Summary: Jakub, our resident historical strategy and Paradox fan, looks like he's been fed some, sour, sour grapes by Victoria. Indeed, his lament about Counter-Strike seems pitiably half-hearted compared to the disappointment he's faced with Victoria. Still, if you dig deep enough, there may be a decent game for you. The rest of us should stay away.
Hearts of Universalis
Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun is another historical game from Europa Universalis creators Paradox Entertainment. Using an engine derived from the one used in the rather disappointing Hearts of Iron, Victoria has the player managing nations during the age of imperialism. The game always ends at December 30, 1920, but the player can choose to start in 1836, 1861, 1881 and 1914.
Gone, for example, is the magic economy where raw materials are always abundant and there’s always a market for luxury furniture (actually, the latter still holds true.) A fleet of wooden Men Of War from the age of fighting sail used to be able to stand toe-to-toe with a fleet of the most modern Dreadnaughts, in spite of all logic to the contrary. That too, is fixed, as are the ridiculously static army costs which made the early game very expensive and the late game remarkably cheap.
And yet, Paradox set about fixing Victoria’s problems by attempting to squash a fly with a sledgehammer. The economy is still quite broken, though for completely opposite reasons. Now it’s almost impossible to purchase the goods and resources you need on the market. While many are available, some are completely absent from the game. There is, at no point in the game, ever enough machine parts. Britain is the only nation in 1836 with the capability of building them, and one quick look at the pathetic output the factories generate is enough to understand why even the British continually run short throughout the years. At various points in the game it’s impossible to get your hands on fabric, sulfur, coal and of course oil.
While scarcity might be understood, the sheer inability to ever purchase these resources and basic goods is what is frustrating. Apparently the game decides who gets what based on their prestige score. Almost inevitably, the country with the highest prestige is also one of the top industrialists, so naturally it should consume the resources everyone else wants.
Production and production bonuses across the board were slashed; it’s as if Paradox has a different designer for each aspect of the economy and none of them communicate. They all saw the same problem, all set about to fix it, and now the cumulative effects of their changes result in a worldwide shortage of many materials. Railroads, what had historically made massive industrialization possible, now only give a small bonus. Factory output is reduced, and adding labor has almost no effect. With 1.02 there is a bug, or perhaps design feature, which automatically merges populations from the same province doing the same job. So if you promote 8000 laborers to craftsmen, but there was already a population of 20,000 craftsmen from the same province working in the factory, then they’ll merge together. What’s the problem? Well, it doesn’t really matter all that much if you have 8000 or 28,000 people working as a single slot in the factory. A far more important task is having all five slots (or more, depending on the level of upgrade) filled.
SIDEBAR: While I was irritated with patch 1.01, I really had no fun with 1.02. Was any testing done with the game?
Although Victoria is set during the age of imperialism, it’s not necessarily a game won by colonization and conquest of uncivilized nations. It’s perfectly possible to go on a rampage in Europe, particularly as one of the major powers like Russia, Austria, Prussia or France. A win in the game is by becoming the foremost Great Power, a state which is calculated by the power of your military, industry, and how much prestige you possess. Claiming colonies and researching cultural techs is the best way to gain prestige, though it is also awarded for winning wars.
Technology is one of Victoria’s weaker points, since the actual research of the technology is only half the battle. The other half is waiting for the inventions to occur. These are supposed to happen some time after the research is done, and often provide more useful benefits than the researched technology. Not surprisingly, the problem is that some of these inventions won’t trigger in a timely fashion or at all. Being the only country in the world that can’t produce machine parts in the year 1900 is a ridiculous state of affairs, to say the least, though it happened in one of my Swedish campaigns. Although this is far from a sure statement, but my experience has been that technology acquired in trades is the most problematic. Paradox would solve itself a lot of bug-finding hassles by doing away with inventions completely, and simply hard-coding the benefits to occur immediately with the invention, or at set intervals – like 6 months in between.
There are many other triggers that don’t work, aren’t clearly defined to the player or worse, nigh-on impossible to attain. I dare anyone to tell me what the conditions for creating Germany are, without parsing the forums or the events file. Should you permit the North German Federation to appear or not? You beat France in the war of the Spanish Succession and took the provinces that make up Alsace-Lorraine, but Germany still doesn’t appear and you don’t know why. What Paradox and the event fail to inform the player about is that Paris has to be occupied by 1871. The creation of Italy is an exercise in pure frustration; even if the triggers work, they’re more of a hindrance than a benefit because no one in his right mind wants a land war with Austria. Although considerably toned down from 1.01, Austria remains a deadly opponent even to a competent Prussian or Russian player.
One of the most serious issues to new players is that no nation is properly set up at the start, particularly in 1.02. Multiple false starts are necessary to learn how to run even the most basic country, since they all start with hideously bloated default budgets and trade settings. There is no tutorial, the manual is lackluster and if it weren’t for my past experience with Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis, I’d be swearing and scouring the forums like another other player new to Paradox games. The simple fact of the matter is that Victoria is more complex than any other strategy game out there, with an interface completely unable of handling the tasks assigned to it, no help from the game and no tutorial. Odds are that most players go through divisions individually, reinforcing each and every single one, instead of clicking the fist icon when selecting a corps. But why not permit the fist icon when multiple armies and corps across various provinces are selected?
SIDEBAR: I want a dog again.
It’s not MOO3
Now don’t make the mistake of dismissing Victoria as hopeless, another Master of Orion 3. Despite its prodigious faults, there are those who can look past its problems and enjoy the game within. Almost every issue can be compensated for, from the partisans that come fully armed out of nowhere every 2 days and the coagulate into giant armies that take forever to put down, to the bad peace AI, which is still hesitant to acknowledge defeat even in 1.02.
Master of Orion 3 failed because it didn’t have any working AI, the interface was the worst known to man, and it mixed high levels of detail and abstraction in a very inappropriate fashion. Victoria gives the player full control of whatever he wants, and he should take advantage of that. Any grognard should have the patience to frequently pause, check production, upgrade railroads nation-wide and consider his strategic options. The AI is relatively competent, and can handle most tasks adequately – just don’t let it handle your trade for you. It’s quite easy to manage, as you soon learn what goods you are producing and can sell, and what resources you need.
While most people will find the level of detail and number of tasks frustrating, those aren’t flaws per se. The game sets out to be detailed and accurate, and accomplishes that task rather admirably – which is exactly what its target audience wants. Unfortunately a lot of balancing remains to be done. For example, while goods coming from your colonies will be disrupted by an enemy fleet, your trade is utterly unaffected. This significantly diminishes the advantage of having a fleet, and while no one is about to accuse of Paradox’s version of Great Britain of being weak, it doesn’t dominate the world through the mere threat of starving out its foes, as it historically did.
Victoria is a remarkably unfortunate title, being a large step up in complexity from Europa Universalis and even Hearts of Iron, yet it’s the first of the series that doesn’t have a tutorial. To make matters worse, not even the initial Major Powers have their economies set up correctly from the start, to not run the player into debt within days of beginning a game. This incredible dive into the deep intricacies of the game, with no help whatsoever, is a sure turn-off for so many casual gamers.
Patch 1.02 has made this worse, by making the economy much more difficult to manage and the early game far less exciting – indeed, even as France and Prussia my early years were occupied with industrial expansion rather than military exercise. Early wars damage the economy so badly it’s simply not worth it, unless you deliver a devastating victory and capture say… the rest of Schliesen and most of Czech from Austria when you’re Prussia, or a few of the choice Dutch provinces as France. Colonial wars are possible if not particularly useful as the decisive shortage early on is industrial manpower, not labor for resources. There’s no doubt that 1.02 is better than 1.01 in the long run, but if it drives players away before they can get used to the game, it is hardly welcome on any hard drive.
It’s a wonder that there are all these industries at the start of 1836, like clothing factories, wineries and clipper shipyards, yet none of the intermediate industries are sufficient. Fabric alone is worth its weight in gold. Paradox is going to have an incredible time justifying these heinous oversights, as they damage the game’s immediate likeability.
SIDEBAR: It’s very easy to run out of names for your ships, especially as Britain.
SIDEBAR: My favorite nation to play is probably France.
Wow, Jakub seems pretty disappointed with Victoria. Do you agree? Disagree? Sound Off! and let us know in the news comments.
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