I think I realized it all started to go wrong when, while manifesting my destiny, Russia joined the alliance of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Hudson Bay Company (yes, the HBC) in a war against me as the United States and Spain. However, I was determined: the gold fields of Nevada as well as access to the Pacific Ocean through California would be mine.
Three hours later I had achieved my goal. Spain had been knocked out of the war, but so too had all of Mexico’s allies as I mobilized the armies of the United States to the call. However, despite starting with a full war chest, a bustling economy and enough munitions to invade…well…Mexico, I was destitute and in default on my loans. War came at a cost in Victoria 3, a cost to my economy, my credit rating as I declared the United States all but bankrupt, as well as my standing on the world stage. But at least I controlled Nevada, right?
Victoria 3 is the latest offering by grand strategy mavens Paradox Interactive, releasing on Steam this week to the praise of fans who have been waiting for this next installment in the franchise. Taking place through the tumultuous century between 1836 and 1936, you take control of a country and lead it through the years as you decide which direction your society will go. Will you build an egalitarian society that sees the bottom rungs of the ladder rise to the top thanks to your industrious ways, or do you plan to sow the seeds that lead into the Great War and see you militarily dominate your neighbors?
Forming A More Perfect Union
Victoria 3 is a hard game. Just straight up. It’s a dense, exceedingly complex society simulation that sees players have to balance not only the political atmosphere of their societies, but the economies and social aspects of their realms. Unlike other Paradox historical simulation titles, Victoria 3 doesn’t let you choose from various time periods, but rather you always start in 1836, well into the Victorian Era. In its place are goals you have Vicky 3 set up for you, whether you’re looking to be an economic powerhouse or simply make your people freer than they were the day before.
As someone who never played Victoria 2, despite having hundreds of hours in Crusader Kings 2, Crusader Kings 3, and even more in Europa Universalis IV (which is on the list of my top 5 favorite games ever), Victoria 3 felt daunting at first. Having these guidelines certainly helped, as well as the workable tutorial that lets you pick any nation in the world and learn through guided steps how to play the grand sim.
One of the best features of this is not just that it tells you how to play, but why you are doing the actions you are doing, when you’re doing them. Need to know why it might be beneficial to subsidize that steel mill struggling to hire workers? Victoria 3 gets to the nitty gritty and tells you during this tutorial. It’s not perfect, and you’re not going to learn everything through it, but it’s a great touch for those eager to learn the sim, especially those trying their hand at the Clausewitz Engine for the first time.
Victoria 3, like the other Paradox grand strategy games like it before, is presented on a map, though this is one of the most detailed and beautifully presented maps I’ve seen yet from the company. Zooming in on a settlement will see your society at work, from railways rushing goods to the nearest city, automobiles bustling down roads, or even evidence of unrest should your society be in turmoil.
Securing The Blessings…Of Your Economy
The core of Victoria 3 is its society simulation, most notably its economy. Every aspect of your society is dependent on goods and services offered by your nation, and how well you are at maintaining this economy will help mark your success or failure on the world stage.
It’s minutely detailed, from the need to extract the specific resources required to build the goods to be traded down to the workers themselves who make up your population. Victoria 3 takes the societal simulation and ramps it up, aiming to simulate every single person on the planet during the Victoria Era.
In doing so, it creates the need to not just ensure you have the goods and resources required to function as a society like pretty much every major strategy game out there, but that your population has access to the goods they need to survive.
Through this delicate balance of building an economy, you have to ensure you have money in your own coffers as well. Taxes must needs be collected, while wages and services paid out. This is a balancing act, where you’ll need to ensure your population and industry has access to resources you are creating to build the goods and services for not only your use as a society, be it a rifle for your soldiers or liquor for the nearby pup your humble farmer frequents.
This is where Victoria 3 is at its most complex – and engaging. I spent hours pouring over coal and iron production in order to ensure that I had the means to switch my entire building infrastructure over to steel. More times than I can count I weighed the difference between trying to monopolize coffee and tea production in my Oceania and African holdings over the need to boost glass production Stateside instead.
For the goods you can’t produce enough of, you can trade for, with Victoria 3 handling trade for across the world, creating the global economy that helped drive the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Though, while this has the benefit of getting your workers the needed materials to build their future, it takes money out of the hands of the producers in your own homeland who aren’t meeting production. However, there are simply some items you can’t build at home depending on where you are as a society, and trade is the only solution. Victoria 3’s trading simulation is also complex, but rather easy to read. I appreciate how Paradox has tried to make the most actionable, beneficial information available by highlighting which goods are prime for importing or exporting, as well as showing you the impact on your treasury by setting up a route.
Ensuring Domestic Tranquility
However, among all these plates being spun through the economic side of things, the political balancing act is there as well, as populations will grow in both sizes as well as change their mood with the times. Keeping your population as happy and secure as they can be is paramount, lest you find yourself the target of a homegrown revolution.
For my part, my first play-through was Belgium and while I had plenty of radicals aiming to bring the monarchy down to size, it didn’t feel nearly as tumultuous as my United States play-through.
It’s not just economic factors that might radicalize a populace. Yea, don’t provide enough opportunities for your people to grow not just in population but through economic means can lead to unrest, but also the laws and the people in power themselves can cause a pop to revolt if pushed to the brink.
For me, I was doing everything in my power to avoid the inevitable split in the United States over the topic of Slavery. Every ounce of me was trying to move the needle towards banning slavery while also ensuring the change didn’t happen so fast that the Southern Aristocracy would revolt. Social reforms, such as universal suffrage, healthcare, or just sending kids to school instead of coal mines were also issues I faced that could have torn the country apart. Yet, because I hadn’t radically changed the system in a single administration, instead drip-fed reforms through the first ten years of my campaign, Slavery was banned before 1850 with no fuss. Universal Suffrage and Women’s Rights came before the year 1870, and Universal Healthcare was passed by 1885. While these issues had caused the population to convulse, it never caused upheaval, and this was thanks to the rising standard of living in my lands, as well as low, low taxes.
However, it’s not always going to save you. I found myself slowly (quite by accident) building a communist, socialist society. The People’s and Communist Parties were slowly gaining steam, and I felt this might be a good time to try my hand at a Council Republic. If the people in my population are already starting to lean that way, might as well, right?
By 1905 I was staring down the possibility of the entire southern and northern parts of the United States completely revolting thanks to the idea of moving from the Presidential Republic that had served us since 1776. No amount of wrangling, bolstering of the parties in favor of the measure, suppression, or even increasing the standard of living could assuage the revolutionaries, and I backed down.
As a result, I came to a fundamental understanding about Victoria 3: while I will always have political enemies abroad, those aiming to cut me down to size or annex a state or two, the real antagonist that I faced in my nearly 60 hours of gameplay was my own people. I was constantly making decisions based on their actions and reactions to something I was doing. The direction I led my campaign was, in part, due to the direction they led me. It was incredible to realize, and it is a marked difference versus Paradox’s other sims. Hearts of Iron IV comes somewhat close, but even Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings III aren’t so singularly focused on the home front as Victoria can be.
Provide For The Common Defense
Arguably, the weakest part of Victoria 3 is easily the warfare side of things. This is just a sideshow compared to the complexity of the social and economic simulation running under the hood. But it doesn’t make it any less fun.
Warfare was a normal part of life in the 19th century, from the Napoleonic Wars through the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870s, and even on into the 20th with the Russo-Japanese War and the Great War. As a result, while economic and societal progress is important, so is ensuring your nation-state can take – and give – a punch when needed.
I’ll admit: warfare in these types of games is always going to be my default. I grew up on Shogun and Medieval Total War. The idea of leaving my neighbors in peace doesn’t necessarily sit well in a game where, by and large, the goal is to make my country as strong and secure as I can.
Warfare in Victoria 3 plays out very differently than in other Paradox games. Instead of maneuvering your units through specific territories like in CK3 or even utilizing the incredibly complex simulation brought on by World War 2 sim Hearts of Iron IV, Vicky 3 has probably the least involved warfare as I’ve seen in a grand strategy title.
It starts out by creating what is called a Diplomatic Incident, much like it would in real life. We don’t just invade countries around the world whole cloth anymore, instead, it’s about posturing, mobilization, swaying allies and potential enemies to your war aims, and then, finally, all-out warfare. Victoria 3 simulates this effortlessly.
I feel that where warfare in Victoria lacks in actually controlling what goes on during each battle, it more than makes up for it in the tension leading up to war.
There were times during my play through where I felt actual trepidation when seeing the various states and more arrayed against me in a diplomatic play, the timer counting down before mobilization could be spun down. In my wars against Mexico, there was one incident where it looked like I would be going up against the might of the British Empire as the Mexican government swayed Her Majesty’s Government to intercede for them. However, as I quickly conscripted and mobilized my troops, and Prussia declared against Great Britain, Mexico backed down, ceding Utah to me without any bloodshed.
Russia a few times attempted to “cut me down to size” after I created the reputation of being a pariah on the world stage. This war didn’t last very long, but it definitely had me worried when it was first declared. While the warfare in Victoria 3 doesn’t have the complexity I love of Hearts of Iron IV, it can definitely have consequences that make you worry every time a diplomatic incident appears onscreen.
More often than not warfare saw the standard of living of my people go down, my coffers drained and my military people conscripted. It wasn’t always fun to live through, especially seeing 30+ million of gold reserves evaporate in an instant. It reminds me of all my reading about World War I and how, not far into the war, countries were effectively funding their efforts on credit. Victoria 3 replicates this quite well.
I was forced to rely on outside powers for ammunition, artillery pieces and more throughout my war with France (which started right after Russia capitulated. I guess France doesn’t read the news). In doing so, it catered my GDP as I was no longer producing the goods needed at home, instead relying on outside markets.
Everything in Victoria 3 is connected, and it’s ultimate indicator of this is your bottom line.
All is not good, however
Victoria 3 is fantastic overall, but there are some weird quirks that bothered me throughout my playthrough. Many bugs in the UI, such as graph lines not actually staying on the graph were annoyances, as well as the fact that some countries during a Diplomatic Play wouldn’t have their names actually displayed. Rather it was a string of code instead.
Additionally, the ticker that keeps track of the goings on in-game around the world sometimes refused to expand, especially when there was a lot listed. I missed quite a few things because I could never get the tip to expand out, leaving me pretty frustrated as a result.
There are also some weird AI issues, especially in warfare. While in my American campaign I owned quite a few puppet states, the two major world wars I fought against Russia and France, none of the puppet state units mobilized and moved to the front as they were supposed to, nor did Russia or France, both with larger navies than me, ever try a naval invasion of my homeland. In fact, the Russian war barely saw troops hit the frontlines even in our adjacent African holdings, instead letting three whole battalions take over Russian Congo. In my war with France, it took almost two years before a single French Battalion had shown up. By then I was occupying all of the French colonial holdings in Africa, Asia, and South America. The war was won before they showed up to the frontlines.
I also wish there was a way to more meaningfully interact with my Pops. While I can sway public opinion with taxation levels, laws in place, and more, I wish I could swell efforts at a grassroots level. I hope in future patches they allow for some more interactions on a population by population level.
Finally – and this is a big one for me as someone who prefers conquest to trade – let me reassign my generals to new HQs. It’s annoying to not be able to move generals and admirals around to different HQ sectors in my empire, especially if I end up getting a great general in an area that doesn’t have the population to support a large garrison.
Victoria 3 is a game that has captivated me now for weeks. I love the level of granular detail Paradox Games allow me to dive into, and Victoria 3 has this in droves. But my favorite parts of Paradox Games are the alternate history playthroughs. I found myself talking to friends and family about the quirks of the countries in my playthrough as if it were real geopolitical news. Every second in Vicky 3 I was hooked, sometimes finding myself sitting at my desk for hours into the night, losing track of the time yet never getting tired of the simulation. I craved more.
And for me, that is high praise. As someone for who it takes quite a bit to really hook me, Victoria 3 certainly has in a big way. In fact, I think I’ll start my next campaign right now.