Victoria 2: A House Divided, is an expansion pack for Victoria 2 (2009) a game we didn’t have the pleasure to review, and thus, since it’s quite difficult to talk about the expansion without talking about the game itself, I will do right now.
Victoria 2 is a grand strategy game set between 1836 and 1936 that, appropriately, comprehends the Victorian age of the world (and some of the Edwardian one) and many of the world defining changes that that time brought us.
In Victoria 2 you select a nation that existed in that era, and when I say any nation I MEAN any nation, from the mighty UK to the lonely kingdom of Madagascar, Mongolia or some small or unadvanced country. I cannot really stress this enough, the amount of detail and playable nations is downright breathtaking, it has to be seen to be believed. Obviously this is kinda imbalanced, but it’s supposed to be, the joy of the game is that there are no objectives, no goals or overarching campaigns, you just choose a nation and try to make your way into the world, for better or worse.
The scope of the game is indeed “grand” as the “grand strategy game” tag supposes. In Victoria 2 you not only have to care about troops, invasions and other military what-not as most strategy games, but economy, politics and civilian matters, though the depth on which you can delve into each of this aspects depends a bit on the others.
Time for an explanation of why. You see, the “party” in power in your nation limits your power over it depending on it’s political or civil ideology or plans. For instance a party with a liberal “laissez-faire” outlook will make the building and running of industry in your country cheap and simple for your countrymen, but it will also stop you from building your own state-owned or invested companies, while a communist oriented party will do just the opposite, nobody in your nation will be able to open any kind of industry without state imput.
It will also limit how can you spend your budget or what tactic can you use to get said budget, many parties impose a limit on how high can you tax certain sectors of the population, while other will limit how high tariffs on products from abroad can be.
This is all put into motion also by the economic side of the game, population is classified in POPs, which are “family units” surrounding a determinate profession or social class. This POPs have needs that go from basic to luxury, and all of them have their own “budget” that they can use to purchase this products. This budget is dependent on how much money they get paid in their jobs which are classified as RGO (Resource Gathering Operations), industry, state assigned salaries (bureaucrats and clergy) and Capitalist and Aristocrats, which get money depending on how good their owned factories and RGO are doing, though the latter don’t really invest their money and build more industry with the profits, they just spend it.
As very few nations are able to produce in enough quantities everything their POPs need, this will be one of many issues of tension, and the main reason World Powers will embark con colonization and imperialistic streaks.
Military wise the game is comparatively simple, military units are separated on brigades of 3000 men, made up of infantry, cavalry or artillery. Technological improvements add modifiers to combat, as do different terrain features and weather, though it’s quite difficult to keep track of everything so you’ll probably try and pick your battles when you know you have the advantage. Attrition and supply also play a big part in combat, provinces can only supply so many troops and your soldiers will start to die like mayflies if you stack them in a province that cannot simply supply them all. Troops also need a constant supply of military equipment that will of course impact yours and other countries economies.
During the course of the game you will also face political movement that will demand further political freedom, or further social security. This changes from country to country and is somewhat randomized because of your POP movements, so how this will affect your game is anyone’s guess.
I’m leaving many things unexplained here, but this is a huge game and I do need to get to the expansion and what it adds, as those of you only interested on it will be already tapping with your feet waiting for me to mention it.
The expansion adds several features and changes many mechanics to make the game more cohesive and fluid. On the technical side, it now supports multi-core processors and supposedly it has been optimized so it’s not so sluggish on the later years of the game. Unfortunately, I cannot really say I’ve noticed a difference… in fact, it seems to run even slower from the beginning!
A new start year, 1861, has been added with all the historical accuracy that Paradox has us accustomed for, allowing us to play during the time of the American Civil war right at the star of the game. Not much to say about this, but it was missed by some in the original game, so here it is!
Politics and diplomacy has been overhauled, now you cannot simply go to war with anyone at anytime, even for an infamy penalty, you need a reason for war and if you don’t have one, don’t worry! You can manufacture it. The problem is that manufacturing reasons takes time, and also, if you are discovered you take an infamy penalty. The Sphere of Influence mechanic, by which World Powers make other nations dependent on them economically and thus create a pseudo-nonpolitical-empire (really), has been overhauled too. Now you can also influence other nations by making foreign investments on them, by doing so your influence becomes more entrenched and difficult to remove, protecting your sphere. Unfortunately how much or even if you can invest is determined by the economic outlook of your party in power, giving ”laissez-faire” groups even less to do, economics wise.
The National Focus mechanic has been also fleshed out, allowing you to influence your country of multiple points other than POP progression. Now you can affect party loyalty, and you can move them around without having to disengage them first.
Politics have also been overhauled, now your citizens will start lobbying for reforms they want and the bigger the group is, the bigger the percentage of your Upper House will vote for that reform (or counter-reform). This political movement can also be violent or become violent if their demands are not heard. If so, they will become revolutionaries unless you suppress them in time. Thankfully, you can now automate armies to hunt for rebels in case you’re plagued with small but inconsequential rebellions.
A miscellaneous change, but that affect game a great deal, is the addition sub-states, which are basically nations that “officially” are part of a bigger one. At the point of launch the only one with this mechanic is China, so you cannot “sphere” it at the begging of the game and have a huge economic benefit for the rest of it.
Finally, there’s been multiple improvement to the UI, with more maps to visualize resources, spheres of influence and plenty of other interesting information.
Graphics and sound remain completely unchanged, and it’s a pity, some new tunes would have spiced up a bit the game, they are good, but I’m tired of the same tunes playing over and over.
Graphics: 3/5 – Very nice for an strategy game! But keep in mind, it’s basically just maps with some extra animation for troops, but then again, you don’t need much else!
Sound: 3/5 – Sounds and music are very well done but unchanged from the original game. Nothing really that will stay with you after the game is done, though.
Gameplay: 4/5 – As with all Paradox grand strategy games, gameplay is a bit schizophrenic. Depending on your nation and your random events and personal decisions you could have a very involving and epic game or simply just looking at the in-game clock moving forward with almost no change or imput. However this is intentional in design, and you do really need to learn to play the game to squeeze the most fun out of it.
Longevity: 5/5 – Hundreds of nations and ways of playing them, sure, most will be quite long and boring games, but the amount of weird stuff you can see on the world map during a game makes the game interesting in itself. If it really clicks with you you’re in for hours and hours of fun.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
If in following patches Paradox stabilizes the game further, improves performance and fixes some of the economic imbalances, I see myself wasting (even more of) my life with the game. Highly recommended if you’re not afraid of difficult strategy games, but be prepared to dump hours here, this is a huge game!
- Jose Luis Perez Zapata