PC Game Review: Victoria 2: A House Divided
Curtis Szmania delves into the first expansion for the grand strategy game Victoria 2, where it covers the tumultuous American Civil War.
The American Civil War is a unique part of American history that many Americans have strong feelings about. Whether it's personal ties to the conflict, or just an admiration of the wars examples of fighting against the odds for what one believes is right, it's definitely a favorite of many American historians. But although the war was unique by its own right and saw the first of several new ideas and military strategies, the admiration certainly isn't globally universal. The war was an internal conflict -- a battle between two sects of what used to be the same nation. It wasn't an international war. So products about the conflict are definitely aimed towards a certain market, which can be risky. So for a game developer to pursue such a product they'd have to have a reliable and consistent past, and most certainly a strong customer base. Paradox Interactive is one such company, and they've decided to pursue such a business model with their latest expansion for Victoria 2, Victoria 2: A House Divided.
Victoria 2 was without a doubt a great game. It succeeded an original and very successful game which earned several expansions in its own right, while attaining a large modding community. So from this dynasty, it may be easy to make the presumption that Paradox would be adding an expansion to "Vicky 2"; and that's exactly what they've done. A House Divided, or AHD, is mainly based around the creation of a new scenario which starts on 1 July 1861, specifically designed for the American Civil War -- as the title suggests. So, since the expansion is aimed primarily around this scenario, I'll dive right into it. This starting date doesn't give the Confederacy any time to prepare, as the war has already started -- hostilities began at Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861. So if you play the Confederate States of America, you're right in the thick of it. But since the game is focused primarily on the economic facets of running a nation, which usually take time in creating and to see results, its interesting why they'd start at such a late date. Though, if you'd like to play another nation with the 1 July 1861 scenario, you might not be as impressed. As the CSA I somehow lost battles that I killed over 12,000 Union soldiers compared to my about 1,600 lost. I know armies can still lose battles strategically even if they killed more of the enemy than they lost, but not by that proportion. This is absurd. There are still bugs if one plays any of the nations that are not involved in the Civil War. Also, by the early 20th century World War I still isn't guaranteed to occur.
The main reason the war lasted so long -- the military success of the Army of Northern Virginia -- is null and almost irrelevant in a game that is mainly focused around economics, diplomacy, and politics. So unless you can somehow make up for the economic deficiency of the South in the short time allowed while keeping the endless flow of Union troops from conquering too much of your land, you have no chance of winning the war. So although the game can't exploit the strengths of the South, which were its military maneuverability and tactics in battle, players are left with what seems as a war with only one outcome. But if the Confederate player can concentrate his forces when necessary, and split his forces to occupy provinces, he may be able to make the USA agree to a ceasefire. Although I think Abraham Lincoln would turn over in his grave if he heard that. To compound this issue, another factor that often led the South to victory on the battlefield was the competence of its generals. So, although generals die in battle less often than in the original game, it still occurs and it's almost completely out of the control of the player. And if Robert E. Lee gets killed early in the war, the war is essentially lost by the South. The importance of generals and admirals has also been amplified, which corresponds nicely with the great figureheads the South boasted. Penalties are also now enforced if one transfers a military leader from one army to another army, on the other side of the globe.
But having said that -- because the American Civil War was the main focus of the expansion -- UI improvements have also been made to the game. Armies are now more easily selectable and more conveniently divided. A new "balance" button makes dividing an army in two much more quickly. This is helpful during chaotic wars: fighting on several fronts or trying to counter numerous enemy invasions. Messaging has also been changed; now players can choose how their information is given to them, or if its given to them at all.
Diplomacy has been enhanced; its depth has been increased. Players can now look for ways in which to justify a war by using the "justify war" button. Though don't get too exited, this can be risky as your infamy is at risk if such covert actions -- finding ways to wage a reasonable war -- are discovered. The reason for the new button coincides with the new inability of just waging random wars with other states in the game; so no more warmongering without analyzing the politics of every conflict. With this new feature, if one successfully finds good enough reasons to wage war, players can conquer using much less infamy than before. Though to counter this advantage the AI is now much more aggressive and isn't afraid to sacrifice infamy in order to pursue a warring foreign policy.
Foreign investment in other countries is a new and very dynamic feature of the expansion. Players controlling great powers can now invest in other countries, building railroads or factories for ulterior motives. Investing in your neighbors will increase relations while strengthening the economy of that said neighbor. The game also allows more control over the economy. Factories are now more expensive, but at the same time they create less income. In Victoria 2 players could exploit factories, while money flowed into their coffers at extraordinary rates. This is no longer possible; one has to plan more carefully and spend much more time on factories -- investing in a variety of different types of factories -- if they wish to have great production and profitable exports. Nations can also be labeled as "Uncivilized" according to the progress of their technology. Of course this can change overtime as nations research more or less technologies.
Additional improvements have been added. Troops can now take advantage of railroads, which was a vital factor for armies mobilizing during the later part of the 19th century (Germany using interior lines during war is a great example). This advantage also corresponds with the economic benefits of having railroads. The difficulty of building these great machines has also been increased in difficult terrain. This is understandable because in order to build a railroad through a mountain, they'd most likely have to dynamite a tunnel through that mountain -- this time consuming and expensive. Terrain now affects armies on a much more realistic level. Armies defending in rough or mountainous terrain now have a beneficial defensive modifier. Consequently, armies attacking another in such terrain will find it much more costly and time consuming to dislodge such enemy forces. Also, since building armies can become very chaotic in the middle of a war, rallying-points for new units can now be set. So as new units are created, they will automatically congregate on a user-set region on the map.
Victoria 2: A House Divided adds many new features to an already fundamentally sound platform. Interface improvements make coping with warfare and chaos much easier, while the AI is less forgiving and isn't afraid of waging war to prove it. Foreign investment coupled with the increased difficulty of building profitable industry makes the game much more complex economically. This also opens doors for many more strategies of how to run a nation. Wars are now declared solely based on the reasons for their declaration -- expanding the possibilities for players who wish to expand their borders by any means necessary. Warfare is also portrayed more accurately in this expansion. Armies can now receive penalties when attacking enemy forces in difficult terrain, while generals and admirals have much more influence over the units under their command. The foundation of this expansion, however, was the included American Civil War scenario. While the scenario still needs work, it's solely based on just the participants of that conflict; it's still going to be a treat for those who appreciate the conflict. Potential buyers should ask themselves whether such improvements are worth the extra monetary investment. Well if you're already a fan of Victoria 2 or you're a fan of the American Civil War, then I'd say most definitely.
The Good: New American Civil War scenario with historical units and military leaders, industry building is more expensive and complex, foreign investment adds another dimension to the diplomatic sphere, interface changes make the game more manageable and much easier to handle during chaotic situations, generals and admirals have much more influence, many of the original games exploits have been quelled.
The So-So: Military leaders are much more difficult to kill but their deaths are almost exclusively out of the control of the player.
The Bad: The American Civil War scenario is buggy if one is playing any of the nation's not involved in the war, the new scenario starts while the war is already going at full steam (this doesn't allow the South to economically prepare in a game emphasizing economics), would have liked to see more unique units of the American Civil War with a viable strategy to win as the South, battles can still be lost even if your kill ratio is as high as 10:1.
Does the game have a permanent spot on Curtis hard drive? I said this for Vicky 2 and Ill say it again. Yes, because Victoria 2 is a unique game among the strategy genre -- it focuses on most of the 19th Century. Now with the invested interest in the American Civil War (one of my favorite conflicts) my dedication to the dynasty grows. Although the game isn't really based on military aspects (which are my favorite in any game I play) it still is entertaining to play. It will also eat up your time because of its sheer depth and possible playing strategies. Adding onto what I mentioned above about the American Civil War being very difficult to win as the South, it is not impossible to win as the South. But to do so, one will have to rely on military victories that are -- for the most part -- out of the control of the player. I also realize the immense fascination for the ACW that is shrouded around the attraction towards the Confederacy -- an underdog with exceptional military performance against astounding odds. Therefore, Id like to see a way in which the Confederacy could win the war in this game.
Review written by: Curtis Szmania, Staff Writer
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