Dragon Eggs, which can be used to enhance a character's ambitions and provide other sort of military bonuses. These mechanics help to build up the fictional atmosphere, whilst adding in new ways to reward a character's focus.  

Treasury

A look inside king's landings collection of lore items.

The Game of Thrones mod is rated the 3rd most popular content on moddb, and you can get it here.

Runner up: Project Augustus. This mod creates a timeline for the end of the Western Roman Empire to Charlemagne. The mod works well with the theme of the game as the Dark ages share similar themes with the later Medieval era. Although the mod offers nothing new other than some interesting bookmark, historical invasions and battles to play through. You can get the mod here in the Steam Workshop.

Europa Universalis IV

In contrast to CK2, Europa Universalis is about having nations that aim to expand their territory across the world, and become great powers. However, Europa Universalis looks into the Early Modern timeframe, and so limits the Empire potential. Meet "The Extended Timeline Mod", which improves on the empire building of the base game and adds in near enough every possible bookmark in recorded history. These timelines are excellent to play along with the nations they have designed themselves.

Each bookmark offers interesting challenges to experience. Those familiar with the Total War settings are aware of the struggles of Ancient Europe, and those that have played Hearts of Iron know the difficulties in controlling a vast empire at war. This modification combines those feelings into a more simplistic Europa setting where picking and playing a nation is much simpler, without affecting the difficulties in decision making, Not to mention the enjoyment of building an empire differently than history.

Byzantine

A look into one of the bookmarks in the Extended Timeline Mod.

Those that have played vanilla EUIV know the satisfaction of surviving an ironman campaign with a sizeable empire. They are also aware of the easy, intermediate, and hard nations that exist within the game. The Extended Timeline content is a perfect opportunity to explore the other eras and attempt to make an empire out of long and troublesome hours put into a vastly different save. You can download The Extended Timeline Mod here.

Runner up: Warcraft Universalis. I figured I would include this mod as a runner up because of the potential it has to be successful. Currently, the mod is very buggy -- ages progression doesn’t seem to work for important timeline events and the unit packs don’t work correctly. If these all worked correctly perhaps Warcraft would be my first choice, because a return to a strategic Warcraft approach is something I would like to play again. Check it out here.

Stellaris

Stellaris is a pretty young game, with no predecessor to reflect on. With the game's release just over a year ago, many modders have brought numerous ideas to the table. After playing a few of the different total conversions mods, Star Trek: New Horizons stood out among the crowd. The "Star Trek" mod brings their own storylines for many of the notable races, expands the technology tree and includes their own events. It also includes a lot of visuals that truly recreate the Star Trek universe, such as a number of different race ships, building appearances, and ship part effects. They also put in the time and effort to design Star Trek races, where there are currently 51 playable empires, whilst other species are not playable but in the game (like the Borg).

Star Trek Races

A list of Star Trek races, each with their own custom traits and appearances.

For those with good enough PC’s, the developers have made a 2000-star map of the Milky Way. The map has all the playable races in it, in addition to the non-playable. This map really tries to recreate the vast story of Star Trek for all those mega fans of the series. For others that want a more random base game feeling, there are smaller maps where only partial amounts of the Star Trek races are involved, simulating a standard playthrough with the perks of the mod instead.  

Throughout my time experimenting with the modification, I played as United Earth, allied with the Vulcans instantly, and sailed off into the night. After a few years, I got a strange notification saying a probe was coming my way. It turns out it was the Xindi Incident whose story unfolded in a 2003 TV episode of Star Trek Enterprise.  

Xindi Incident

Part of the story mode for the United Earth race.

The mod’s developers also included the Federation as an end goal of the main races. If you play as one of the four founding factions (Human, Vulcan, Andorian, or Tellarite), you can create the in-game event for the creation of the United Federation of Planets. To do so, you must increase your relations with the other 3 empires, however, you only need two of the for the event to fire.

It is for these reasons I chose this mod as my favourite, as it generated an atmosphere that no other could replicate. You can check it out through this link to the download page.

Runner up: The Stellaris Alpha Mod is unlike the other total conversions that have a sci-fi reference. It has amplified much of the base game's mechanics, as well as the DLC mechanics. From technology to planetary functions, it broadens every aspect of the game that makes it feel extremely different to the unmodded version. The modification calls itself the unofficial expansion. You can get the Alpha Mod here.

Hearts of Iron IV

Similarly to Stellaris, Hearts of Iron IV is just over a year old. Unlike Stellaris, it has predecessors to go from. Kaiserreich, the best mod from Hearts of Iron II, has been redeveloped for Hearts of Iron IV. Kaiserreich is an alternate history based on the Germans, Habsburg Empire, and Ottomans winning the First World War. This mod creates a scenario that places emphasis on other nations and completely redefines many other countries. One of the base game's biggest struggles is the importance of the smaller historical nations. In the mod, many countries are reinvented to suit a very alternative history, which creates an all new experience to play through.

Many empires have had their national trees customised to suit the alternative history setting of the game. This creates a new atmosphere because many nations can make an impact with their unique trees. It is also beneficial to replayability because the player tends to have little knowledge of how this will end as the historical great powers are now totally in a different position.

Ukrainian Political Focus

A screenshot showing how in depth the custom national focuses are.

The developers also altered how the government works. After the war, Great Britain had a communist revolution and the monarchy fled to Canada, creating two different playable elements of the British. Other nations, like the French, are a commune, while Germany and Austria are authoritarian etc. As for the other European nations, they now have a purpose that can use their unique trees to have their own style and join their own factions, meaning every country has a number of playstyles.

Following the historical trend, the two factions are democratic Britain, its colonies and France vs Germany and its allies. Despite its historically similarity, the Grand Alliances of the Second World War completely different in nature due to the major power changes and the redeveloped countries. The possibilities of partners joining and leaving are bountiful, due to the developed national focus trees and different political systems in every country. Not to mention that the British Isles, Asia and Russia are no longer bound to any faction at the start of the game, so that can generate surprise allegiances depending in every game.

Ukrainian Alliance paths

A look at how many options are available for the minor nations to determine their course in the upcoming war.

To capture the nature of the alternative reality, the team introduced an stability system to the game. The feature bases itself on the Political Power mechanic, where Political Power is spent on narrowing your nation's goal. In this system, spending political power can send you into the negatives, which will cause instability in various forms that could lead to revolution. This mechanic is an interesting challenge and creates uniqueness to every save. To play Kaiserreich, follow this link.

Runner up: Millennium Dawn. Despite not having made it as my favourite, Millennium Dawn is making potential. The mod is set in the year 2000 with the current world affairs in mind. They have also done similar national focus alteration which can alter how present day issues have been dealt with. With further development, this modification can make for some exciting playthroughs. You can download Millennium Dawn here.

Those are my favourite mods for Paradox’s flagship titles, so go play them if they interest you. If you have already played some or all the content in this article, what is your opinion on their quality? Do you have a personal favourite you feel I missed out? Let me know in the comments below, so we can appreciate the modding community in strategy games more!

This article is part of our SG-1 Volunteer Initiative and was kindly donated to us by the author. For more information, please see this post.

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