Summary: Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun was the most tantalizing strategy game by Paradox we had ever seen, but a myriad of bugs and design issues held it back. Now the game gets a major update in an add-on which we review for your pleasure.
It is during this turbulent period, marked by the establishment of truly global empires, that the player is thrust into control of any nation he chooses on this world. Whether your ambition is to lead the United Kingdom in its mission to colonize every last scrap of unclaimed land and rule the waves, or if you’re merely satisfied trying to maintain independence as tiny Hawaii, Victoria provides you with the opportunity.
When we last saw Victoria, it was a game with a non-functional world market that led to exploits with which the average player could easily become the world’s dominant power… as Serbia. Later patches addressed this, but at the cost of making industrialization a frustrating process of hoping that machine parts could somehow make their way to the world market. The new expansion hopes to address the latter issue, while extending gameplay to 1936, and preventing new exploits from happening.
In many ways, Revolutions succeeds where the original Victoria did not. Nations can all industrialize relatively equally, though obviously their literacy rates, resources, and populations vary. The in-game liberal revolutions event, based on the Europe-wide revolts of 1848, highlights the costs and dangers of dramatic social change. Newly literate populations with access to media become politically active and even militant if their desires are not met. No longer are they content to be the tools of an absolute king, an oligarchic aristocracy or even the rich bourgeoisie. People demand universal suffrage, compensation for their hard work, benefits, a free press and the right to form unions. If you fail to provide these, you will see revolts and even a forced government change via revolution.
Governments and their policies are very meaningful. If you have a party with anti-military policy ruling your state, your military spending is considerably curtailed. If those thrice-be-damned pacifists are elected, your military spending is cut to half at maximum and, and worse yet, you cannot promote “pops” (groups of citizens in the same province with the same job/nationality/faith) to the military. On the other hand, if your ruling party is Jingoist, you’ll find it impossible to significantly reduce your military size.
However, laissez-faire really does mean “hands off” on the economy. Your ability to tax your populace is limited, and you cannot even forcibly expand a factory, never mind build one of your own. This can lead to some interesting situations, as capitalists build profitable luxury factories in the early 20th century, while you need tanks, planes, and artillery! This isn’t quite without historical precedent, as the robust economy and heavy industry of Great Britain was unable to provide for the massive armament and munitions that the rapidly growing British Army needed. However, the inability of the player to force a solution even in a time of war, like Britain did historically, is extremely frustrating. It is almost as bad as being stuck with a Pacifist party during an epic conflict.
Overall, the game is much more believable, but still exploitable and retains some issues. During war, partisans who pop up are classified as regular infantry units, rather than irregulars or even conscripts, which – during a prolonged conflict – can mean you’ll end up dying more to the partisans than to your enemy. It’s a silly and needless issue. Many of the new inventions that pop up from technologies give the player a choice, as to whether he’d like to go the Clausewitzian Theory route or go with Jominian Attitude, but neither of these is explained in any detail in the pop-up. It’s disturbing how many inventions don’t have proper descriptions for the choices they provide. There are far fewer bugs in the expansion than the Victoria release and early patches, but the game still has a tendency to crash in the late 19th and early 20th centuries at high speed modes, especially during wars.
The AI is quite good, all things considering, but it does make some key mistakes that it repeats from game to game. For example, it calculates military prowess solely on your military score. However, you can easily inflate your military score by building lots of low-quality ships, and even if you’re a land-based power, this will deter the AI from attacking despite a bigger army it might have. Britain is better about keeping its navy up-to-date than it was in Victoria, but because it doesn’t always build the factories it should, you’ll often find that mighty empire of the waves relying on Pre-Dreadnought battleships at a time when you have much more modern craft ruling the waves, and the navy is one area where small changes in technology make a decisive difference in combat.
Finally, since the game continues until 1936, coincidentally the same year that Hearts of Iron II starts, Paradox was kind enough to include a converter. You can continue your game from Victoria: Revolutions in Hearts of Iron II. This means that Germany isn’t necessarily a Nazi state, Russia didn’t become the Soviet Union and the Confederates may have, however unlikely, survived the American Civil War. What doesn’t get translated, however, are resources. So the Spain, which under my rule humbled France, conquered Italy, drove Austria out of the Adriatic, had one of the most powerful economies in the world, while producing half the world’s oil and most of its iron and steel, is still a chump in Hearts of Iron II. The industrial capacity gets translated roughly correctly, but little else does. Provinces with huge oil output in Victoria, Dubai and certain Persian and Arabian provinces, as well as Brunei, are reduced to their minimal values in Hearts of Iron II. Thus, in HOI2 my tank-powered Spanish-Italian war machine has tremendous industrial capacity behind it, but no resources to feed that industry, even though in Victoria: Revolutions I was exporting over 100 units of oil, 100 coal, and 50 steel. Of course, the converter isn’t a key feature of the game, but it is somewhat disappointing regardless.
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