Become a politician; without selling your soul
Since Paradox Interactive announced Victoria 3, I was in a state of semi-disbelief. It had been a strategy game joke for so long that I couldn’t believe it was really happening. Thanks to Paradox, I received a preview version of the great upcoming socio-economic strategy game. To quote Sidra Holland and Jackie Chiles, it’s “true, and it’s fantastic”. And soon, you too can do politics to your heart’s content when the game releases on October 25, 2022.
For those of you who aren’t cool enough to know what Victoria series is all about, an introduction is in order. Victoria is a grand strategy game series aptly set in the Victorian era. While other entries in the Paradox family of grand strategy games focus on war or bloodline, Victoriafocuses on the economy and the changing political landscape of the dawning modern era. Starting in 1836, you control a country and its entire economy and laws while trying to improve the lives of your citizens. You know how you always scream at your screen that you “can do better” every time a talking head politician messes things up? Victoria lets you put your money (or national credit) where your mouth is.
The problem with the Victoria series is that we’ve been devoid of a new entry since 2010 and the latest entry is notoriously hard to crack for a variety of reasons. From the 0.1 version I played I can safely say that Victoria 3 is well on its way to removing many of the barriers to entry that its previous entries had.
Bringing the modern age into the digital age
The first improvement that stood out to me was the UI/UX design, even compared to games as recent as Emperor: Rome. In a behind-closed-doors press demonstration, game director Martin Anward stressed that although Victoria 3 would be easier to access for new players, this would not be at the expense of complexity but by rationalizing the presentation of information. Your basic menus where you take the different temperatures in your country are still there, but the sorters and filters have been given big buttons to help you get what you need quickly.
In addition to menus, important map overlays have also been given large buttons at the bottom of the screen to show you an overview of how your empire (and anyone else on the map) is doing with respect to measures such as production and consumption, quality of life, what have you.
Additionally, almost every term, metric, element, and country has been given what is called a nested tooltip. those who played Crusader Kings III will also recognize the feature as used in the base version of this game. Hovering over a color-coded word in a menu will give you both a breakdown of what it means, as well as an overview of your performance in terms of said metric. After a few seconds of hovering over the term, the tooltip window will smoothly lock onto your screen and you can then navigate to a nested tooltip within your nested tooltip. I think I maxed out at three tooltip windows as I dove deep into my economy. It started to get a bit cluttered for a simple mouse flick, but I had all the information I needed, and it didn’t require going to the official Victoria wiki.
I know what you’re thinking, “menu design, what a starting point for an overview” – but all of your decisions and actions will be made via menus, so it’s nice to see that a concerted effort has been made to streamline the providing information on such a complex topic as the economy and how it affects your people. But fine, if you want something juicier than menu improvements, how about a developer-made tutorial mode?
Ooooh, teach me, Amadeus.
With almost every previous major Paradox strategy game, you were given a very basic tutorial that mostly involved navigating menus and performing actions. After that point, you were left on your own to figure out how to succeed, which at the time meant digging into double-digit hours of YouTube videos. Victoria 3 not only has a tutorial mode but also an objective mode that guides you to complete nations such as a hegemonic ruler or an egalitarian utopia.
In the said tutorial mode, you are offered a breadcrumb that acts as an interactive Econ and Poly Sci 101. Various goals such as “increase your GDP” or “make a political party that doesn’t like you happier” are presented to you and you are given the opportunity to be shown why you should do it, and if you want to be truly portable, how you can go about it. However, the objectives were sometimes a bit redundant. It got annoying when they tried to get me to appease a social group that fiercely opposed the policies I was trying to adopt. But the game never yelled at me for ignoring it. Even with the redundancy of one or two lenses, I was able to get my economy back in working order with practice mode. Before that in Victoria 2I had a hard time getting there.
It might be easy to manually switch to something as simple as an objective or tutorial mode, but when it comes to the Victoria series, it’s incredibly welcoming to players who don’t have an established grasp of something as complex as statecraft (which is most people). This addition is not only huge for the Victoria series, but also for the large Paradox strategy library. Doesn’t a tutorial do that for you either? How about a map upgrade?
The map is alive with the sound of social upheaval
Also new to the large Paradox strategy library as a whole is a new “living card”.
Previous map interface entries were pretty much just colors and lines similar to political maps. In Victoria 3, the map has received a major update to show how your country is changing through visual markers. You can now see new towns and factories appear as well as infrastructure changes such as trains running through your states. The cool thing about this new feature is that it’s not just about arbitrary additions to the map – you can see that new building you’ve built on the map. It’s a small touch, but it helps convey the connection between you and your people.
While the addition of the live card is nice, it hurt the performance of my Ryzen 7 3700/RTX 2070 Super build. The development team assured us during the conference that this was a pre-release version of the game and improvements would be implemented before launch, but it was still noticeable enough to cause brief slowdowns and even a crash once.
War, (HUH), what’s the point?
One of the main concerns that has emerged since the announcement of Victoria 3 was the perceived lack of autonomy for warfare and the way it is fought. While every other Paradox game allowed you to wage war however you saw fit, Victoria 3 removed the direct control of your armies and leaves this task to the generals and admirals whom you assign to your armed forces and who wage war according to their characteristics. As the loss of autonomy in war takes hold, you have other ways to interact with foreign nations through the use of hostile diplomacy in what are known as diplomatic games.
In a diplomatic game, you can attempt to force a foreign government to change one of its policies to something you feel is more to your liking. At this point, a battle of wills erupts between the two nations. Demands and possible concessions are presented on both sides, with the possibility for allies and even regional neighbors to get involved in the diplomatic battle. Anyone who gets involved can do anything from just getting their toes wet with economic support, to committing troops to a potential conflict (with their own demands to be met by the lead actor they’re dealing with). put away). If something can be resolved, great, all parties are (mostly) unscathed. But if the talks fail to reach a compromise, then the two sides will escalate into a war. War is then fought through the use of high-level strategic choices that you dictate, such as assigning generals to armies and placing said armies along front lines.
The developers have essentially taken the aim of war/casus belli mechanic from every other game in their repertoire and expanded it for diplomacy purposes. I will admit that the only action I saw in the diplomatic plays was sitting on the bench waiting to be called by a bigger country in repayment for a good deed they had done for me more early. I almost forced the switch from an isolationist trade policy to an open market, but peace won.
Having fun with finance (and flags)
I waited Victoria 3 for what seems like an eternity. By the time I returned to PC gaming in the mid-2010s, Victoria 2 was already obsolete as Paradox honed its craft and began to make its games more palatable to the uninitiated. I’ve always been a secret politics junkie, and I’m a big enough nerd to like the concept of economics and international trade. It was therefore a question of waiting for my turn in the sun. After a week and a half with the preview version, I can say that my turn is coming.
All the time I had with the preview, I had a blast. The game sucked me in, grabbed my attention, and refused to let go. I couldn’t stop thinking about my long-term goals and would frequently boot up the game to implement a policy change I was thinking about while doing real-world stuff. One evening, my poor partner rushed into our computer room thinking that something was wrong with me because I was mumbling curses for a long time. America had cut off my supply of small arms, and my economy deteriorated because of it. I wanted America’s lead and was ready to support anyone who felt the same way but was limited by my size. I was quickly called a loser and left to brood in my rage.
Victoria 3 is probably not for everyone. He also has a long way to go before he’s ready for the streets. But for a preview build, it worked pretty well most of the time. Even with the times he stumbled, Victoria 3 was the most fun I’ve ever had with a grand strategy game. There is no greater joy than growing your economy while increasing your infrastructure. I look forward to returning to the big chair and ushering my nation into a prosperous new era of social equality.
Victoria 3 will be released on PC on October 25, 2022.