If you’re at all a strategy game buff I’m sure you have, at the very least, heard of Paradox Interactive let alone ravenously play each and every game they create. They are, in so many words, one of the greatest strategy game developers to have ever existed. Right up there with Firaxis, in my book. The only difference between the two, in a business sense, is that Firaxis was sold to Take Two where as Paradox remains an independent developer and publisher.
Anyway, I’m here to review their latest strategic gem: Victoria 2. Now, before I begin, I should probably go over a couple things:
First, prior to playing Victoria 2 I had not played much of Paradox’s strategy games before. All of what I said above is due to a hefty amount of research when preparing for this review. Now, anybody who knows Paradox’s strategy games knows how incredible deep and complicated they are. This means that I’m not going to be able to cover every nook and cranny. This of this more as an overview on the basic concepts of the game rather than a gritty look at every bit and morsel.
Second, I played this game as Belgium. While this might not seem like an important factoid about my experience with the review, in many ways it is. Depending on the nation you pick you’re bound to get wildly different experiences with the game. I picked Belgium because it was a smaller, easily managed nation that was still far enough along in development to not make it impossible to succeed and thrive in the game.
Okay, now that we got those tings out of the way, let’s get this review started:
Victoria 2 starts off simple enough with you picking which nation you will take control of. Now, to give you some perspective on the sheer scope of the game, in the real world, today, there are 193 internationally recognized sovereign states. In Victoria 2 there are 125 nations you can take control of.
Beyond even the amount, however, the game is, seemingly, historically accurate in their nations as well. This means that, given the date you begin play, you have the ability to create entirely new dynasties and play as nations such as Texas (before they were annexed) or the Ottoman Empire (before they broke apart).
Now as I mentioned above, picking your nation will greatly affect the type of game you’re going to be playing. I picked Belgium, primarily because the tutorial had me using Belgium. However, you can pick any other nation you want big or small. Should you pick the United Kingdom, you’ll have control of the most powerful nation in the world, but also the most complex. Britain has colonies everywhere and managing it all is quite difficult. Additionally, you can pick the tiny kingdom of Siam if you want and play as a backwater country. In either case, you’ll be faced with different obstacles and challenges that will make your game unique from my own experiences.
Of course, since I’m already on the subject, let’s go over the tutorial a little bit. If there is one part of Victoria 2 that I really had a hard time with it was the tutorial. Like I’ve already said, Victoria 2 is a complicated game and complicated games require tutorials or else you’ll be lost when attempting to play. Unfortunately, Victoria 2′s tutorial was complicated, involved more reading than “doing” and dragged on forever. It seems like it would have been easier to have a “tutorial mode” that you could select upon starting a new game that would just teach and help you manage your game in the early stages as opposed to the tutorial they gave you, which is completely separate from the primary game.
But enough about the tutorial, let’s cover the primary parts of the game, namely the production, budget, technology, politics, population, trade, diplomacy and military. We’ll cover each of these section briefly, to the best of my knowledge.
Production – Victoria 2 is based on many different aspects of running a government, first and foremost of which is your production. This is where you get to see what your country is producing and how many people your factories are hiring. Overall, this is a pretty simple part of managing your government. Everything is laid out clearly enough and depending on what government party you have at the time will largely affect how much you can control.
Budget - The budget screen is exactly what you’d expect it to be. This is where you’ll decide who gets taxed and how much, as well as figuring out where your money goes. This is probably the easiest menu to figure out. Raise the slider to the right and you’ll increase taxes, or increase the budget. Move it to the left and you’ll decrease the taxes/budget. Overall, it was done well enough that almost anybody can manage this area will little ease.
Technology - In Victoria 2 you’ll be faced with a growing empire that lasts over time, as such you’ll need new technology to help get you there. It’s pretty standard affair. My only problem is that, especially for some of the culture related “technologies,” it isn’t immediately clear on just what they do. Veteran Victoria players will know, but as a newbie it can go right over your head.
Politics - The politics menu is largely where you’ll shape your empire. This is where you can enact political and social reforms, but only if the people demand/want it. Depending on how conservative, liberal, or reactionary your populace is will largely affect your political outlook. This also happened to be my favorite menu as this is truly where you can shape your empire to whatever you, or your people want it to be.
Population - This was my least used menu. As I said above, I’m not a veteran of this game so it might have more uses for me as I play the game more, but during my time with the game I don’t think I used this menu once. It generally just shows you what your population consists of (artisans, craftsmen, etc.) but you don’t have any real control over what kind of people you are producing so there’s not too much to do here beyond gathering data. Kind of pointless if you ask me.
Trade – So remember how in the production menu you managed your nation’s factories? Well this is the beginning and end to the production part of the game. You see, when you’re nation builds a new factory it needs raw materials to create items. If you’re nation doesn’t have these items then you’ll automatically buy them from the world market to produce them. Likewise, when your country has produced a good it will then sell them on the world market. It’s a give and take process and, while you won’t see any direct money from these exchanges, you will get to tax the businesses more the better they are doing which ultimately leads to more money for you. It’s a complicated system, but one that was incredibly well planned and makes Victoria 2 a more believable game.
Diplomacy - The diplomacy menu is where you’ll be managing your relations with other nations around you. It’s divided into two sections, the “great powers” (top 8 nations) and the rest. There are certain things you can do as a great power than you can not do as a secondary power, such as adding a nation to your sphere of influence. Additionally, in order to make any diplomatic changes you’ll need diplomatic points which are accrued over time. Overall, however, this is simply the place you’ll go to see how well you rank with every other nation. Sort of like a leaderboards really…
Military - As any nation-builder game, Victoria 2 simply could not exist without war time functions. This is the screen where you’ll create and manage your troops and generals. It’s pretty standard affair, you create an army if you have enough money and people to support it. Larger nations have more people and more money, therefor they have larger armies. You can get a larger army by taking over other nations. It’s a unique process that really emulates real world conditions. In Victoria 2, as Belgium, you won’t go rushing off to invade France (unless you have a death wish) because they can out produce you ten fold, instead you’ll have to focus on a smaller target, like the Netherlands.
Speaking of the Netherlands — we’re done with the menus now, by the way — I used them as an example above because, well, this is exactly what I did. Despite them being a bit more powerful than myself, I worked up the gal to assemble my forces to begin the process of taking them over. Now, they’re still a larger nation than myself, which means their military is better. Additionally, they’re allies with Luxembourg who has a small contingent of troops to my south side. That means this “war” is an uphill battle for me unless I get a partner as well.
In Victoria 2 managing your diplomatic partners is everything. Increasing your popularity with nations and decreasing those of others is an art form in Victoria 2. In this case, however, I was already really popular with the United Kingdom, given that we’re neighbors and I’m not a true threat to their power. So when asked, Britain was all to happy to enter into a military alliance with me. This made taking over the Netherlands a whole lot easier than it would have been without Britain.
Of course, Victoria 2 is a unique game and there are a few things that happen within the context of war diplomacy that are really cool:
The first of which is that, when you go to war with somebody you need a legitimate excuse. Simply pronouncing you are going to war with another nation and then taking them over is bad, really bad. In fact, if you do it too much the other nations will really start to dislike you… much like they started to dislike Hitler when he began his conquest in the 1930s. So with this in mind, you’ll probably want to wait for some “falling out” to occur between yourself and your victim.
The second thing is that, when you do go to war you’ll have to lay out exactly what i is that you are after. This isn’t a free for all land grab, a la Civilization wars, this is a tactical war with clear objectives and goals. Sometimes it’s to take a specific state, sometimes it’s to simply humiliate your victim. Whatever the case, when you select your goal you have to stick to that goal as that’s the only thing you can do within the context of the war. Additionally, any military partners you bring into the war will also attempt to help you to achieve your goals in the war… unless…
Finally, the AI in Victoria 2 isn’t stupid. In fact, it’s pretty damn smart. They know when you are the weaker of the two nations in a military alliance and they’ll use it to their advantage. In my case, when I had brought Britain in on my war against the Netherlands, they knew they were stronger than me and, as such, they took full control of the war. This means they got to dictate the goals and the peace procedures. This really added a whole new level to war in Victoria 2 and it was something that was unexpected, but really cool at the same time.
Anyway, I’m sure there is just so much more I could write about the gameplay of Victoria 2, given that it’s an incredibly complex game, but I feel like I’ve covered most of the basics. So let’s move on to the…
Anybody who is familiar with Paradox’s strategy games will know that each hold a very familiar sort of style. Victoria 2 shares this same style, as many would expect. Now, I can’t compare it directly to the other games, as I’m not terribly familiar with them all, however I will say that, graphically, Victoria 2 is pretty good given that it’s a high intensity strategy game. It really feels like a big board game and all the pieces, military and otherwise, give off that same impression. In this manner, Victoria 2 looks and feels great. However, if you’re a Total War fan you may find yourself a bit upset at the lack of any meaningful battle scenarios.
Additionally, the music in Victoria 2 is great. While there is little voice work and sound effects in the game, the music is distinctly Victorian era sounding which really helps set the mood for the game.
Victoria 2 is a historically accurate game from the moment you start the game. However, what you do after you start the game is entirely up to you. This, in affect, means that you’re creating your own story. You can, in so many words, change the course of history and make it so that Mexico is the dominant North American force as opposed to the United States.
In my game, for example, Texas, which is annexed by the USA shortly after the game starts in the real historical time line, was actually annexed by Mexico in my game’s timeline instantly changing history as we know it.
Hell, if you want, you can play as Texas and, given shrewd some shrewd planning and tactical know how you can, probably, take over both the USA and Mexico and make it all Texas… which, as we all know, is every Texan’s biggest dream.
Victoria 2 is an incredibly complex game. If you come away with anything in this review I hope it is that you understand that my own experiences with the game are not going to be indicative of your same experiences. This is, in part, the magic that is Paradox’s strategy method. And, should you figure it all out, there is a wealth of gameplay here that few other games can rival.
Victoria 2 is available as of today (August 13th) for $39.95 via GamersGate. If you enjoy strategy games then I can find little reason why you shouldn’t absolutely fall in love with Victoria 2.