The incredible complexity of “Victoria 3” is matched only by its excellent accessibility

Victoria 3 might just have the best tutorial I’ve ever seen in a strategy game before. It’s not just a detailed step-by-step “Tell Me How” that follows each objective. It’s not even because of the brilliant nested tooltips, each a glossary link, similar to the equally inviting Cross Kings 3. It’s something that seems so obvious, yet so perfect, that I’m shocked I’ve never seen it presented like this before: Just below the “Tell me how” button is another that reads “Tell me how.” tell me why” – providing context, not just instructions, for your first steps in this expansive society simulator.

Cross Kings 3 has raised the bar for accessibility, which of course we want to do,” says game director Martin Anward. “We want to be able to create a really deep and complicated economic simulator. But we also want people to be able to play it!

First announced last May at PDXCON, Victoria 3 is the sequel to 2010’s Paradox grand strategy, also set in the hundred-year period between 1836 and 1936. In the ensuing twelve years, the studio’s granular and complex grand strategy games have found new audiences with more modern and accessible offers, like this one Cross Kings 3 and the galaxy stretching Stellaris. After spending some time with an early version of Victoria 3, I’m confident that the long-awaited sequel hasn’t sacrificed an ounce of complexity or decision-making in its transition to this new era of Paradox. But gosh, it’s very nice to know what all those buttons do to change.

Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.

So, back to those three crucial words, then. Tell me why. As I learned early on, you cannot change much as a leader of your country by Victoria 3 without significant training effect. Setting up a new import route may be beneficial to your economy in the short term, but flooding your home market with too much of a certain resource, and the resulting drop in prices could end up being disastrous. Passing a law could quickly improve a political party’s favor, only for the opposing party to sow political dissent that eventually snowballs into revolution. By allowing you to fully understand the macro – the long-term effects and the spider web of consequences behind every decision – Victoria 3Tutorials instill an early sense of confidence and insight into the inner workings of your nation since the shift. Whether that confidence translates into competence, however, is up to you.

Although there is no real victory condition in V3, the main menu offers a series of society building challenges – Equalism, Hegemony and Economic Domination – as well as country suggestions. These are just suggestions, as you will still be able to play any country on the map except for the Decentralized Powers. As Anward says, your ‘pop’ in V3 are the main building blocks of your society, and while you cannot influence them directly, their living conditions, jobs, wants, needs, and political leanings all influence the workings of your society. The more political strength a certain group has (military, labor, clergy), the more their opinion will influence your ability to influence change. Taking the abstraction into account, the entire world population in 1836 – about one billion people – is part of V3is an extensive simulation. “Everything in the game is designed to work or be informed by these pops,” says game director Mikael Andersson.

When it comes to balancing sandbox possibilities with historical accuracy in this simulation, Anward exemplifies crops – especially opium. “You can theoretically grow it anywhere in the world. So if we just follow a pattern like, “Can you grow it here?”, we’ll put it everywhere. But that would be strange, because there is a cultural element, a taboo element. So we chose to put it where it had been grown historically, where it seemed plausible that someone was growing it, instead of just saying, “you know what, Sweden has potential for opium.”

Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.
Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.

“There’s been a lot of trade-offs like that,” Andersson says, “between what feels historically correct and how the story might have turned out? There are all kinds of case-by-case judgments that have to be made. But I think we’ve benefited a lot from just having a team full of history nerds. Just people who like this stuff and read about it in their spare time.

As Anward points out, the other mainstay of the game’s economic simulation, alongside pops, are buildings. In addition to creating the resources that fuel your economy, these businesses also affect supply and demand, buying and selling inputs and outputs respectively. As you’d expect, a well-run building is more lucrative, but for the manpower, rather than directly for the player. Instead, you will earn money through taxes. Different buildings hire their labor from different sections of the population, with the capitalists at the top enjoying a much higher standard of living than labor. You can’t just open a building and start redistributing wealth, but through a long-term plan of shrewd trade deals, technology, and changes to the legal system, you may be able to evolve into a more equal society. .

Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.
Victoria 3. Credit: Paradox.

Despite the huge amount of options at your disposal, resource management in V3 always comes down to a few fundamental pillars. There’s money, of course, and keeping your economy healthy – which also means not hoarding too much gold. There are also three main abilities: Bureaucracy, produced and maintained by government buildings, is used by the internal management of the state. Authority represents your leader’s personal ability to influence change, such as issuing decrees or supporting political interest groups. Finally, for external affairs, there is Influence – your diplomatic power. There are of course far-reaching consequences in all of this, but just as an example: introducing filing cabinets to your government offices may help with organization, but if you run into a shortage of paper, you will see your bureaucracy suffer, because you’re no longer able to keep effective records.

This V3 manages to make the introduction of binders as strategically significant as the invention of planet-mining lasers in Stellaris testifies to the quality of the definition of the costs and benefits of each decision. The themes may be more mundane on a surface level, but the brain-tickling, brain-tickling Paradox highlights are all on full display here. Whether V3 is able to attract the uninitiated in the same way as CK3I’m not sure, but it’s clear that no care or attention has been taken to facilitate the entry of new players. It’s far from a ‘pick-up and play’ experience, sure, but what might have been daunting in lesser hands is now fascinatingly complex.

There’s so, so much more granular detail I could go into here, but it’s safe to say that V3 doesn’t just reward micromanagement, it requires several specially appointed bureaucratic offices to sign, seal, and deliver every syllable of the word micromanagement to a secret council, where its long-term effects will be painstakingly predicted for months to come. Although it lacks the character drama of Crusader Kingsor the pure science fiction spectacle of Stellaris, the game is shaping up to be an incredibly complex board simulator. Again, I can’t say enough good things about these excellent tutorials.

Victoria 3 launches October 25 for PC.

Sharon D. Cole