The multiplayer session only lasted two hours, but the 8 journalists involved have talked about it for days afterwards. Every time I'll hear someone exclaim "Those bloody Lollards!" I'll know he's referring to the rebels who took his provinces.
Of course, there's more to EU4 than just the multiplayer. Johansson is busy perfecting exerting military and civilian pressure on trade nodes, and streamlining the resources to one major pool of Monarch Points which you can spend to improve technology, or recruit advisors and generals to your country. The number of Monarch Points you earn depends on the strength of your ruler. I was unfortunately saddled with an absolute moron king in the game I played - scores of 0 for all stats - so I put him on the front lines as a military leader hoping some Moroccan sword would put him out of his misery to let his surprisingly intelligent and capable son take over. I guess genes aren't everything in EU4.
Diplomacy also received a drastic overhaul. Instead of showing a percentage of success XCOM-style for a diplomatic task like offering peace or a royal wedding and forcing you to roll the die so to speak, you'll will know absolutely whether you'll succeed or not. That's balanced by only giving players a finite amount of diplomats at their disposal. Only have two diplomats available forces you to choose which missions are more important, and you no longer have the desire to spam Europe with your relations-improving envoys.
Another wrinkle to the diplomatic system is the concept of rivals. You'll be able to set a nation as a rival, which will mean a penalty to their opinion of you, but it also means a boost to the opinions of other nations which may hate the same country. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend," Johansson explained. "England may start off setting France as a rival. Burgundy, he might not like the English, but he really hates the French. The English player should set France as a rival, which will help England and Burgundy find each other in alliances." It's way for the designers to help program the AI to make more sense, but it can be a great diplomatic tool as well.
Beyond game mechanics, Johansson assured me the team is going to continue to use the Steam platform for EU4 with Steam cloud saves and achievements. Some of the achievements will be nation or story-based - like uniting the Holy Roman Empire under the Austrian flag, for example - but they are toying with the idea of tying achievements to an Ironman mode to discourage save-scumming. If that gets implemented, you'll know a player earned his laurels because he couldn't have constantly reloaded to ensure his victory.
"Another big focus for us is of course usability," said Johansson, echoing some of the doubts I wrote in my preview from last November. "Our games are complex, but they don't need to be complicated. A lot of that has to do with presentation. When you make a decision and you show it to the player, the player should understand what is going on. It should be about the story, not so much about the mechanic."
Words are wind, and I've heard this rhetoric from game designers before. But even though I had a blast playing the game for a few hours, I'm not necessarily who they need to convince if Paradox wants the game to sell more than a million copies. Hearing about these features at events and having the designers over my shoulder to ask about them is a luxury the common player just doesn't have. Will the team be able to craft a user interface that isn't about walls of text, endless popups and incomprehensible numbers?
"I've been telling my team 'Your job is to explain each mechanic to the player,'" Johansson said. "'If you can't, well, change the feature.'"
Such commitment is laudable. I hope it reaps rewards for the Paradox team, because I'd want nothing more than for streams of Europa Universalis 4 multiplayer sessions to become the next big thing on YouTube when the grand strategy game comes out in September 2013.