Note: a DLC for Europa Universalis IV entails dozens of changes and additions. This review intends to cover them in broad strokes and assess how it changes the game, not the particularities of this or that (for that, check the patch notes linked ahead).
Rights of Man is the ninth expansion for Europa Universalis IV, and is perhaps its largest piece of downloadable content since Art of War. It is also Paradox’s boldest attempt at making the game less centered around Europe and more open to historical changes and different scenarios, ones where East Asia might eventually consolidate a technological advantage over Western Europe. I’ve played a few centuries and have some musings on the expansion, which you can read below.
This time around, what is arguably the biggest change to the game is in the free 1.18 Prussia Patch: the Institutions system. Previously, nations were allocated different technology research rates according to their region and culture: the western nations of Europe had no penalty, while Muslim, Anatolian, Eastern European, Native Americans and every other group had varying research penalties, which often were several times slower than of the Westernized nations. Essentially, this meant that Western Europeans – regardless of what happened in the game’s 377 year span – would always be at the forefront of technology, while other nations would at most be on par with them.
The new technology system shakes the foundation of the game by adding seven institutions which will pop up across the world according to certain modifiers and triggers. In my game as the Hosokawa clan of Japan, after I had finished uniting the archipelago under my green banner I set my gaze eastward: as the first nation to establish colonies in the American continent, the Colonialism institution showed up in my capital, spreading from there to the rest of Japan, Korea and Eastern Asia, and giving me a technological advantage over my European peers, redeeming the several years it took me to embrace the renaissance. Given that Europa Universalis takes place during a time where the entirety of Europe cowered under the military might of the Ottoman dynasty, and the world’s largest economy was that of the Chinese Ming dynasty (for as late as the 17th century), a better representation of how places outside of Europe had the potential for technological development was long overdue.
That’s not to say the actual expansion lacks in content – I stick by my claim that it’s the most relevant DLC since Art of War, which is to say it has a lot. The developers seem to have lifted some central mechanics of both Crusader Kings 2 and Victoria 2 into their post-middle ages game, giving personality both to characters and the nations they rule over. Rulers, their spouses and children have been given an additional layer of depth, with traits that unlock over time – your leader can be a prodigal military leader, a man poor with words or someone that’s particularly savvy with finances, or even all of them at once – and new events and interactions with them and the countries you establish royal marriages with, along with the option to abdicate in favor of your heir or, if he happens to be Enrique de Trastamara, disinherit him and hope you’re not Henry VIII. If by any chance your ruler dies before your heir is old enough to ascend to the throne, Queen or King consorts you’ve gained by royal marriage will rule over the country, removing the regency’s restrictions. With historical figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marie de Medici wielding true power while consorts, this is a more than welcome addition.
On the Victorian side of the spectrum we have the addition of Great Powers, a selection of eight of the world’s most powerful nations and that who, given their prestige and influence, can exert greater control over their surroundings and other nations. Being among the greatest nations of the world gives you a selection of significant diplomatic interactions, such as the ability to intervene in a war, take on someone’s foreign debt, break off alliances or spend copious amounts of ducats to bring a nation to your sphere of influence. You also open yourself to foreign intervention in your wars: as I consolidated my rule over the Mediterranean and its rich trade nodes as the United Kingdom of Aragon and Naples, the British saw it fit to curb my expansion by intervening in a war of mine against the Austrian, an action Great Powers can take that allows them to participate in wars without being someone’s ally.
These come accompanied by some very specific changes, which you might entirely miss if you don’t play as the nations they’re relevant to. The Ottomans and Prussians have received new government forms: the Sultanate has a harem mechanic that allows you to choose an heir from multiple options, ensuring your dynasty’s control passes to the most capable of your children, while the Prussian Monarchy government form encourages a completely different approach to how you can play the militaristic nation, as keeping your expansion in check will give you bonuses to your armies, which in turn will make Prussia capable of military feats otherwise impossible for a nation that size. Fetishists have also had their religion re-worked, placing an emphasis on the different cults they can have and on their syncretic nature.
These come alongside a number of smaller changes that you’re better off reading at the actual patch notes, ranging from new subject interactions, a death count that’ll let you know how many people you sent to death in a war, changes to the interface and significant modifications to sieges, all of which change the game in one way or the other without altering its core, as the above features do.
I’d assess the overarching theme of Rights of Man to be dynamism. The new technology system allows your version of history to develop without the restrictions that the Westernization system had, and better represents the incongruities within Europe itself, and as such will make your games markedly different even if you’ve never left the vieux continent. Similarly, the Great Powers system will give tools to both the AI and the player to keep in check any overtly ambitious nations and keep things within their sphere of influence under their strict control. I have no issue in placing Rights of Man alongside Art of War, Common Sense and possibly The Cossacks as quintessential expansions for Europa Universalis IV, improving your experience and adding to your possible interactions regardless of where you choose to play.