The age of iron, steam and gunpowder! Of great games and nation building, peeling back the last curtains of the uncivilised world to shine with the glorious light of European enlightenment, while back home people and politicians forge national identities that stand into the modern day…
That’s what the history books would have you believe. They were wrong. So very wrong. Nobody really got much done. They were too busy mopping up Jacobins every time they fell from the sky. Whenever anyone tried to invade Iraq they were immediately taken up in arms against by raving packs of Anarcho-Liberals. The Tzar had a particularly hard time. By 1860 or so the whole Russian state was chequered with anarchist banners, shedding states in a desperate effort to maintain national unity. He’d have probably dropped more, but I don’t think they actually exist. At least the bleeding heart liberals would be pleased with the complete European disinterest with Africa. Though who could blame them. It’s a big blank mass interspersed with those tribal groups cinema has been gracious enough to donate screen time to.
Victoria II then, is plagued with issues. First and foremost as I see it is the afformentioned intermittent Jacobin storms that rage around the planet. One of the major distinguishing features of Victoria II from Europa Universalis 3 or Hearts Of Iron 3 is the POP – a representation of social groups within your nation, and their concerns. Should you fail to sufficiently cater to the needs of your various POPs, and sooner or later the more militant POPs begin amassing, intermittently sprinkling your nation with stacks of angry rebels. Sure, the 19th and early 20th centuries were an age of such movements – the Paris commune, or the Russian revolution’s multitude of armed political groupings for example. But as Victoria II handles it, there’s little respite, and little strategy to defeating them besides periodically sending your armies on a roadshow when the clouds break. Unless you’re the AI. The AI just cannot cope with these rebel movements; I saw Russia basically all but taken over – the rebels don’t actually seem to be able to take over a state, even if they’ve captured most of the lands. Mexico is basically awash with enemies. Curiously, both nations were still in the top 8 of the leaderboards, which seems to indicate another of Victoria II’s problems: The economic side is too easy.
In the 80 or so years – game time, mercifully – I played through my campaign as Sardinia-Piedmont, later Italy, I scarcely once hit a major budget problem. It’s just too easy to keep accumulating funds once you’ve got set up. In 50 years I didn’t once have to public spending, or touch taxes. I might have had it a little easier because I opted to go with Laizez-Faire economics, meaning you don’t have to build factories, instead leaving it to the whims of the free market and it’s capitalist champions to lay down the capital… even so, it’s just too easy. The result was seemingly a budget that basically never went into the red, besides the odd dip – a minor blip – when I needed to raize new particularly large armies. My grand railroad scheme to cover the whole country in tracks scarcely dented the books. I literally couldn’t spend fast enough, and evidently other nations were not struggling despite their economies allegedly coming under siege by militant factions.
The opposing AI doesn’t put up much of a fight either. The early half of my campaign – the unification of Italy – put up a little challenge, requiring me to carefully time my military acquisition of Austrian held territory with wars against an ascendent Prussia, later Germany, while slowly acquiring the allegience of the rest of the peninsula. This was quite fun; until it became clear that the Jacobin invasion of Austria had ended their hope of halting my aggression and I sailed into statehood, putting Austria underfoot, to boot. Awash with money, I had little to do but accumulate armies and ponder where to go next. Skimming over to Africa I quickly notice that – despite it being 1870 – scarcely one change had been made to the political borders in Africa south of the Sahara, and only token efforts north – mostly by the French. It gets worse. Britain seemed disinterested in it’s Imperial mission, doing little more than slowly accumulating allies worldwide. Enough to keep it number 1, granted, but not much else besides the occasional invasion of China. Resigning myself to boredom, I slapped a quick invasion force together and conquered Iraq, only to find those wiley Anarcho-Liberals there too.
All these weaknesses come all the more bitter because there’s a lot of potential in Victoria II. In depth politics adds a refreshing dimension to shaping your ability to influence affairs compared particularly with Hearts of Iron 3, requiring you to attempt to meet -or reject- your citizen’s clamour for political or social reform as the game progresses. I particularly enjoyed the diplomacy game, especially during the afformentioned unification of Italy, requiring you to compete against the other great powers for influence – and thus power – over lesser nations. If the game lived up otherwise, I could certainly see myself enjoying a campaign as one of the powers competing in the great game for Afghanistan and Persia. The economics focused heart of the game certainly shows some potential, requiring you to decide on – or indeed, have elected- the economic principles guiding your nation, and focusing your acquisitions on economic goals – the sub-par balancing however means it’s rarely taxing enough. There’s a lot of promising features added to Victoria II that definitely show it has potential.
All said, in it’s current state of release however, Victoria II is a weak offering. The extent of it’s failings is demonstrated quite clearly by a stickied thread on the official forums pointing out fan made fixes, which certainly demonstrates what a sorry state of affairs it is in. It will be made all the more galling when Paradox inevitably release patches masquerading as expansion packs maps a few months down the line. It’ll be a particular insult if they charge for a complete political map / mechanics for Africa. I hope things improve. As any Paradox game however, it seems we must wait a year and a gold edition down the line before it’s any fit state to play.