One of the keys to a good, strategic, empire-building game is the era in which it is set. After all, it's not all that intriguing to pit endless tribes of hunter/gatherers against one another. The events in Victoria: An Empire under the Sun correspond roughly to the reign of the English queen of the title. This period of time was filled with a large array of dynamic changes in technological and social circles. As such, it is a perfect era for those of us who like to delve into the details of running a large, diverse and very fluid empire.
Victoria, which is built on the same engine as Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis, offers four campaigns ranging from 1836, around the time of Victoria's ascension to the throne, through World War I. Choose virtually any sovereign nation of the time in a quest to become the most dominant military/industrial power in the world.
This is no small feat considering the number of details and historical events with which you will have to contend. Between 1836 and 1914 the world underwent radical and wide-ranging changes. The old, European empires of England, France and the Netherlands were waning. New nations, such as the United States, were beginning to establish an international presence. Economies were shifting from an agrarian base to an industrial base. Technology grew at an extraordinary pace. Just look at the shift from wind powered warships, to steam, to internal combustion and the use of submersibles. The influence of the common people had recently been felt around the world in the revolutions of the American colonies and France. Faced with the inexorable pressure of the masses, the old monarchies were gradually being forced to democratize. All of these issues and more pose significant challenges to you in the world of Victoria.
Taking all of these pressures into consideration, as ruler of a far-reaching empire, you have a lot of scales to keep balanced. Thankfully, Victoria features a good number of difficulty and enemy AI settings. In addition, for those of you who do not get excited about managing imports and exports, Victoria offers the ability to assign many administrative functions to AI routines. This is a nice choice for those gamers who may not be as comfortable managing a vast sea of details.
Micro-management is the catch-phrase of choice when talking about empire builders, and Victoria is no exception. Indeed, the first thing you'll need to do after firing up a campaign is to pause that game and take about a half-hour to familiarize yourself with your territories, military, diplomatic relations, etc. The second thing you’ll want to do is adjust the pop-up message protocols. The default provides you with so many pop-up notifications, everything from diplomatic notes to the current obstetrical condition of the queen, it’s virtually impossible to interact with the world map. You can assign low-priority notices to the non-intrusive game log, a text record at the bottom of the screen.
The interface provided within the game can be classified as adequate but mediocre and not entirely intuitive. There is a mouse-over help feature for most items that you'll find in your endless array of menus, but it is notably absent in places where it would be of a great deal of use -although Victoria include a number of tutorials to help you navigate through the minutiae of the game. You will need those tutorials, and the pause feature will continue to come in handy throughout your campaigns.
If you enjoyed Europa and/or Hearts of Iron, then you’ll want to run out and pick up Victoria. All of the details that you loved to manage are there again. You can set tax levels by social class, spending levels for domestic programs such as education and crime fighting, or if you’re feeling particularly cocky, feel free to peruse your various colonies and protectorates to assign workers to specific factories, upgrade those factories, or even improve the transportation system in a given province. You’ll also find a new twist on the philosophy of a tech tree. Historical events and advances will come around, and you’ll only benefit from them if you’ve researched the appropriate technology. This applies to a whole host of manufacturing, financial and social processes. There is virtually no end to the details that you can control. Except, that is, when you come to actual military engagements.
Battles, both naval and land, are a numbers game. Move your armies to a province or sea area inhabited by an enemy army, sit back and watch. That is about all that will be required of you. You will have no control over a finer granularity of military strategy such as formations, attitudes, etc. The battles aren’t even that interesting to watch. Rendered with very limited and hard-to-see animations, they take place on the world map. Sitting and watching the numbers dwindle on either side of the battle is not a good way to spend your time when there are so many other issues clamoring for your attention.
Multiplayer is, of course, available using LAN, internet or Valkyrienet, so if your life allows you to spend countless hours online, you’ll ample opportunity to do so.
All in all, Victoria is a nice empire-building simulation that obviously benefits from a strong pedigree. Those of you who played Europa Universalis or Hearts of Iron will not be disappointed in what Victoria has to offer. The ability to assign many administrative tasks to AI routines helps to make Victoria more accessible, but if you’re new to the genre, you still may not be prepared for the overwhelming amount of data for which you’ll be responsible.