Blog #4: Europa Universalis 4 and Blackwell Legacy

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Long time no write! Since the last blog, I’ve been getting more and more burned out on RPGs. Playing at the same time: Pillars of Eternity (which I put on hiatus), Guild Wars 2 and The Witcher (just jumped back in for a moment though) AND Elder Scrolls Online (again, just to check that out) is just not sustainable. It got me to the point where I grew increasingly cynical about caves, loot and monsters. A change of pace was in order. So obviously I get drawn back into my other favorite genre: the grand strategy game.

Started getting back into Europa Universalis 4

This time it’s not about Crusader Kings 2 though. Nope, I decided to really give Europa Universalis 4 a go. I never actually finished a campaign in that game, the only one I played took me ~20 hours and at the time I was too deep into CK2. I perceived a lack of personality in EU4 as compared to CK2. Of course, none of the political backstabbing shenanigans are to be found here. I could clearly see the game had its focus elsewhere, and it was obviously a deep, enjoyable game, but I just wasn’t in the headspace at the time.

Anyway, I decided to keep things relatively standard and chose France. French history is very interesting and I enjoyed my French classes in high school and anyway, the “big blue blob” is a powerful choice as I gives you the freedom to play in a number of different ways according to the community. Be it colonialism, aggressively expanding into any direction in Europe or keeping a lower profile and becoming a trading giant, there’s potential in all of them for France.

Now I’ve reached 80 hours played and am at 1700 A.D. My verdict of EU4 so far is this:

It’s an incredibly – INCREDIBLY – interesting game. It, like CK2, feels like a window into the past, a toy to be played with, a big complex machine to try and mess around with. It’s also a lot easier to grasp than CK2, which itself was lauded as the most accessible Paradox grand strategy game yet. EU4 has a couple of really elegant design concepts that just impress the hell out of my inner game designer brain. Most of all, the monarch point system is just the best thing ever. It’s all you need to understand to get going, allowing you to wield some sort of control in the beginning of the learning process. Of course, the underlying maths and systems are about as complex as one can expect from a Paradox game, but now they have an easily understandable mode of user interaction and an effective information presentation layer on top of it.

All the beginner needs to know is this: you control a nation, each month you get a set number of points of three types: administration, diplomacy and military. They represent the capability of your country to do things in the respective fields. It make sense right off the bat. Great military powers will have many military points each month, therefore accumulate more military power than other nations, allowing them to do more military stuff, be it building military buildings, improve their military tech and army modifiers and so forth. Almost anything that you can do as a ruler that is related to military uses those points in some form.

And so you go on your merry way, starting to look at the diplomacy mechanics, look into how to recruit regiments and so forth. The game has depth in all directions, and when you want to know more, it’s all very clearly laid out thanks to the best tooltip design in the industry (that I know of). Of course, there is a limit to what you can learn from a tooltip alone, and for that I’d recommend watching Arumba’s Youtube videos.

Much like CK2, what’s so enjoyable about this type of play is the flexibility in engagement you have when playing. You can just let the game’s clock run on high speed and answer the alerts, playing in a passive way. Or you can sit down, crunch the numbers and take more risks.

EU4 easier to get into than Civilization 5.

I tried playing Civilization 5 alongside EU4, and interestingly enough, Civ 5 is much more difficult for me to get into. I have a problem of not being able to suspend my disbelief when playing Civ 5. It irritates me that every playable nation starts in the Stone Age, that America can build the Great Pyramids and most of all, the constant demand to hand pick the next building to produce puts me into a weird situation. Of course I want a library in my city. What city doesn’t have a library? And of course we need an aqueduct. But make me choose between the two? You’re often asked to make a decision when it grates to even have to make that choice. Diplomacy in Civ 5, while serviceable feels arbitrary (which it probably isn’t, I’ve glanced at some closer explanation of it on the internet), and nowhere near as intricate as that of EU4.

In EU4, I really enjoy the abstraction model of empire building. Things like aggressive expansion, coring provinces, cultural and religious strife, manpower and war exhaustion, the technology and national ideas model, all those things are easily understandable and rather than asking me to suspend my disbelief, it actively asks to fine tune my assumptions about the realities of ruler ship in a way that rings true. When Civ 5 is a deep strategy game that dons a cloak of accessibility with a history theme, EU4 is a delightfully complex simulation of the interplay between nations of the renaissance age. The historical theme isn’t just a coat of paint it pulls over itself. It’s the very core of the game and something it takes really quite seriously, and everything else – from the gameplay mechanics to the tasteful UI to the realistic look of the world map is an extension of that. I’ll be writing more about EU4 the more I play it.

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Finished the Blackwell Legacy

To balance out the heavy diet of grand strategy, the lighter fare of point and click adventure gaming was welcome. The Blackwell games have been sitting in my library so I figured I’d give it a go. In recent years I haven’t played adventures as much as in the past, but the ones I played were mostly from Wadjet Eye Games. The Blackwell Legacy was one of the first (or maybe the first) commercial releases of the company, with the VGA pixellated 2D AGS style of presentation.

It’s a really cool little story to get into. You play as Rosangela Blackwell, a 20-something writer living in New York. She finds out about the “legacy” of her bloodline, a ghost named Joey who only she can see and hear. She is forced to become some sort of helper of the dead, looking for ghosts of dead people who for some reason or other haven’t found their way into the next world. The writing is engaging and has a lot of personality, with Joey a real highlight. The dynamic of talking to people while an invisible guy throws in remarks from the sidelines is fun and makes hungry for more.

I’ll give it another go for the commentary mode. Dave Gilbert, the creator of the game, kindly included this feature and from the few bits I’ve heard, they’re actually interesting bits of background info on the making of the game. Good stuff.

 

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