There is a running joke, every time Paradox Development Studio says it will announce a new game, and it goes like this: "Vicky 3!" That's the joke. You see, Paradox maintains a quartet of big, complex historical strategy series - Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, Victoria, and Hearts Of Iron - which each abut each others' time periods in an extremely satisfying fashion, so that players can experience a full millenium of human history in excruciating, day-by-day detail.
But while Crusader, Europa and Hearts have all had new versions in the last few years, their poor idustrial age cousin has been languishing since the release of Victoria 2 in 2010, without even any DLC since 2013. And needless to say, fans of the series don't like to let Paradox forget this. Hence the shouts of "Vicky 3!", which have gotten more and more memeified as the odds of Victoria 3 actually getting made have dwindled. Only now... um... Victoria 3's coming out?
This one has caught me out a bit, I'll admit. Being more into medieval and early modern stuff, I never actually played the Victoria games, and so consequently I haven't really got any emotional investment in them. As such, as joyless as it sounds, I can't really riff on the Vicky 3 thing much further than I already have - I can only really look at what I've seen of the game so far (a one hour presentation by its development team), and treat it as something new and unfamiliar.
It looks very, very complicated. To the extent where, rather than spend the whole of this post barfing out paragraph after paragraph of mechanics descriptions, I'll urge you to get it from the strategy horse's mouth, and watch what was just shown at PDXCON. In a nutshell, though: Victoria 3 is one of those Paradox games where you're playing as a nation, on a great big map. Where it differs from its grand strategy siblings is in its setting (roughly, the period between the Napoleonic wars and World War 2, centred on the back half of the nineteenth century), and in its strategic focus.
If Hearts Of Iron transplants old-school wargame components onto the basic Paradox template, and Crusader Kings does the same with roleplaying elements, then Victoria does so with the stuff of management games. Yes, there is war to be fought (though that wasn't shown to me), and there are characters to interact with (although you can't excommunicate and eat them). But these are both secondary to the business of running a state. Paradox are billing it as a "society simulator", which seems pretty apt.
"Yes, there is war to be fought, and there are characters to interact with. But these are both secondary to the business of running a state."
By far and away the bulk of Vicky 3's content is about the careful tuning of your nation's internal working: essentially, balancing the demands of many, many different socioeconomic groups, well enough that you don't end up either smashing into an economic collapse or a revolution. Even when you deal with other nations, the focus is very much on negotiation rather than brute force, via a mindbustingly nuanced diplomacy system.
All this talk about complexity isn't just me being thick: I spent a lot of the game presentation shaking my head in awe, at the sheer amount of granularity with which the factional politics of the Prussian middle classes had been modelled. You could probably fit entire, decent management games worth of features into the conceptual space Victoria 3 allots to Danish carceral policy in the mid-1870s.
That's not a dig at Victoria 3, by the way, because a) I am a huge nerd, and b) Victoria 3 wears its heart very much on its sleeve, on this front. After speaking to game director Martin Anward and lead game designer Mikael Andersson following the presentation, it was obvious that sheer systems depth had been a central design principle throughout Vicky 3's development.
It looks bloody impressive. But does it look fun? Potentially. I can't decide whether Victoria 3 looks like the strategy game equivalent of trying to eat an entire pack of Carr's water biscuits in one mouthful, or whether I'm going to sit down to play it and not leave my chair for a month. It really could go either way.
One thing's for sure. All of this uncompromising intricacy, along with the fact the game exists at all, is a pretty clear positioning statement by Paradox. This a studio determined to prove that, despite its enormous growth and diversification over the last few years, it can still do what it always did best, which is super grognard strategy stuff. It feels a bit like a band of thrash-metallers-turned-sensible-dads, ending a set with their legendary 1982 track "Norwegian Timber Export Policy", in order to remind the crowd that they can still shred. One for the fans.