Civilization and Total War are often seen as the big fish in the field of PC strategy games, but for those who are a little more serious about the nuts and bolts of managing an empire, one series often stands above all others: Paradox's Europa Universalis.
Dropping the player into the role of a world leader at the twilight of the middle ages, you're tasked with overseeing all aspects of your people's development through to the cusp of the industrial era, from diplomacy to trade to war and all the fiddly little bits in between.
The last game in the series, Europa Universalis III, was released in 2007. The next one, it's been announced today, is due towards the end of 2013.
Euopa Universalis IV benefits not only from the hindsight brought about in the five years since the last game's release, but also developers Paradox's growing success with other "grand strategy" titles like Sengoku and Crusader Kings II. So in addition to the expected advances - like a prettier 3D map (that now reflects seasons) and improved trade system - there are things learned directly from CKII's surprisingly broad popularity, like a greater emphasis on "personality" (ie the relationships between the 4000 historical rulers in the game) that'll be reflected in EUIV's idea of "Monarch Power".
Paradox Development Studio manager Johan Andersson tells Kotaku that CKII's success - it seems to have become something of a watershed title for the team - has taught the developer a few other valuable lessons, which are being applied to Europa Universalis' development (and which necessarily weren't as important with the studio's previous games). These include a greater emphasis on making the game "look better", how to "streamline interfaces without dumbing anything down" and, perhaps most importantly, the importance of spending time polishing a game before release.
Paradox will also be paying closer attention to actual history this time as well. Andersson says that rather than simply letting players loose on the world and allowing stories to unfold entirely by themselves, they'll be continually confronted with events (the game's miniature quests or important decisions) that are unique to that nation and appropriate to the culture and time period (as opposed to the more generic events generated previously).
Most important of all, though, could well be UEIV's approach to the tutorial, an area Paradox games have traditionally fallen short in (and which has prevented less patient gamers from enjoying their titles). Andersson tells us "I can tell you that we plan to do something rather dramatically different" when it comes to UEIV's tutorial system, and that "we hope to make a tutorial that gives the gamer more a chance to learn by doing. But creating a good tutorial is always a challenge for a grand strategy game with a wealth of features that all needs to be introduced. But I promise, we are on top of it!"
While it's not due until Q3 2013, the game will be shown off in action for the first time at GamesCom. You can see some screenshots below.