Paradox Interactive – Victoria 2 review

build up your nineteenth century industrial empire and conquer the globe
Photo of Paradox Interactive – Victoria 2

How hard can it be to manage a nation? For example, just look at the job Gordon Brown did. Look at it, and do the exact polar opposite, and you should pretty much be getting things spot on. How hard can that be? Just don’t hurl your mobile phone around the office in rage when the morning papers arrive, make an effort to avoid looking like you’re catching flies or yawning in the middle of your speeches, and, of course, don’t go around calling your electorate bigots while being recorded by the media. Sorted.

Having said that, running a country certainly isn’t that easy in Victoria 2, as it’s quite a considerable economic and diplomatic balancing act. This grand strategy opera lets the player take up the mantle of the leader of a hundred plus countries, from the major powers of the early nineteenth century, through the secondary players, and even minor nations. So if you’ve always wanted to see if it was possible to lead Algeria to world domination, now’s your chance (it isn’t; well, certainly not for us, anyway).

Vicky 2, to give the game her informal name, is fully open-ended; there are no different campaigns, missions or guidelines. You just pick a nation and start budget-managing, building, negotiating and conquering through the years. There’s good and bad here, as you’ve got a completely free reign, and both the world and game engine are thoroughly well fleshed out in terms of depth and detail. The experience is very different depending on the nation you pick, yet all this freedom can leave the novice player floundering.

There is a tutorial to help ease you in, but it’s not very well put together. It consists of twenty-five sections of mostly raw text boxes, and the occasional on-screen instruction, which is a lot to take in at one sitting. Two hours later, our brain was slightly scrambled from this reading overload. We’d have much preferred some form of short introductory campaign which could have imparted the basics in a more interesting and less text-intensive manner. Still, there’s really only one way to learn, and that’s to start a full campaign and plunge into the deep end.

And Victoria 2 really has an oceanic depth, with a whole heap of sub-menus and sets of data to peruse. Yet despite this, the controls themselves are relatively light touch. You’ll spend your time mulling over tables and graphs showing your industrial output, movements in prices on the world market, and the relative diplomatic standings of neighbouring countries. Then you’ll nudge a slider here, allocate a research direction there, sit back, unpause the game and watch the results play out.

As an illustration, if you want to build up military might, it’s not just a case of ordering ‘x’ units of infantry to be delivered. Your population has to be able to support these new regiments, as the soldiers are recruited from the nation’s actual provinces. The unit creation process happens indirectly over time, so to encourage people to get down the army recruitment office, you need to tweak the budget slider for military spending and make more cash available in this department (leading to better wages and conditions for the troops, hence a more attractive job).

The people of your nation actually decide what they’re going to do based on a number of factors such as, for example, their happiness in their current employment. As a ruler in Vicky 2, you’re not ordering people about, but rather guiding and shepherding them. The virtual populace actually have their own individual political opinions, broken down over various social strata, in incredible (and frankly sometimes unnecessary) detail. The populace even gets to vote during elections, the results of which you have to deal with. All this is hugely realistic – there’s even a full working trade model with local, common and world markets fluctuating to supply and demand – and it’s these heaps of figures and considerations which make it easy to feel lost as a novice to the game.

However, gradually – and with the aid of the game’s strategy guide which is helpfully provided for registered users on the Paradox forum – you begin to get to grips with how to implement a policy direction successfully. The smart system of tooltips also helps; whatever you hover the mouse over, a range of useful related data and statistics will pop up, indicating, for instance, the exact percentage of your population which should be employed as bureaucrats for the optimal running of your country (none, if you ask us: well, okay, maybe three and a tea-boy).

Mind you, not every element of the interface is as well designed as the tooltips. The diplomacy menu, for example, is rather clunky (although it does have to cope with the massed threads of relations between over a hundred different countries). We also noticed that the game tends to produce the same random historical events over and over again, which gets a touch repetitive. And the frequency with which rebel factions pop up, revolting in your various provinces and needing to be quelled, can also be annoyingly high. However, these are hardly game-breaking concerns.

Victoria 2 is ultimately about sitting back, tinkering and persuading, which more straightforward strategists who like to give direct orders to their virtual troops and citizens may find a little odd. At times, when you’re waiting for research or building work to happen, or your adjustments to filter through to the world, the game has a touch of the back-seat driver feel to it. Despite this, guiding your nation to victory can be a very satisfying experience, providing you’ve got the patience and perseverance to stick through the initially steep learning curve.

Company: Paradox Interactive

Victoria 2 is a vastly detailed strategy game, although its sheer depth and open-ended nature can be bewildering to begin with. Stick with it, though, and you'll find the control mechanisms are actually quite streamlined, and steering a great (or lesser) power through the waters of industrialisation becomes a compelling affair. However, there is a danger that the feeling you're doing more tinkering and watching than full-on directing of your nation's policies may turn off more hands-on strategists.