Review: Europa Universalis IV: Mandate of Heaven

By Joe Robinson 10 Apr 2017 0

Review: Europa Universalis IV: Mandate of Heaven

Released 06 Apr 2017

Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available from:
Direct
Steam
Reviewed on: PC

The tenth major expansion for Europa Universalis IV is out, and the game isn't even four years old yet (that birthday is coming in August). Mandate of Heaven, released last Thursday, brought with it a new wave of features, mechanics and other changes to the continuing saga of this epic grand-strategy game of nations and empires.

To compliment this review, we've published a comprehensive guide to how Ages work.

As T.J. broke down for us in his recent DLC Buying Guide, Mandate of Heaven’s headline features mainly centre on new mechanics for key far-eastern cultures: The Chinese Empire has been overhauled and given new mechanics and a sub-game, nations with the 'Manchu' culture get a new way to raise armies, and the Shogunate in Japan has also been overhauled to better represent the political situation there. Confucian and Shinto religions have also been expanded and re-worked to give them more flavour and there is a new ‘Tributary’ system that can be used by any country with an 'Eastern' religion.

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As far as region agnostic features go, the game is now divided up into different "Ages", as well as the addition of a diplomatic macro interface. Other minor features such as Artillery Barrages and State Edicts are also present. In summary, Mandate of Heaven follows the trend of many past EUIV expansion where it focuses on one area or theme and builds around nations and cultures relevant to that headline topic. Ultimately, if you’re not interested in the history and flavour of the Far East, then this isn’t going to tick many boxes for you.

If you've never really played around much with the Far Eastern nations then you might not appreciate the differences at first glance, but through extended testing it’s clear to see that they’ve really tried enhancing the key culture groups in terms of the quality of the experience. Ming now has its own unique subgame that evokes a lot of HRE analogies; as the Emperor of the Chinese Empire you’re tasked with making sure you keep hold of the Mandate from Heaven. Instead of Legitimacy you have Meritocracy, which you spend on Decrees that give you 10-year boosts. Generating 'Mandate' also allows you to enact key reforms to help you run the Celestial Empire better. Generally, you want as many tributaries as you can get to follow you, and playing as Ming your job is basically to hold on to the status quo. The reverse is trying to pick the Empire apart from the outside, perhaps even take the Mandate for yourself.

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Japan’s unique Shogunate system has also been re-worked – the most obvious change is that it’s now a lot easier to declare war on neighbouring clans through the 'Sengoku' war-goal. This only applies on other clans that you have a neighbouring province with, but it means you don't have to have a title claim. Your basic goal here is to try and gain enough power to become Shogun yourself and/or unite Japan. The Ashikaga clan start as the Shogun, with everyone else existing as a special type of Vassal under you. They don't take up relation slots, but you can still interact with them like a Vassal and even annex them. When you declare war for the Shogunate, all of your allies automatically join you regardless of how much they like you/the Shogun, and you'll be fighting against everyone else. Unique religion mechanics for Confucianism (for China) and Shinto (for Japan) round off these two culture groups, with the latter especially offering choices regarding Japan's historical isolationism.

Manchu is the last ‘targeted’ culture in terms of features. All of the Manchu culture nations get to raise a new type of army called ‘Banners’, which cost gold to replenish but don’t touch your manpower reserves. It’s not as sweeping or as interesting as China/Japan, but it provides additional tools to help you resist the stronger nations.

As mentioned above, anyone who has an ‘Eastern’ religion can have a new Vassal-like entity called a ‘Tributary’. This is a big feature of a Ming/China play-through, but I’ve seen other big eastern empires like the Timurids have tributaries as well. Hordes are also allowed tributaries. Essentially, if a nation becomes a tributary of yours, you can demand something from them each year; the main things being Gold, Manpower or Monarch points. They can refuse at any point, of course, and sometimes they can’t afford one thing so they send you another. They’re not obliged to come into any wars you declare, but they can call you into their wars. For example, I attacked a Timurids tributary as Ming, and the Timurids were called into the war to protect them. So far none of my Tributaries have called me into a war though.

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The ‘Age’ system is probably the most game-changing in a general sense, but it’s also the aspect that’ll be hardest to evaluate. EUIV’s development history is riddled with instances of features/mechanics that, ultimately, haven’t really been needed or haven’t worked as intended. Some feel this way about Estates currently, while other things – like the ‘Western European’ Trade Node – came and went as they were found wanting. The Ages essentially divide the game into more formal segments, each one coming with its own rules and objectives. Nations can try to achieve objectives to gain benefits and generate ‘splendor’, which you can use to get buffs available in that age. If you achieve 3 objectives in any one Age, you can trigger a ‘Golden Age’ although this can only ever be done once.

This is ultimately an unproven feature at the moment. Given that my review focused on trying out as many of the new mechanics as possible, I didn’t actually progress that far through any one game. A nation can generate Splendor even if they haven’t completed any objectives, so unlocking the buffs is still possible but so far I’ve found them a bit lack-lustre. It does give you something to strive for if you’re absent any other driving force, though, which is never a bad thing. Their ultimate impact won’t be felt for a while – one needs to get through a game long-term to see how they start changing and defining strategy in those periods, and whether they clash with existing features. Sadly, this is not something I can give advice on this time around.

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We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the free 1.20 Ming patch that released along-side this update, as has been the tradition with Paradox grand-strategy titles for a while now. I’d personally argue this is one of the more balanced free vs paid dynamics we’ve had in a while – the free patch includes mainly quality of life changes and some additions that allow for basic interactions with some of the premium features. Overall it doesn’t seem that ground-breaking, but as always we’d recommend you consult the official patch notes so you have a clear idea of what comes free and what you have to pay for.

Mandate of Heaven is another solid Paradox expansion, although its worth is pretty much derived from how much you want to play in the East. The Ages are also very much TBD in terms of how they impact the game, especially since your interaction with them is limited if you don't buy Mandate. The macro-builder especially is a great Quality of Life improvement to streamline some of the more ‘grindy’ aspects of mid-game diplomacy. If you’re anything like me then you may be running out of interesting candidates to try in the ‘Old World’, so bringing the Far East countries up to par in terms of events, mechanics etc… is a great way to re-discover the game again. 

A great expansion, and quite well balanced with the free patch. If you want to head East then this is a must-buy.

Review: Europa Universalis IV: Mandate of Heaven

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