Become a politician; without selling your soul
Ever since Paradox Interactive announced Victoria 3, I’ve been in a state of semi-disbelief. It was a strategy game in-joke for so long that I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I was provided a preview build of the upcoming socio-economic grand strategy game thanks to Paradox. To quote Sidra Holland and Jackie Chiles, it’s “real, and it’s fantastic.” And soon, you too can politick to your heart’s content when the game releases on October 25, 2022.
For those of you present who aren’t cool enough to know what the Victoria series is all about, an introduction is in order. Victoria is a grand strategy game series aptly set during the Victorian era. Whereas other entries in the Paradox family of grand strategy games focus on war or lineage, Victoria‘s focus lies in economics and the changing political landscape of the dawning Modern age. Starting in 1836, you control a country and all of its economy and laws while trying to improve the lives of your citizenry. You know how you always scream at your screen that you “can do better” whenever some talking head politician messes everything up? Victoria allows you to 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 last entry is a notoriously hard nut to crack for various reasons. From the Version 0.1 build that I played, I can safely say that Victoria 3 is well on its way to addressing 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 Imperator: Rome. At a closed-door press demo, game director Martin Anward emphasized that while Victoria 3 would be easier for new players to get into, it would not come at the expense of complexity but through streamlining how information is presented. Your basic menus where you take the various temperatures of your nation are all still present, but sorters and filters have been given big buttons to help you get to what you need quickly.
On top of menus, important overlays of the map have also been given big buttons at the bottom of the screen to show you the big picture of how your empire (and anyone else on the map) are doing in regards to metrics such as production and consumption, quality of life, what have you.
Additionally, nearly every term, metric, item, and country has been given what is called a nested tooltip. Those who have played Crusader Kings III will recognize the feature as it is used in the base release of that game as well. By hovering over a color-coded word in a menu, you will get both a breakdown of what it means, as well as a look at how well you are doing in terms of said metric. After a few seconds of hovering over the term, the tooltip window will soft lock on 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 was delving deep into my economy. It did start to get a bit crowded for simple mouse movement, 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 place to start for a preview” — but all of your decisions and actions will be made through menus, so it’s nice to see that a concerted effort has been made to streamline the intake of information for a topic as complex as economics and how that affects your populace. But fine, if you want something juicier than menu improvements, how about an actual developer-made tutorial mode?
Ooooh, teach me, Amadeus.
With nearly every previous Paradox grand strategy game, you were given a very base tutorial that mostly entailed how to navigate menus and complete actions. Past that point, you were left to your own devices to figure out how to succeed which at the time meant digging into double-digit hours of YouTube videos. Victoria 3 has not only a tutorial mode but also an objective mode that guides you with completing nations such as a hegemonic ruler or an egalitarian utopia.
In said tutorial mode, you are given a breadcrumb trail that acts as an interactive Econ and Poly Sci 101. Various objectives such as “grow your GDP” or “make a political party that doesn’t like you happier” are presented to you and you are given the option of being shown why you should do that, and if you want to be truly handheld, how you can go about it. However, sometimes the objectives were a bit redundant. It got annoying when they were trying to make me placate a social group that stood in staunch opposition to the policies I was trying to enact. But the game never yelled at me for ignoring it. Even with the redundancy of one or two objectives, I was able to get my economy into working order thanks to training mode. Before this in Victoria 2, I had considerable trouble achieving it.
It could be easy to handwave away 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 knowledge of something as complex as statesmanship (i.e., most people). This addition is not only huge for the Victoria series, but also for the greater Paradox grand strategy library. Is a tutorial also not doing it for you? How about a map improvement?
The map is alive with the sound of social upheaval
Also new to the Paradox grand strategy library as a whole is a new “living map.”
Previous entries of the map interface were pretty much just colors and lines akin to political maps. In Victoria 3, the map has received a major update to show how your country is evolving through visual cues. You can now see new cities and factories popping up along with infrastructural changes such as trains running in your states. The neat thing about this new feature is that it isn’t just arbitrary additions on the map — you can see that new building you built on the map. It’s a little touch but it helps in helping drive home the connection between you and your populace.
While the addition of the living map is nice, it did adversely affect performance on my Ryzen 7 3700/RTX 2070 Super build. The development team did assure us at the conference that it was a preview build of the game and improvements would be implemented before launch, but it was still noticeable enough to lead to brief slowdowns and even a crash once.
War, (HUH), what is it good for?
One of the main concerns that arose since the announcement of Victoria 3 was the perceived absence of autonomy for war and how it is waged. Whereas every other Paradox game allowed you to wage war as you saw fit, Victoria 3 has done away with direct control of your armies and is instead leaving this task up to generals and admirals that you assign to your armed forces and waging war based on their characteristics. While the loss of autonomy in warfare is felt, you have other ways of interacting with foreign nations through the use of hostile diplomacy in what is being referred to as diplomatic plays.
In a diplomatic play, you can attempt to force a foreign government to change one of its policies to something that you deem more fit for your liking. At this point, a battle of the wills pops up between the two nations. Demands and possible concessions are laid out by both sides, with the opportunity for allies and even regional neighbors to get involved in the diplomatic battle. Anyone who gets involved can do anything from simply getting their toes wet with economic support, all the way up to committing troops to a potential conflict (with demands of their own to be met by the main player they are siding with). If something can be worked out, great, all parties walk away (mostly) unscathed. But if talks fail to reach a compromise, then the two sides will escalate to war. War is then conducted through the use of high-level strategic choices that you dictate such as assigning generals to armies and placing said armies along fronts.
The developers have essentially taken the war goal/casus belli mechanic from every other game in their repertoire and expanded it for the purposes of diplomacy. I will admit that the only action I saw in diplomatic plays was sitting on the bench waiting to be called up by a larger country as repayment for a good deed they did for me earlier. I did come close to forcing a change from an isolationist trade policy to an open market, but peace won.
Fun with finance (and flags)
I’ve been waiting for Victoria 3 for what seems like forever. By the time I returned to PC gaming in the mid-2010s, Victoria 2 was already falling out of date as Paradox refined its craft and had begun to make its games more easily palatable to the uninitiated. I’ve always been a closet political junkie, and I’m a big enough nerd to love the concept of economics and international trade. So it was all about waiting for my turn in the sun. After a week and a half with the preview build, I can tell that my turn is coming.
The entire time I had with the preview, I was having a blast. The game sucked me in, grabbed hold of 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 thought of while doing real-world stuff. One evening, my poor partner came rushing into our computer room thinking something was gravely wrong with me because I was muttering curses at length. America had cut off my supply of small arms, and my economy took a turn for the worst because of it. I wanted America’s head, and I was ready to back anyone who felt the same way but was limited by my size. I was promptly called a loser and left to smolder in my rage.
Victoria 3 is, without a doubt, not for everyone. It also has some ways to go before it is street-ready. But for a preview build, it ran pretty well most of the time. Even with the times where it stumbled, Victoria 3 was the most fun I’ve had with a grand strategy game ever. There is no greater joy than growing your economy while also increasing your infrastructure. I can’t wait to get back into the big chair and bring my nation into a prosperous new era of social equality.
Victoria 3 will release for PC on October 25, 2022.