Paradox Interactive’s strategy games are known for their uncompromising scope and depth in recreating entire eras of history, but never before had they attempted something as dizzyingly complex as Victoria 3. By modeling every human being alive in the century that changed the world from 1836 to 1936, their hopes and desires, their joy and anger, and how they feel about the price of their new life, the simulated world before you You are a wonder to behold. And what is even more incredible is that it is not a mere curiosity or a technological demonstration. Aside from a moderate amount of launch-day fuss, it works for the most part, serving as the foundation for a deeply absorbing socio-political strategy game.
It is fair to note that Victoria 3 is dense, detailed, and by its nature full of mechanics that require proactive detective work to understand.. I personally love those things. But for the uninitiated, finding your way around its quirks and pitfalls during the first few campaigns can be daunting. Even as someone with a total of 4,000 hours or so in other Paradox franchises, I struggled early on.
There’s a dynamic tutorial scenario where you can play as any country, which will give you an idea of the basics, but won’t necessarily prepare you to master it. The best teaching aids that Victoria 3 offers are a nested hint system and the ability to select “Tell me how” and “Tell me why” on important concepts in the game. This is something I would like to see in more strategy games, as the simple explanation of what all the buttons do (Tell me how) often doesn’t give an idea of when to press them (Tell me why). Yet despite all this, Victory 3 is one of the most difficult Paradox games to learnmore in line with Hearts of Iron than Crusader Kings.
The main balls that you will have to juggle at all times in Victoria 3 are politics and economics, both deliciously deep and sometimes terrifying to interact with. The political power of your nation is organized into interest groups, which can range from the Evangelical Church in the United States to the educated literati of China. Their power comes from various sources, but at first it’s mostly about wealth and land ownership, so a handful of aristocrats can have more influence than the millions of peasants they dominate.
Annoying a powerful group like aristocrats can completely destabilize your country early on.
This creates a fascinating dance if you want to, for example, build a liberal and democratic society. Annoying a powerful group, like aristocrats, can completely destabilize your country early on, so you have to find ways to erode their power without overtly angering them. And since everything is linked to the simulation of real people and their material conditions, the ways to do it are quite intuitive. If you build a lot of schools and teach people to be engineers, and then build factories for them to work in, there will be fewer peasants in your country and those old world barons will start to go bankrupt and lose their political relevance.
However, you will also create barons of the new world: factory owners and captains of industry who want low taxes and no child labor laws. Since wealth always confers political power, even in a democracy where everyone has the right to vote, actually putting power in the hands of the people requires economic as well as political reforms. a bit of realism that I rarely see reproduced in these types of games.
Underneath all of this is a rich economic simulation in which each person (organized into groups called “pops” based on their culture, religion, profession, and place of residence) has a list of needs that they want to satisfy. The richer and more educated someone is, the more things they will want, so an illiterate peasant in the 1840s will be happier with less than his great-great-grandchildren, who are part of the burgeoning urban middle class of the 1900s.
Supply and demand are modeled by an intelligent purchase order system, which represent people who want things, and sell orders, which represent industries that make things from grain and clothing to cars and electricity. Lower prices mean people can afford more stuff, but also those industries are less profitable and the people making the stuff don’t get as much money, so there are a lot of interesting trade-offs to navigate. This economic model has many concessions at the margins, such as the fact that high and low prices are capped at a certain point and that having more buy orders than sell orders does not strictly limit the availability of basic goods, but rather limit your price.
Whatever manipulation is done behind the scenes, it creates a much more robust and authentic simulation than Victoria 2.
But believe me when I say that any trick that is done behind the scenes creates a much stronger and more authentic simulation than Victoria 2, which tried to be a bit more “realistic” and inadvertently created a lot of problems for itself. It doesn’t really matter that they “cheated” on some points, because what we have is a system that behaves, in practice, much more like a real economy, which is impressive.
This is all very well if you just want to shape your nation internally and watch a rustic, feudal society transform into a modern metropolis with radios and telephones, which is my preferred way of playing. I love that standard of living is its own metric that I can measure my success by, aside from having the highest GDP or painting the map. Opposing interest groups in your own country offer plenty of pushback and are compelling antagonists, even if you never set foot outside your borders. However, if you do, you will come across what is probably Victoria 3’s weakest area: war and international relations.
The way conflicts start is quite interesting. Launching a diplomatic move allows you to make demands, such as taking land or forcing someone into a common market, after which both sides can bid to try to get other countries to their side. This can be fun, as ultimately choosing when to mobilize your troops can give you an advantage, but also increase tensions, while either side has the option to back down for smaller concessions before it becomes a big deal. full blown war. The biggest problem is that the wars themselves are not that good.
I respect Victory 3’s decision not to focus on war, especially when it excels at most of the things it focuses on. But that doesn’t change the fact that armed conflicts can be very cumbersome and confusing. Generals are permanently attached to HQs in specific regions, which limits where they can actually fight, and you can’t reassign them. They also have to be assigned to specific fronts, and it’s possible, thanks to the largely hands-off war system, that pesky little fronts open up in the middle of a war that completely throw off your strategy. Your influence, once the war has begun, is largely relegated to making sure your armies are well-supplied, since you can’t even order them to prioritize taking certain objectives. I try to avoid war altogether whenever I can, which is also often the right choice when it comes to the welfare of my people.
I respect Victory 3’s decision not to focus on the war.
Also, Victoria 3’s gorgeous map still has quite a few issues. Sometimes the AI does things without explanation or warning, like when Britain ruined my developing Australia’s entire economy by kicking me out of the Commonwealth even though our ratios were high. I have referred to North America as “The Twilight Zone” because it always seems to produce strange results, such as Mexico permanently owning a portion of southern Colorado surrounded by the United States on all sides, or the southern states of the United States steadily become 100% racially segregated over time. These are not specific events, but they are constant in all my games. Why? I do not know.
This is nothing new for a Paradox game at launch. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it’s annoying. Sometimes you have Crusader Kings 3, which felt very polished on day one. This is more like Stellaris, which was lovingly broken and in need of a lot of love after release. I have faith that these problems will be fixed in the coming months, but I have to analyze what is in front of me right now. It’s a really fun game, but it still needs a bit of polish.
Victory 3 is the kind of game that sucks me in and won’t let me go, whether he’s trying to turn Hawaii into an anarcho-communist utopia or make Afghanistan the center of the world economy by monopolizing the opium trade. The scope and depth of his simulation are remarkable. I would need to double the length of this review just to fully explain its enormity. And that is only outdone by the fact that it actually works well. I wish there was a little less general fuss and weird AI behavior to break me out of the illusion, and the war system seems very much in the works. But that hasn’t stopped me from playing it until the sun has risen more than a couple of times in the last few weeks. It is a great first step, with an even more promising tomorrow.