10 years on, Europa Universalis 4's achievement design keeps it fresh

 A wooden ship sails through the gulf  of Cadiz
A wooden ship sails through the gulf of Cadiz

Very few games make it 10 years without losing all relevance but Europa Universalis IV (EU4) is one of them. Released a decade ago last month, EU4 is still played by around 20,000 people per day. It’s easy to pin this longevity (or, depending on your view, blame) on the steady stream of DLC releases that remains, but there’s another factor at play: its sensational achievement design.

Steam achievements at their worst are little more than a badge to mark the completion of a game or of an in-game event. However, the very best achievements give players challenges, requiring the accomplishment of something quite extraordinary in order to make them pop. Happily, developer Paradox Interactive’s achievement design falls almost entirely into the latter category.

Sure, there are the basic achievements that you’ll get unless you simply don’t use your keyboard and mouse while the game is running: get a royal marriage, win a war, conquer a province, and so on. But these are just the start. Once you get even slightly into the weeds, the game’s achievements seem to encourage a more specific way to play, known in the EU4 community as an ‘achievement run’ - a play style dedicated to nailing certain alt-historical achievements. Paradox understands its players on a deep level in regards to this too: each new DLC comes with its own accompanying achievements, thus giving you more reasons to come back and start a new game.

Crowning achievements

The Iberian peninsula
The Iberian peninsula

It would take far too long to give every achievement in the game its due, but a few stand out as some of the very best ones on offer to players right now.

‘Georgia on my Mind’, an achievement added in version 1.9 back in 2014, requires players to own all three Georgias: the country in the Caucasus, the area of the American state, and South Georgia, down in the South Atlantic. Quite the geographical feat. Echoing a famous phrase about the British Empire, ‘The Sun Never Sets on the Indian Empire’, also from 1.9, requires you to form one of the unified Indian nations of Hindustan or Bharat and conquer a smattering of historical parts of the British Empire, including London. ‘Crossing the Finnish Line’, added in September 2022, necessitates you gaining independence as Finland, then somehow forging a direct - and incredibly long - land connection with the Cape of Good Hope. Finally, the fantastically named ‘Everything’s Coming Up Mulhouse’, demands that, as the tiny German nation of Mulhouse, you become Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and completely decentralize it.

You can only get these achievements by playing in Ironman mode - this means no manual reloading

Oh, and by the way, you can only get these achievements by playing in Ironman mode - this means no manual reloading, and only a single save file (and one backup), which the game overwrites every three in-game months. There are ways around this: alt-F4ing the game, causing a ‘crash’, and then reloading the save or the backup, but this still requires you to realize your mistakes before the game autosaves again.

This combination of tough challenges, Ironman rules, and a constant flow of new achievements means there’s always a reason to go back and try new nations, new playstyles, and new approaches. As we continue to wait for the next installment in the main series, more DLC and the achievements within will have to sate us. Bring on the next decade.

Looking for more great games? Try out our list of the best PC strategy games, as well as our round-up of anticipated upcoming games