Thick smog covers a city that is ablaze with turmoil, radicalisation and political upheaval – and we’re tasked with navigating this mess. But enough about current UK politics: let’s go back to the Victorian age.
The rise of nation states has occurred amongst the tumultuous era of discovery and revolution. The industrial age is gaining pace, and in there lies opportunity. Victoria 3, the latest grand strategy from Paradox Interactive, is about grabbing that opportunity and prospering – perhaps at the cost of others.
It should be noted that Victoria 3 does deal and play with some very contentious issues as is the case for any game set in this era. The colonising of the world, the rush for Africa, and the atrocities that occur in the name of race, religion and empire are laid bare. You can even profit from it all. But a historic game would be remiss to pretend none of this happened, and its inclusion does help us understand the global economic situation that existed during the 1800s, and how often, sadly, profit was put ahead of people.
Victoria 3, then, has more reason than most to be an accurate and engaging mirror to that era. Fortunately, it does a tremendous job recreating the Victorian age and the politics that arose in its wake.
The gameplay comes from controlling a nation and developing it into a world power. This is achieved by making your country an economic powerhouse through trade, production and manpower. All of which are intertwined and allow for different approaches. Despite tremendously complicated mechanics, we’re glad to say that trade, production and government are excellently crafted and are a maze you will want to get lost in.
The way your country interacts with trade is bound by your current laws, which in turn influences the way your industry works and the workers that influence the law. This interlocking nature of every part of Victoria 3 means that changing one thing has consequences for the whole nation – and sometimes the whole world. Like the butterfly wings that flap air into a gust and result in a tornado on a far distant shore.
With all these plates spinning, it can be hard to push forward and generate wealth without it all going awry. You will have to navigate laws, politics and trade – all of which pull at each other in varying directions. It can be tough to keep on top of everything, but this is what makes Victoria 3 worth playing.
You will want to make your government reflect what is best for your society. Laws can’t be dismissed and changed at hand: you have to engage with internal politics and power dynamics to create change and pursue long term goals. The political power system – known in-game as ‘clout’ – is a percentage of an interest group’s power and it stems from the power of each person within your nation.
Just like in real-life, modern day politics, not all people will have the same backing to their voice and so it takes real effort to create meaningful change. But you get a superb and immersive understanding of what is going on, from serfs on the fields to giant factory-owning capitalists. You get a well-entwined net of jobs, laws and politics. One will affect the other, and this brings life to what is essentially a market database.
A great example of this system working is when you play as a fledging African nation. Instead of the broad term ‘westernising’, countries that have weaker economies will have to deal with a law system that makes them isolated, inefficient countries. It paints the challenge of industrialisation brilliantly. Having a staunch power that resists change, that doesn’t embrace the turning of tide, is seriously difficult and engaging. There is more than one way to act, and this challenge doesn’t have an obvious path to becoming a major player. The law and clout systems do give a great backbone to Victoria 3 and your playthrough will be significantly different depending on the laws that are enacted throughout the game. At least in a strategic sense.
As much as we praise the way Victoria 3 uses its law and population systems to great effect, there still is a lack of diversity in how different nations feel and act. Unless you are playing as a significantly focused nation, you’ll find that there’s a lack of specific events that flesh out the markets you are playing with.
One way that Victoria 3 does try to address this is by having rulers, generals and party leaders possess specific traits that affect your internal politics as well as the battlefield. It’s an approach that could have transformed the game in some really interesting ways, but unfortunately there is very little in the way of influencing these characters – bar making them a general.
After all, the game is named after a person who was popular and powerful beyond the limits of politics, and it’s a shame that this is not represented strongly enough in the game. Being able to use some political power to change and modify the people in your government, not just the parties they represent, would go a long way to making each playthrough and nation unique. Victoria 3’s flirtation with the mechanic is just not enough.
War is another area of Victoria 3 that we love the idea of, but it seems to need a tweak to work better. There’s a nebulous tease of a fantastic system here, one that sees war as an escalation of tension between different nations’ interests. It tries to replicate the politicking that is used to force demands and sway allies on the global stage. That is exactly what we wanted from Victoria 3.
Unfortunately, it is rare that this actually happens in-game. You want your prior choices and diplomatic interactions to make more of a difference, but often it’s just rivals attacking rivals with a countdown. However, we will say that Paradox does a good job of focusing a war in particular parts of the world. European powers will fight abroad but not at home, as was often the case.
As for the battles themselves, you no longer control units directly but assign battalions to different fronts. This is a choice that works in sync with the feel of the game. You can see how battles over small chunks get dragged out as technology increases, replicating the trend towards trench warfare. There is less micro-management, and focus is on production which is a welcome change – when it works. Sadly, that’s not always the case, and the lack of military access can be frustrating.
All in all, Victoria 3 does a brilliant job of bringing this era of global politics alive. Its brilliant law systems create a truly enigmatic power struggle that will keep us playing for many hours to come. While there is a lack of flavour for some of the smaller nations and a handful of other problems that stop Victoria 3 being as good as it could be, there’s a vast myriad of strategies available to players, and many ways to plot out a successful campaign. And ultimately, that’s all that we want from a strategy game: the freedom to make credible choices.