Challenge Accepted II: Vanilla Europa Universalis IV is put to the test

By T.J. Hafer 16 May 2018 0

1444: The year Europa Universalis IV begins. 1821: The year the game ends. $323.75: The price for all of EU4’s DLC at full price. We’ve already written up a guide on what to prioritize for the best experience. It received rave reviews at launch and we’ve gotten 24 major patches since then… but the question remains: Can you get by if you only own the base game and DLC? Is EUIV ‘vanilla’ worth your time?

We recently asked this question of Crusader Kings IIand has Hearts of Iron 4 and Stellaris grow their own DLC libaries, we may very well ask this question again some day. Among the biggest features you’ll be missing out on is the new mechanics added for pre-colonial American nations. Conquest of Paradise greatly expanded on North America and El Dorado did the same for South and Central Americans, and without them, both groups quickly revert to being some of the most boring tags on the map. They’re playable in a token sense, but you’re not going to get anything like an ideal EU4 experience. While Crusader Kings II will outright prevent you from playing certain religious groups without DLC, EU4 still lets you do it… just don’t expect much.

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This phenomenon extends to some other parts of the map as well. The greater Chinese region is far less interesting without Mandate of Heaven, the Muslim world suffers for lack of Cradle of Civilization and the Star and Crescent flavor pack and playing as a horde feels more than a bit underwhelming without the new events and mechanics added in The Cossacks.

EU4 at launch was very focused on the European world, as one might expect from the title. And the good news is, playing in Europe is still a pretty flavorful and fun experience without DLC - though I painfully missed the expanded Reformation and Religious League Wars stuff from Art of War, reaffirming its place as the most essential DLC.

Beyond this, there are two major factors that caused me to chafe in my DLC-less play. First of all, notoriously, you lose the ability to develop provinces (except by random events) without Common Sense, which serves the purpose of making tall empires like Venice almost impossible to play without switching gears to full on conquest, permanently limits the number of building slots you can get in any given province and shoots dead your ability to use monarch power efficiently. Plan to spend a lot of time with 999 monarch power, watching your monthly earnings float away into oblivion, because there’s almost no way to burn it off if your stability’s high and you don’t like re-rolling generals for ages. Promote Mercantilism and Strengthen Government, the two other major ways to dump monarch power into something useful, are also DLC features, making the problem even worse.

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The second prime annoyance is how many quality-of-life features that simply make a complex game much easier to manage have been locked behind DLC. Just to name a few things you won’t be able to do: automated fleet transport, telling your subjects how to behave in war, auto-assigning your diplomats through the macro-builder, building troops directly to an army, creating army templates, setting automated fleet missions, informing your allies which provinces you want in a joint war, increasing trust with your long-time allies so they don’t randomly betray you for some stupid reason, and checking which countries are interested in an alliance or royal marriage without clicking on all of them individually.

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg. While Crusader Kings II can actually assist new players with the more low-key experience DLC-less play offers, EU4 requires more fiddling, more micromanagement, more things you have to constantly babysit and pay attention to, and more effort to get to information you need to play well. It’s a harder, fussier, less user-friendly game without DLC, which ended up being the one element of its DLC strategy I’m most critical of.

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Now, are you going to have a terrible time in base game EU4? Of course not. It’s still the game I gave a 92 at launch, but in most ways better. The dozens and dozens of free features and balance passes all that DLC has paid for do make a difference. The map has been greatly expanded and diversified with over 1000 new provinces, adding historical accuracy along with tons of flavor and new national ideas. Replacing the old Westernization system with Institutions was a huge, positive step forward for how technology is modelled (although be aware you won’t be able to influence it much without the development system from Common Sense). The new fort system, while still tricky to understand, is still far better than the carpet sieges of the old days.

But compared to Crusader Kings II, it’s a much harder game to recommend for someone who doesn’t want to commit to any DLC just yet. If you’re really serious about getting into Europa Universalis 4, I’d definitely advise you grab at least the top three or four items from our guide, as it makes a night-and-day difference in a lot of cases.

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