Paradox Interactive is well-known for their grand historical strategy games. Their flagship franchise just released its fourth title this past Tuesday: Europa Universalis 4. So far the game is being warmly accepted by gamers, both Paradox veterans and the legions of new players that the developer’s other recent game, Crusader Kings 2, attracted into the fold. As a self-proclaimed Paradox fanboy I am neither a veteran or newcomer. My timely history with Paradox began perhaps five years ago. And the only reason I was able to soundly navigate my way through the EU 4 demo is because of the hours and hours and hours and hours and hours I spent playing its predecessor Europa Universalis 3. Considering this, it is easy to let out a chuckle of mirth as I remember the very first time I sat down with EU3:
My time with EU3 concluded a multi-year gap in gaming – a gap not of my own choice, mind you. I did not have the hardware until our new family was graciously gifted an HP Inspirion laptop. And even then, grateful that I was/am to have it, the computer was limited in its capacity to play games. I saw the EU3 for $5 at Half-Priced Books. The game is not heavy on the graphics, though there is much going on ‘under the hood’. Therefore, the laptop satisfied the minimum system requirements. Yes. I was aching to play something/anything. And I enjoy history. So I jumped in.
The packaging included a 148-page player’s manual. Not a strategy guide; a manual. 148 pages. For a manual. Of Mice and Men is 112 pages. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is 136 pages. And here is this company with the gall to create a game so detailed, so complex, that it needs a one-hundred-frikking-forty-eight-page manual. And you know what – I read that sucker cover to cover. I embraced the infamous Paradox Interactive learning curve. It was a challenge that perhaps I would not have undertaken if I hadn’t played a video game in soooooo long!
Now that I think of it, EU3 was my first exposure to meta gaming. This was the first time I involved myself with gaming message boards. I freakishly lurked the Paradox forums, reading about player strategies and furthering my understanding of the mechanics. And then Paradox started releasing expansions, one after another after another (The vanilla was terrible, but I didn’t know any better). The forums kept the gameplay fresh and fun.
All elements combined – the monster manual (though incredibly outdated by the third expansion), message boards, new releases – made for a wildly complex and all together satisfactory experience. I had memorable campaigns as: a market-driven Norway, though I didn’t quite get to creating Scandinavia; the Eastern European Muscowy, struggling to keep up with its western neighbors while, on the opposing borders, fighting back the advancing Golden Horde (this was a good one!); and Liguria, a Northwestern Italian province that I expanded to command the Mediterranean. The objective needn’t always be global domination – a characteristic that will always gives Paradox an advantage over the Total War games. Paradox gives the power to pervert history in so many delicious ways.
Indeed, altering history on such an immense scale so soon after my bleak period of non-gaming had really made an impression. Europa Universalis 3’s modest system requirements and detailed gameplay brought me out of the dark ages and into a place of power. The couch was my throne; The laptop my government. My ambition endless as the cycle of time itself. Hail the king, baby.