Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun presents turn-based strategists with nearly a century's worth of world history, to follow faithfully or change as they see fit. Transported to the time of Queen Victoria's reign of the English empire, players must build up their chosen nation in an effort to obtain the prestige and power necessary for survival.
The game incorporates a political system designed to simulate the change from monarchism to parliamentary democracy. Along with this is a simulation of the industrialization of the world, complete with an economic system that accounts for more than 50 different resources.
As sovereign rulers, players must also elect to take part in -- or ignore completely -- specific historical events, such as the American Civil War and the Crimean War. From the exploration of Africa and the Americas, to sailing and battling with the ironclads that ruled the seas, players will have control over every decision as they lead their nations into the modern era.
It's hard to believe that someone could actually create a more cumbersome and difficult game than Master of Orion 3, but Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun certainly lowers itself to the challenge. What you have is a game that combines the micromanagement of Civilization with the intrigue and politics of Diplomacy, adds in a Railroad Tycoon 3-style dynamic economic and resources model, uses a layered interface ... and then somehow expects you to manage it all in real-time.
Victoria, which is essentially a sequel to the already complex Europa Universalis, re-creates the Victoria Era when the "civilized" and cultured nations attempted to modernize the world through colonization, subjugation, and oppression. As far as games go, this age makes for a truly epic experience in empire building, but Victoria is so bloated with things to manage that you're likely to get overwhelmed before you can even get started.
While the designers may have wanted to create the ultimate game of diplomacy, trade, and conquest in the Age of Imperialism, the fun gets lost somewhere in the mix. At times, Victoria can actually be addictive and challenging, but a sudden twist of fate can result in things spiraling out of control so fast that you might never recover. For instance, attempting to command a major nation like England or France is so difficult that you'll need to pause the game continually just to make sure that you don't overlook anything. Normally, monarchs and their ministers don't "forget" to move armies or reassign idle workers, but because you have so much to do your nation is unlikely to run at anything near reasonable efficiency. There's no shortage of things to do -- you have to build factories, research new technologies, deploy your armies, set trade and taxation levels, suppress uprisings, upgrade the existing infrastructure of your lands, and keep the peace with your rivals -- so when war does break out, things only get harder.
Graphically, Victoria is rather flat, and while there are numerous screens that offer views of various statistics and information, it's basically just more stuff to click through. There's virtually no control of units in battle, and combat animations are almost non-existent, which makes it feel like you're not doing much more than playing a board game on your PC. The sound effects are equally depressing, but at least the selection of music, which includes period pieces from Hayden and Verdi offers a bit of culture.
Much of this could have been redeemed with multiplayer, but the game is just far too complicated, and because there are so many things going you'll barely have time to interact with other players. Those looking for a "beer and pretzels"-styled wargame should be warned to leave the refreshments for those times when the game crashes and you need to reboot.
A final problem worth noting is that, as with other similar-themed games (including Imperialism), Victoria doesn't have an appropriate ending. The game fittingly begins in 1836 with the grand campaign (along with starting times in 1861 and 1914, as well as 1881 with the patch), which makes sense -- this was the beginning of the reign of England's Queen Victoria and also saw the beginning of the Industrial Age. However, the title wraps up in 1920 for no apparent reason. While in the real world this marked the beginning of a new modern age following the First World War, the game doesn't necessarily end with this horrific conflict and the ending is more ambiguous -- the result is that something just seems missing.
The historical setting and this Age of Imperialism should have made for a wondrous game with numerous possibilities, but Victoria isn't that game. Even fans of Europa Universalis will likely be turned off by the near-unmanageable gameplay and frequent crashes. The ambiguous ending is the least of this title's problems -- chances are the sun will set on this empire-building game long before you have a chance to get there.
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