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What a great game. That is if you like history. If you don't, this game probably isn't for you. I bought the full version of the game and finally decided to sit down and figure this game out, and get past my real time strategy aversion for any game more complicated than Warcraft II or Red Alert that turns into a speed rush with no strategy. I'm glad I did, I'm also glad I got good enough not to get killed early and enjoy this game. I almost majored in history back in college (University for those more familiar with British English). It's one of my favorite subjects, and one gripe I have with a lot of games/movies that tackle history is that they aren't historically accurate. Another strong subject for me was geography. Needless to say, I'm a tough critic on this stuff. Europa Universalis IV is the latest in a series of what I would call an alternate history simulation. It's one part Nobunaga's Ambition. One part Civilization. One (much lesser part) Age of Empires/Rise of Nations. It's a real time game, but it's almost turn base in feel since it's long. You don't have to grunt rush to win. In fact if you do, you will lose. If you choose the earliest scenario, you go from 1444 through 1821. In short, the end of the dark ages through the Napoleon period. I'm at the mid 1700's right now. I started as the country Castille, which eventually became Spain. A lot of the countries followed their histories in real life - but not always. Graphics - B - Not bad. It's your typical historical game graphics. I'd put them on par with Heroes of Might and Magic or the Civilization series. Story and atmosphere - A+ - I don't think I've seen a game with more depth. Nobunaga's Ambition covers Japan well, but this covers everywhere to some extent. It's not perfect as they labelled part of the old Northwest Territories as "Colonial Louisiana," but it's close. In this alternative history, Spain still has a lot of the modern US. St Louis "province" was name San Luis. It's a little translation there for the difference between the French (founded it) and the Spanish. When you turn what was supposedly "uncivilized" land into a colony, it takes some names from places today for the names of the colony. While territories were different in the game due to all playthroughs being different. In my game, the British colony in Eastern Canada was Newfoundland and it's Eastern American one was "Thirteen Colonies," and its Carribean colonies were "British West Indies". They became independent in a war, and resulted in Canada, USA, and Haiti (all of the British islands were one country, largest being Hispaniola). Unlike real life, later on the USA took most of Canada and left them with a small part of Newfoundland. The Castille/Spanish colonies were "Florida" which covered Florida and the modern Eastern US. "Spanish Louisiana" which follows most of the Louisiana Purchase and NW Territories. The Spanish Mexico/SW US portion is "New Spain" (and New Granada in Columbia area) like the old colony was, but the French portion in the game was "French Mexico" and another colony of "California" One interesting part is the split between Portugal and Spain for the Argentina/Chile area. It was "Spanish LaPlata" in the game for Spain and "Rio de Prata" for Portugal. Those unique names and translations really went the extra mile. Just like in real life, the "New World" wasn't new. There is some land that could be colonized, but even there are unspecified natives that will attack. More than that, there are a lot of "countries" there as well. Aztecs, Commanche, Iroquois, and other tribes are there. In this game, the French did what Cortez did to the Aztecs. I did some searching around, and they have many options for even "minor" countries of the period. Ireland can be formed long before the Easter Rebellion if you start as one of the chiefs, take out the other "province states" and somehow (good luck with that) get the Pale (Meath) back from England. I started as Castille in this game. There was no "Spain" in 1444. You had Castille, Navarre, Granada, and Aragon. You could diplomatically through royal marriages form Spain (like real life) or you have have militarily formed it if you went that route. While the game is European based, you can play a Asian or African country, or the Aztecs or Iroquois. I believe almost each country has its own unique path. Some are recommended in the storylines. Religion plays a major role in the game and impacts decisions and relationships, although there isn't the same "Crusade" impacts as I'd expect in the game. It factored more in the early game with Granada (Moors), along with many wars due to Portugal expanding and alliances. Morocco, Tunis (Tunisia), and Tlemcen in North Africa were the recipients. The other major factors in this game are missions and decisions. Decisions can be made if you have the right requirements. (Some aren't worth making, others are). Missions are a choice for a path to follow with benefits if the mission is accomplished. It's used to try and steer the story towards a plausible historical path. There's multiple scenarios to the game, with recommended countries. However, you can pick almost any country possible (within the time period for the scenario- there's no USA in 1444 - although there's a scenario for the revolutionary period and the USA can form in the game) The depth in this game gives a lot more story compared to Civilization, Age of Empires, and Rise of Nations. Combat and Play Control - B. Still learning all the parts to this. The downside with this much depth is that there's a lot to learn. One good thing is the ability to pause the real time to make decisions, speed up the game when it's slow, and slow it down when you're in a tough spot. The goal is to get the highest score through a combination of military, diplomacy, trade, and administration. All of them are important. Bad administration puts you in debt and behind on technology. The most important thing (more than money) is monarch points. Everything important costs monarch points. The three types are administration, diplomatic (also covers navy) and military. How many monarch points you get in a month depends on your ruler (and advisors - which cost a lot of money). If you have a king (or Grand Consul if Republic) on the level of most modern American presidents in my lifetime, you aren't going to get many monarch points. It also sucks when a good king or a good heir dies (one of those mindbleeps). If my king has straight 1's and 2's across the board, it's going to have an impact in technology advances, turning new conquered provinces into cores, controlling inflation, controlling unrest, hiring generals, etc. Difficulty - B - There's a VERY steep learning curve, but it gets somewhat easier once you learn how to play the game. It's not easy, even on easy. Random events, some historical, some positive for you in the game, and some mindbleeps can put you in a bad way quick were I had to restore to the last autosave (every year) or a manual save. The big thing that makes things tough and is a lesson that George Washington learned was the entangled alliances and call to Arms. As Castille/Spain, My ally Austria was attacked. I jumped in, as allies are needed if I was attacked, esp from one of my major rivals in the game (Great Britain, France, Ottoman Empire early, Commonwealth later". I was recovering from a colony conquest, and had to deal with France. Tough, but handled with Austria and Brandenberg (German country) combined with my own fairly strong military - except for Commonwealth. I didn't know what "Commonwealth" was, except based in Poland. I later found it was the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this game, Commonwealth is about as strong as Russia was in WWI. Barely got status quo, and it took a lot of time and manpower to rebuild. Luckily I was junior partner in that alliance so I didn't have to give up concessions. This game was and is tough at times for me even on "easy." I didn't even get into the whole Holy Roman Empire "confederation" complications. There was no "Germany" until the mid 1800's but a lot of different city states, coalitions, and a much bigger Austria in that period. If you play a German or Italian related country, that's a major impact in the game. Somehow I was HRE emperor for two kings despite not being a member and only having what was Naples (Spanish owned) at that time. It's not an easy game. Length - A - The game covers almost 400 years. Pre-Columbus to Napoleonic era. I would have loved to see it go up to World War I. I think a lot of problems in the world today are due to the Napoleon era and the "great game" entanglements of the 1800's, and the great disaster that was World War I, and the spoils of war. We're still paying for that today. While the Ottoman Empire was no prize, look was came out of that aftermath and the borders created by the WWI victors. Overall - A - I lost a lot of productivity already, in just one playthrough. I'm at the highest score so far, but still have about 100 years to go. If you like historical related strategy games, this is a must buy. I don't say that very often.