Aahh, Global conquest– there is just something so wonderful about building a nation from a couple of peasants throwing rocks at each other into an economical, diplomatic, and military powerhouse. It is easy to see the allure grand strategy games have as you command a country within a historical period to forge an alternative history where Aragon lives, Austria does not, and Ireland invades to dominate England. All this is done using just pure guile, tactics and cunning.
So it is no wonder Europa Universalis IV, after over two years, is still going strong with its keen eye to simulation (although not without some tongue-in-cheek silly humour creeping under the surface, like the nefarious Secret Denmark). So let’s tuck into the latest DLC: The Cossacks.
However, before we jump into the main meal, we should probably start with the metaphorical starter course of breadsticks: Europa itself. Developed by Paradox Interactive and released in 2013, Europa Universalis IV is a game where you pick a historically accurate nation and try to drive it to as much success as you can. While this can involve making sure each province in your country projectile vomits gold, what you’ll mostly be aiming for is to gather as much land as you can. This starts off with bullying the smaller people for ground, and quickly descends into the country equivalent of Fish-Eat-Fish flash games where you gobble what is smaller and weaker but avoid the bigger and stronger ones.
Is it that simple though? Is it ever that easy. As “stronger” and “weaker” depends on things like how much money they have, how much military and even goes into the technology of your military. Even if you do grab land, if others are worried you’ve become a maniacal warlord (you must be one, but they must not know) or you’re eating the geographical entrails of their friends then they may pounce on you with swift violence in retribution. So it is a game about balancing these factors, but most of all creating a narrative from them. Needless to say, considering all the moving parts in this land-devouring machine, it has a learning curve of Pete Doherty in a Ferrari: Fast, high and often making everyone upset.
“But Kailan you time-wasting tit, what is The Cossacks? I can only munch on the metaphorical breadsticks so much before my appetite is ruined!”. Okay, two paragraphs may be enough time for the metaphorical main meal to be ready to serve (I’m done with the meal metaphor, I may have over-cooked it… I’m sorry, I promise, no more).
The Cossacks is a DLC partially designed to address the concerns of the weakness of the Ukranian/Russian countries east of Lithuania but south of Muscovy (pre-Russia Russia) like The Golden Horde and Crimea. That likely sounds dry, stale and stodgy on the surface, but fortunately it wasn’t executed with the brute force of a balance patch.
Nope, instead you get a new toy to play with that perfectly symbolises why The Golden Horde is not around today: Razing every sodding thing to the floor. This offers you immediate bonuses such as monarch points (i.e. “stuff to buy other stuff with”) but also has the bonus of making sure your own men don’t stab you in the throat out of a never-ending blood lust that can only be sated with pillaging. However by doing so each province ends up worth roughly as much as the B-sides of a pub band and you can only really do it once, so you have to keep murdering everything to keep getting money and to put off the murder train who’s singular destination is you. Needless to say, even with the buff, it is the type of mechanic only those who would take on England as Scotland and win would get the full mileage out of.
Not enough for you? Well, I can see where you’re coming from, I suppose, and I’ll admit now this is a problem with the DLC. There are things beyond the Cossacks, but they don’t change quite enough to make the £15 price point appealing. However, with a long long list of other more minor changes there is one other part that does provoke an eyebrow raise.
The Cossacks changes radically how helping in a war works. Before you’d be asked to join a war or risk a penalty. If there is an AI war-leader, chances are you’ll see absolutely nothing out of it unless you settle your own peace (something somewhat discouraged). However, now, just by helping you’ll get favour tokens that can be used later to drag the country in wars you’re waging. On top of this, you can point out provinces you’re keen to gain out of helping which the AI may just decide to throw your way once everything is said and done. In addition, any prestige (something that can give passive bonuses or a penalty if a minus) and gold out of it is split up depending on how well each individual force performed in the war. All this collects together to make helping AI allies no longer something to run from or do to either avoid a penalty or spite the opposition; rather instead it is another way to carve yourself a stronger country by helping others.
The only other tripping up point of the DLC is sadly one that is incredibly common with Paradox DLCs: Glitches. One of the main reasons why this review comes the time it has is because a friend who I often play this game with kept facing crashes and I wanted to test the DLC in an online setting.
Although before I get to the conclusion, there is one other side of this I should perhaps explain. Rather than typical DLCs where each player must buy it and what you buy is what you get, Paradox does things differently. For starters this paid-DLC came with a large collection of free features that tweaks how things function. These include radically changing how mercenary units are formed, a recovery system where losers of a war get a boost to currency and manpower so the country doesn’t just collapse after a disastrous conflict; and allowed for randomised New Worlds which can be adjusted to include fantastical elements like High Americans (Native Americans with European technology), Vinland and Secret Denmark. This is something that could have been locked off to only those buying the DLC but fortunately was released for free.
Even then, say if you have a group of friends to play Europa with, only the host has to buy the DLC. Thus potentially this £15 price point could be cut down to just £15 amongst the amount of players (which considering how many players can be in a Europa match, can cost as small as pennies each) making it possibly cheaper in an online setting.
The Cossacks is hampered by what could be a somewhat high price-point as well as features that complicate a game already insidiously mind-bogglingly confusing. Despite this, praise has to be offered to Paradox who continue to treat their community with love, care and warmth by including free content alongside and not requiring everyone to have the DLC to play it online.
It is still a hard sell for those who are not already deeply invested fans of Europa IV and/or have dreamed of conquering the world as a Cossack. If you are new to the game then the Art of War, Wealth of Nations, and El Dorado DLC may be good to pick up first. Although I believe The Cossacks is definitely worth piling your money into at some point, at the very least for that sweet smug satisfaction of burning all your enemies’ cities to the floor.
A PC code of Europa Universalis IV: The Cossacks was provided by Paradox Interactive for the purpose of this review