The first impression of Europa Universalis IV, upon its initial release, was that Paradox Interactive had given players a rushed and unfinished project. While base EU4 wasn’t riddled with the game-breaking bugs of, say, Assassin’s Creed, or littered with the absurd day-one DLC of Evolve, people still felt thoroughly cheated. EU4’s gameplay, ostensibly a process of guiding a chosen country through the early modern era, felt shallow, poorly conceptualized and unexplored, at least compared to its seven-year-old predecessor, Europa Universalis III. Fans of grand strategy, myself included, often take a degree of pretentious pride at the supposed depth of our favorite titles, most—if not all—crafted by the innovative Swedes at Paradox.
The base EU4 game was generally lauded for “streamlining” its predecessor, reducing what was admittedly a clunky UI, and making the game much easier for the uninitiated to play. The reaction of its core market, however—people who had been playing and modding Europa Universalis III since 2006—was much more tepid. EU4’s lead developer, Johan Andersson, did little to help alleviate tensions in the community when he stated he “didn’t give a fuck about [EU4‘s] AI” while developing the game; this, naturally, appeared to fans as a somewhat ridiculous statement when the genre is so heavily centered around single-player campaigns.
The flurry of emotion has died down. What fans of the series are left with now is a title that, to use a gameplay term, is “Westernizing”—going through a laborious modernization process by building on its base with downloadable content. And now, finally, with the release of “El Dorado”, EU4’s latest expansion, we have that complete, modernized, “Westernized” game. And it’s damn good.
El Dorado’s most heavily advertised and hyped expansion to core gameplay is also its most unique and well-done. El Dorado revamps the exploration and colonization mechanics that haven’t really been changed since the mediocre “Conquest of Paradise” DLC.
Naval exploration is no longer simply a point-and-click process, in which you slowly snake around Africa and Brazil until your ships creak from attrition. You’re encouraged to set goals for the fleets, like “find Cape Bojador” or “circumnavigate the globe”, and the same goes for your land-based conquistadors—no longer just generals that can explore terra incognita, they can be sent on missions like “find the Seven Cities of Gold”, in which the units act independently of player commands. This feels infinitely more “historical”—Carlos V of Spain wasn’t exactly directing Cortes and Pizzaro step by step as they brought down the Aztec and Inca empires.
Speaking of Mesoamericans, another welcome change is a restructuring of the native religions. Prior to El Dorado, the gameplay in the Americas felt like a long, laborious drag until the first European ships sailed into the Caribbean. Then, you were in a race against time to modernize and hopefully survive the Spanish cavalry. Now, there are plenty of gameplay opportunities in Pre-Columbian Mexico and Peru. The Aztecs have a particularly innovative “doom” mechanic, in which the player is fighting a race against the Aztec calendar. To delay doomsday, your leader must participate in “flower wars”, which have the aim of gathering human sacrifices. If you ignore the heavenly lust for blood, the Aztecs go into full-fledged social collapse. It’s a mechanic really reminiscent of “classic” Paradox, and a true return to form.
After the nitty-gritty process of exploration is achieved, colonization follows. El Dorado’s finally refined the Treaty of Tordesillas, previous a clunky casus-belli mechanic in which AI Spain and Portugal would be encouraged to tear each other apart in pursuit of Caribbean Island. Now, Catholic Nation can lobby the Pope to grant them regions of colonization—encouraging the map to look more organized, with major powers focusing on regions rather than spamming both continents with unconnected settlements.
As these colonies develop and become semi-independent vice-royalties, they begin to send treasure fleets, which can fall prey to privateers. As you develop your possessions in the New World, you’re encouraged to counter these pirates and send out your own privateers. The Caribbean becomes a hotly contested center of trade, with four or five powers fighting for supremacy over the historically hot trade node.
After this El Dorado release, EU4 is finally a complete gameplay experience worthy of its predecessor. While it probably won’t be EU4‘s final DLC, the 1444 to 1821 timeline has become infinitely more playable.
Europa Universalis IV: El Dorado was reviewed using a code purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
Final Verdict: 8.5 (base EU4 rated at 6)
- A solid expansion that much improves the base game
- We were forced to wait for two years for a properly fleshed out EU4