Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun opens with a runaway locomotive barreling straight down the tracks toward you. Before it reaches your point of view, however, the scene switches to quick clips of key events in the 19th and early 20th centuries. We see Abraham Lincoln speaking with Union soldiers during the US Civil War, machine guns are being fired, girders are going up in front of a city skyline, bodies are laying in the trenches of WW I, and even Sigmund Freud is contemplating his cigar. All in all, it's an effective and dramatic way to introduce you to the time period represented by this real-time strategic epic from the makers of Europa Universalis.
Most scenarios are incredibly complex, particularly if you control one of the dueling Great Powers during WWI.
Unfortunately, this cinematic works both metaphorically and literally. While showing the train and old photographs makes you feel the epochal changes that the world went through during the height of the British Empire, it also gives you a good idea of what you're in for. Victoria is so overwhelming and complex that you might feel as if you'd been hit by that opening-scene locomotive. Despite having nearly a half-dozen voluminous games of historical strategy under its belt, Paradox Entertainment is still tossing people in at the deep end. Add to this some truly spectacular technical problems, and you've got a game that only diehards can appreciate.
Where Paradox's Europa Universalis games provided just enough information to keep you in the loop without quite being overwhelming, Victoria practically tosses a filing cabinet at you. The complexity--exacerbated by the flatly incomprehensible absence of a tutorial, both in the game and in the skimpy manual--is staggering. Every nation that existed on Earth between 1836 and 1920 is depicted here, including nearly 3,000 provinces. You can take charge of any country (from Great Powers like Britain and France to relative trifles like Australia and Canada) in the solo or multiplayer (online or LAN) Grand Campaign, which runs the full 84-year length of the time period. You can also opt to run more limited scenarios, like the one that places you in charge of America at the onset of the US Civil War in 1861 or the one that casts you in the role of Britain's leader in 1881, when she was at her most powerful (added in the 1.01 patch). Budgets are set, elections are held, technologies are researched, provinces are colonized, revolts are suppressed, armies are built, wars are declared, peace treaties are signed, neighbors are annexed, and so on. Everything that factored into the running of a nation during the time when the sun never set on the British Empire represents an important element here.
Not surprisingly, it takes many, many hours to figure out all of this stuff, and even then it's hard to feel like you've got a handle on what's going on. It's simply impossible to play one of the larger countries during one of your early games, since there are too many provinces to track. Even later, once you've developed some familiarity with the gameplay, there is so much micromanagement involved--when running countries like the massive USA or the colony-rich Britain--that it's preferable to play smaller "starters" like Belgium and Sweden. Even then you have to wait for a long time, as you must first build your social and economic infrastructure, get out of debt, and so on, before doing anything else.
As with the Europa Universalis games, historical events sometimes require your participation. Deciding a course of action here in Alabama could influence the outcome of the US Civil War.
The game's main problems are its density and its non-informative interface. The map is clean and attractive (and will probably be very familiar to veterans of the Europa Universalis series). Additionally, the music is stirring. However, most screens are cluttered with pop-ups. Many can be shut down or their functions turned over to the artificial intelligence--although you then feel like too much of the game is running on autopilot. As with Paradox's epic game of World War II strategy Hearts of Iron, there doesn't seem to be a happy medium.