First Impressions - Democracy 4

October 28, 2020

Of all the fantasies that I’ve had, becoming the leader of the free world is certainly among them. Although it’d suck for my hair to turn grey preemptively, being able to control an entire country more than makes up for that. With my political background in arguing with people on Twitter, and my extensive political education from the University of Reddit, I’m sure I could run any country in the world better than their current leaders. However, until I get a bit older and let go of a lot of my morals (particularly those surrounding bribery) this will remain a fantasy that I can only experience virtually in the Early Access title Democracy 4.

Democracy 4, then, is the latest entry into the weirdly long running Democracy franchise. In the series, you play as the president or prime minister of one of the world’s democratic nations. Your task in each game is to both improve the quality of life in your country, but also to remain in power. You do these things by managing your nation’s policies, dealing with your cabinet, and passing special laws with political influence. If you do all of these things right, after a set number of turns, you can run for re-election and retain control of the country. If you mess any of them up, though, you can be impeached or even assassinated before your term as ruler is done.

I guess that’s what I get for pretending that the environment doesn’t exist.

It’s an effective gameplay loop to be sure, and it’s the same one that this entry into the Democracy series uses as well. This time around, though, there’s a lot more depth involved, which works to the game’s benefit. Immediately after starting up the game, you’re bombarded with a user interface that looks like a math problem. There are hundreds of policies that you can control, dozens of advisors to appoint, tons of special interest groups that need pleasing and even a large selection of special laws that can be passed. It can be overwhelming at first, but once you get the hang of how to run a country, it’s stupidly enjoyable to mess with every aspect of your chosen nation’s domestic policy while trying to stay in power. 

This is something that’s made better by the brilliant tutorial included in the title. Unlike with many of the previous Democracy games, Democracy 4 features a phenomenal introduction that helps to introduce you to each one of the game’s mechanics. It’s not quite on the level of Civilization's advisor system, but for the first hour or so of the game, the addition of a guiding hand helps tremendously. Especially when considering the game’s incredible depth, not having to open up a YouTube video to try and figure everything out yourself is one of the game’s more useful additions. 

Another thing that justifies the cost of admission is Democracy 4’s updated tongue-in-cheek political humour. The Democracy games have always had their fair share of political satire, but sadly the nature of politics means that some of the previous game’s jokes have made their overall experiences feel rather dated. The more topical loading screen quotes, passively edgy policies and non-partisan mockery in this one make the overall package a lot more enjoyable, though. It’s fun to see quotes from people like Boris Johnson or Elon Musk appear on the game’s loading screens, and to have policies surrounding cryptocurrency and drone warfare when you’re deciding the fate of the free world. 

Why can’t I play as the sovereign state of Nova Scotia?

The other thing that makes the game a boatload of fun is the wealth of content that it provides. At the time of writing, there are five countries for you to take control of, a nearly countless amount of policies to manage, and Steam Workshop support. It’s possible to play the game for dozens of hours before exhausting all of the different ways to run your government, and when considering that the game is still in Early Access, this is stupidly impressive and really helps to justify the game’s rather hefty price tag. 

Really, the only problem that Democracy 4  has is that the user interface could use some tweaking. Although it’s a massive step up from the previous Democracy games, it’s still a bit cluttered at times. If your eyes aren’t the greatest, it’s also hard to read some of the text in the game, and considering just how much text there is, this quickly becomes an annoyance. However, because the game is in beta, hopefully this will be addressed before long. 

Why do the wealthy people have sunglasses on their head?

This is the only real flaw in a game that’s otherwise phenomenal, though. Although managing a stupidly complex virtual government may not be for everyone, if the topic interests you, Democracy 4 is a very worthwhile purchase. There’s more than enough content to justify the price of admission even if you already own previous Democracy games, and if you don’t, there are so many fun policies to mess with that it’s hard not to love the game despite its Early Access state.

Democracy 4 is currently in Early Access. Check back on Jump Dash Roll for the full review sometime next year!

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.