Victoria 3 Review – The Gateway to Progress

Victoria 3 Review

Paradox grand strategy games are something of a genre in and of themselves. There’s a lot of overlap between games, but there’s no denying the shared DNA in Stellaris and Crusader Kings and Hearts of Iron. Each of them places the focus on a different aspect of empire management, but one look at the giant map and you know the sort of game you’re in for. Victoria 3 carves out its own path in the Paradox pantheon by focusing on economy and growth.

Vicky Ascends

Victoria 3 covers a hundred years of human history, from 1836 (the year before the titular Vicky ascends to the throne) to 1936 (three years before the Nazis invade Poland). That’s a big span of time. And so much changes in those one hundred years! That’s where the player comes in. It is your job to manage a nation and guide them to success through that century. You aren’t playing as an immortal ruler so much as a vague presence that nudges a nation towards its destiny.

Paradox games have a notorious reputation for complexity, and Victoria 3 is their most approachable game yet. The many menus and text boxes are linked like a wiki. If you are unfamiliar with a term, or unsure how to proceed, you can dynamically hop to helpful rules explanations, which in turn link to further explanation. The system isn’t perfect yet, but it’s a solid underlying idea, and one that can only improve as the game expands and grows.

The unique gimmick that Victoria 3 brings to the table is the pops system. Pops represent your populations. An intersection of different demographic factors comes together to form a pop. Most countries have pops like Rural Folks, the Military, and the Petit Bourgeois, but some countries have special identity groups. Play as Siam and your religious institution pops are specifically Buddhist. In America, the block of landowners are Southern Plantation Owners, and they are rigidly opposed to rights for the slave pops.

A BrighterTimeline

Oh yeah, also this game is a thorough simulation of 19th century colonialism. That means that one of the most powerful entities in the world is the East India trading company. Most games involve numerous European invasions of Africa. It’s a history with a lot of baggage, and some people will (rightly) feel that more acutely than others. It’s sort of right there in the name. Victoria wasn’t famous for her progressive foreign policy.

I will say then that I like the politics of Victoria 3. After all, it is sort of an intersectionality simulator. It’s a political world of interest groups and unlikely coalitions. You’ll manage your nation’s laws, elections (if you have those), and construction. I think Vicky 3 does a good job at presenting realistic political motivations. I’ve played a half dozen games as the United States, and I ended slavery in all of them (and even averted the Civil War in all but one of them). Through all of this, the closest the game gets to editorializing is in its portrayal of the Trail of Tears, emphasizing President Jackson’s defiance of the supreme court, and questioning the policy’s legality. Still, does that mean that ending it is easy? Definitely not. But it makes for a pretty interesting video game.

In terms of presentation, this is probably Paradox’s prettiest game to date. The map is colorful and easy to read, the icons are bright and clear. Clarity seems to be at the core of all of Victoria 3’s design choices. If I have any complaint, I was less enthusiastic about the sound. The music got repetitive fast, and sound effects also repeat too much. There is one gavel tap that plays when you look at your laws, and that sound will haunt my dreams.

The Engines of Industry

After spending many hours with Victoria 3, I found that I had cooled on it somewhat. While there is a robust building and trade system, a lot of other mechanics are deliberately very simple. Warfare for example, is practically automatic. You just confirm which general, which troops, and which front, then watch the war play out. The bigger side tends to win. The tech tree is pretty addictive, and I like the way tech can spread across borders, but there aren’t enough far-ranging branches that cut you off from others. I saw the same things a lot after multiple playthroughs.

Does that mean Victoria 3 is bad? By no means. If you are a grand strategy fan, and you are one of those people who avoids war whenever possible (I know you’re out there), Victoria 3 is the game for you. What it lacks in breadth it makes up for in depth. There isn’t a more sophisticated nation simulator around, and the game will only grow in time. Much like The Sims before, Paradox games tend to have dozens of expansion packs. I will probably leave Victoria 3 installed in anticipation of those. This is a gigantic, excellent strategy game and for some people (nerds), it’s going to be a fave.

***PC key provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Strategy, deep and grand
  • Gorgeous presentation
  • Changing history is fun!

The Bad

  • Limited historical divergence
  • Simple warfare
  • Music is just OK