It only took Paradox 8 years before they remembered that sub-Saharan Africa exists
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Developer: Paradox Tinto
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release date: 11 Nov, 2021
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region that has not got much love in Europa Universalis 4, or any of the past Europa Universalis games for that matter. With a few exceptions playing as an African nation was really only something you did because of the challenge, and unless you were quite good at Europa Universalis 4 it was hard to get anywhere as most of the nations.
Europa Universalis 4 expansions come in two different flavours, “Expansions” and “Immersion Packs”. Expansions generally bring major changes to the game, and while they might primarily focus on one region the changes that they bring will usually have an impact on the game almost no matter what nations you play as. Immersion packs on the other hand are almost entirely focused on one region, and try to make a few specific nations in that region more interesting. They also come with some small addition that might matter outside of that region, but it’s usually so small that it won’t really matter. Europa Universalis IV: Origins is an immersion pack that focuses on sub-Saharan Africa and make some of the major nations there more interesting to play, and beyond that it also fleshes out the Jewish religion a bit more, and there’s some new music and unit models thrown in for good measure.
For this review I did not do a complete playthrough with every nation, but I played at least 70 in-game years with each one that got its own unique mission tree to get a feel for them.
The New Mission Trees
Origins introduces new mission trees to 7 of the major regional powers in Africa, Mali, Kongo, Songhai, Ethiopia, Mutapa, Kilwa and Ajuuraan, and adds generic missions for the minor powers of Africa that are more tailored to their region.
The new mission trees are not as huge and sprawling as some of the ones from past immersion packs, particularly not the one added to the British in Rule Britannia, but they are overall well thought out and varied, with different nations getting missions that feel quite different. They’re also generally reasonably difficult. Finishing all the missions won’t be a cakewalk for any nation, but at the same time it does not feel like you’re meant to go too out of your way to complete them, and a good portion of them can be completed by just playing normally.
Sub-Saharan Africa is huge, and so the different nations varies quite a bit. Playing Mali, Kongo or Ethiopia are completely different experiences. Ethiopia was always a pretty interesting nation to play as, due to its location and the fact that it was not only one of the few Coptic nations in the world but a nation surrounded by nations following different religions, it actually had the potential to grow pretty strong, as long as the Mamluks and Ottomans were held in check. It was also probably the only nation that could realistically be converted to Judaism, without going too out of your way. Ethiopia has a mission tree that now focuses on becoming a regional power, getting access to the sea and handling its internal religious strife (lacking a central authority the Coptic believers had different ideas about a lot of things, like weekends). The nearby Ajuuraan is looking eastwards to the riches that can be gained from trading with India, Vietnam and China, and they also want to unify the Horn of Africa, which is likely to put them in direct conflict with Ethiopia. Kilwa to the south on the other hand are looking to expand their navy and become a colonial power, which they can be thanks to an early mission (if you abuse some real world geographical knowledge) which lets them get an early colonist. Just south west of Kilwa lies Mutapa, which is one out of two Fetishist nations that get their own mission trees. Mutapa is likely the toughest nation to play out of the ones who get their own mission tree (it’s either them or Mali), as it’s an under-developed nation with a weaker religion that’s close to a far stronger one. Their goal is to rule east-Africa and become a super power, eclipsing the old Zimbabwe empire that used to rule the region.
On the west coast of Africa there’s Kongo, the other Fetishist nation. Kongo is not in immediate danger of getting invaded by someone stronger than them, and so have time to build up. Their mission tree is not about immediate military conquest, but about building alliances with its neighbours and growing strong enough to repel the inevitable European invaders. Further up the coast, closer to Castile & Portugal is Mali, which just over a hundred years before the start of EU4 was ruled by the mighty and generous Mansa Musa (who’s generosity alone was enough to nearly crash the value of gold in places like Cairo and Medina). Mali has fallen far from the time of Mansa Musa though. This is represented by the Mali mission tree which is focused on re-building the glory of the Mali empire, and which, until its glory is restored, will punish you with negative events. Mali is probably the nation that’s most defined by its mission tree out of the ones that got their own in Europa Universalis IV: Origins. Mali, being so close to two nations that are likely to start colonizing early (Portugal and Castile) are in a tough situation, as if they can’t stop their decline fast, they’ll not stand a chance against the more advanced Europeans. Finally there’s Songhai, who think they should be heirs to the Mali empire, and want to control the region, which is represented by their mission tree. Being so close to the European invaders Songhai are also in a precarious situation, though as they start as an inland nation, and that can buy them some time.
Overall the new mission trees are good at adding some flavour and goals for the African nations. Though as an African nation, particularly a costal one, you’re likely to have to stop focusing on your mission tree, and more on surviving as colonial nations want to take your land. For Ethiopia the Mamluks or Ottomans are probably going to be your biggest issue, while most others have to worry about Portugal and Castile, as well as the English and French, once they join the colonial game. Ajuuraan also has Ethiopia to worry about first.
The Other Stuff
The mission trees are the star of the show here, but there’s a bit more to Europa Universalis IV: Origins. What might look like a standout feature is the fleshing out of the Jewish faith. It does making going for a Jewish nation stronger than it used to be, as you can now select three improvements for your faith. There are three categories with three different improvements and you can pick one. These are noticeable improvements but they’re still unlikely to make this a top pick as a religion. There are also hardly any nation that’s capable of turning Jewish, without you going out of your way to do so, so unless you make a custom nation, or play as Ethiopia, this is unlikely to come into play.
Then there’s the new unit models and the new music. The models look pretty good, and fit in well with the other models in the game. These are going to have no gameplay impact, and are purely cosmetic, and you’re likely not going to even notice them most of the time, but it’s a nice little extra that adds a tiny bit to the game. The new songs also fit in well with the game and sound quite good. They’re different enough to be noticeable among the crowd, but not so different that they stick out like a sore thumb, unlike say Fredman’s Epistles.
Immersion packs are always a bit tough to rate. They only really influence a small part of all the playable nations, and the other additions are rarely worth the price of admission. And Origins is no exception, unless you really enjoy playing as a sub-Saharan African nation there’s very little here that’s worth getting excited about.
That said, they really did manage to make these sub-Saharan nations a lot more fun to play. This is not a DLC for newcomers to EU4, as playing as any of these nations is a bit of an uphill struggle at the best of times, and you risk getting overwhelmed by a technologically superior colonial power pretty early on, but they are an interesting challenge and that makes this immersion pack really good for EU4 veterans. Kilwa was the surprise hit among these nations, as their mission tree made the nation remarkably fun to play, and they’ve got a lot of potential for growth, though they still need to watch out for any Europeans (and Ethiopia if they have a good start).