It is weird how applicable the idea of the Mandate of Heaven is to the games industry. If you replace “god” with “karmic/financial justice”, the cycle seems strangely apt. Developer/publisher makes it big, makes decisions to make sales flow in better. Corruption or ineptitude sets in which leads to consumers lacking faith in them any more. They revolt by no longer buying their product, losing the “Mandate of Heaven”, and in the process become replaced by another developer/publisher becoming big.
If you do subscribe to the odd “Gaming Mandate of Heaven” theory proposed above, well, I guess you could say Paradox’s dynasty still continues on. Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven continues Paradox’s determination to polish what was already an engrossing absorbing title, to show why they’re the emperor of grand strategy titles. Even if the polish could be seen as a little on the expensive side and noticeably particular.
Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven, as well as a principle utilised by dynasties of China to justify rule over the land even with the amount of dethroning, is the latest DLC for grand strategy title Europa IV. Developed by Paradox Development Studio (the development arm of Paradox Interactive), it focuses on Asian countries like China and Japan.
Asian countries in Europa IV previously quickly fell by the wayside as even the hordes of Eastern Europe got more developer love. Their fall from grace was even greater with Rights of Man’s free patch introducing the institution system of technology. A system that punishes you ever harder if you can’t keep up to date on institutions that usually spread from Europe and waft slowly towards Asia like a radioactive cloud of culture if you can’t afford the institution monarch power cost. While realistic, along with limited events it made Asian countries rather dull to play with.
So what better place to start bantering about Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven than with Japan? Previously Japan was the nation I always wanted to give a fling, or rather a province of Japan to then form into the country after absorbing all provinces on the island, but was always crushed amongst the chaos. However, two mechanics got added to make it more interesting and enjoyable.
The first part is the daimyos aspect. Despite all provinces squabbling with each other, they still have an emperor to answer to. One who has the power to either punish its subjects (e.g. by forcing their leader to commit seppuku for declaring war) or gift them items, as they desire. One who if they wish to grasp new lands, including its own subjects, then they merely need to ask. One who gets to play with handy bonuses like extra diplomats. Except the throne is a fragile one. As any who become disloyal to you may not answer you call, or even worse: Come for your throne. Anyone who controls Kyoto is the emperor over Japanese provinces, so traitor provinces may seek to become the new emperor. Push your luck too far and you may just lose your grasp.
The second angle is Shinto. Every so often you’ll be presented with incidents with multiple options, each one having some effects as well as pushing you either towards isolation or open doors. With 5 tiers of isolationism, each one having a particular effect, you’ll be gunning for the tier that suits you best.
Both together adds a lot of flavour to playing as a Japanese province, as well as presenting ways to unite the land under your flag. Do you play as emperor, slowly making provinces yours over time, or manipulate the emperor figure to put yourself into an advantageous position?
While those mechanics is a lovely dollop of early-game strategy, the Shinto dollop just gums up the Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven work. One reason is your distance to-or-from other tiers of isolation isn’t quantified, so you simply have to guess if you’re sticking to the tier you wish. The second frustration is with up to 8 isolation-related events (with the possibility of them being cut short), you better decide what tier you want for the entire game and gun for it constantly as you wouldn’t be able to later flick to a more apt level for your current situation. This ends up making the Shinto part a nice idea with a lovely amount of narrative to it, but mechanically stiff as a board.
Then again, maybe Japan isn’t quite your cup of tea. That’s fine, as China also got some “developer love” in the form of its new emperor mechanics. Rather than playing with legitimacy mechanics, you get a mandate that as long as you keep your stability packed will slowly increase. You can then spend these on celestial reforms with potent perks. If you allow your mandate level to drop below 50% through missteps, well, expect an army who apathetically fights and provinces half-arsing their production since they no longer believe in you. You also have Meritocracy currency, gained via skilled advisors but degrades naturally, which can then be spent on 10-year perks.
In addition is your tributaries list. Rather than being weak vassals to be fought for and controlled absolutely, these are independent nations who would rather pay you off with money, power (administration, diplomatic or military) or manpower every year in exchange for not having their country vandalised. While a single country wouldn’t provide enough to be noticeable, by the time you have ten or even twenty countries flinging a little into your pot it becomes a potentially powerful vein to tap into. Beyond donating to your country, they do hold independence to do whatever they wish. You do not need to protect them, and they do not protect you. They can even pick a fight with you if they wish.
Which they may want to fight you for that Celestial Throne. Anyone with a pagan or Eastern religion can wage war against you to become Emperor, especially as land is especially cheap if you win (or lose). If the seat changes hands, not only the reform/decree slate is wiped clean (with Meritocracy up to a moderate level), but the ex-emperor will take penalties for losing their position.
This escalates Ming (or whoever rips control from their hands) from a mob of men into something more potent. However, as the position can change hands and the tributaries aren’t forced into working for you, it doesn’t turn the country into an overbearing controlling domination of the East.
Although that isn’t to say the rest of the land is untouched by the hands of Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven. One of the major new tweaks is the game is divided into four ages. With each age comes objectives specific to said age (e.g. during the Age of Discovery, one task includes discovering America). With each objective achieved, you nab additional splendor per month. Save up enough and you can get an ability that’ll last until the end of the age. Do at least three objectives in an age, and you can even trigger a Golden Age that’ll make everything monarch power is spent on 10% cheaper, army/naval morale an extra 10% bigger and an increase in productivity by 10%. Although this will only last 50 years and you can only trigger this once in an entire game, so best time usage just right.
My grumbles are two-fold. The first is a system introduced into an Asian-focused DLC, the objectives seem rather European favorable. This is especially apparent in the Age of Discovery and Age of Reformation (ages 1 & 2), with missions like “capital in the old world, discover America” (with Japan being the closest to being able to gun for it) and “embrace Protestantism or reformed as state religion”. That isn’t to say it is impossible for the East to nail some objectives, with two even expecting you to be Emperor of China (one of which giving you the option of being an Empire Rank nation or Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire instead), but these come in the later two ages. It isn’t a huge concern, just expect it to be trickier in Asia, let alone in other non-European countries.
The second part is, well, a lot of unlockable abilities are incredibly situational. Perhaps this is on purpose, but I was able to happily play strongly without hitting any objectives. I’d even go as far as to say that I was better off trying to expand across the East than trying to engage in objectives that were even occasionally counter-productive like Humiliate a Rival (as it would cost war-score that could be used on land). The only issue is it meant I wasn’t gunning for a golden age, but in a non-competitive single-player scenario it never struck me as a “game changer”, just something nice to have. Knowing you could go get a Golden Age if you tried was like knowing you have change in your pocket in case you’re thirsty for a can of cola.
Although speaking of things that are just nice to have, Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven ushers in a new age of utilising Diplomatic Macro-builders. Need to know who would form an alliance with you, become your friendly little pocket vassal or will partake in a royal marriage at a glance? The macro-builder will list everyone who would be happy to do whatever diplomatic action you want.
In addition, want to set up your diplomats to automatically improve relations with particular people? Maybe you want to just improve relations with neighbours, subjects, allies or even the outraged/threatening folks who are primed to raze and salt your land and you’re not picky on the order? You can assign diplomats to just cycle through all the countries that fall in those particular categories or even have one waiting in the wings in case someone becomes outraged or starts flinging threats at you.
Basically, the macro-builder rips a lot of tedious faffing about out with a pair of pliers. After all, you will always want alliances to keep enemies off your back as you gobble up old allies and you will always want to convince everyone that they’re not next in your quest for world domination before announcing “JUST KIDDING!” via decapitating cannon fire. So by automating it, you can focus on all that war you’re probably doing, although you can also manually pick things if you’d rather focus your diplomatic love on one country than generalised non-discriminatory global hugging.
This brings me to the score, and I had to think hard about it. The main thinking point was the amount of additions. It’s hard to not look at similarly priced DLCs like Rights of Man, El Dorado and even The Cossacks with a confused shrug. What they add is nice for Asian countries, specifically Chinese-region nations and Japan, but not much else. The Ages are a nice buff, but they don’t lend much else and definitely do not add to the narrative madness grand strategy titles can gleefully fuel. The macro-builder saves so much time, and I adore it so much for that, but we’re still looking at that looming £14.99 price hovering overhead with its gaze like a planet-sized disemboweled Peter Molyneux head.
The score of Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven is a 6.5/10. I am chuffed to be able to play as Japan now to a reasonable level, but even I’m at a point of shrugging and asking “…So this is it then?”. Even The Cossacks, which after the fact now gets a lot of gobbing on by the fan base, has the whining of Estates to add a little whiskey to the punchbowl.
What stories do I have to tell with Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven? The time I completed side-missions and got a perk for it like something straight out of a mission-based RPG/shooter? The time I became the Emperor of China and realised it is not much more than a vessel for money and monarch power points? I may as well stay in Europe and try to become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire which is a more potent controlling force. Or hell, even try to get elected as Pope, as at least then I can urge people into a crusade that’ll likely end up similar to the Fourth Crusade.
That isn’t to say there aren’t some really enjoyable additions. I love the macro-builder, and it is possible the Age system just simply did not click with me. I even admit that the Shinto system is the only criticism, as most other things boil down to “could be better” and “is simply okay”. That said, and even with the good will of the generous free updates Paradox always tags along with the paid updates, it seems a bit lacking.
If you’ve always wanted to give Eastern nations a go, then Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven is a pretty good addition to your Europa IV. However it isn’t a must-buy for them as it is a little expensive for what you get, and those who are happy to stick with Europe or Arabian countries probably wouldn’t find enough to justify the cost due to the particular nature of it.
A PC Review Key for Europa Universalis IV: Mandate of Heaven was provided by Paradox Interactive for the Purpose of this Review
Europa IV: Mandate of Heaven
- Ming a potent force, without being over-bearing and all-encompassing, using a tribute system
- Macros save a lot of time and effort
- Japan enjoyable to play as now
- Shinto awkward to handle, requires pre-planning
- Side-missions offer situational rewards with geographical-favoured tasks