Victoria II: Heart of Darkness Review
“You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes” said the man with the peculiar glasses.
At times I feel that Paradox Interactive has tricked me into unknowingly ingesting some deeply addicting, opaque red pill. This isn’t a feeling that can be easily explained or even properly quantified for those not into the hardcore niche gaming scene that is the Paradox Interactive Grand Strategy Game– but I assure you, Victoria II: Heart of Darkness adds an ocean’s worth of depth and even, dare I say, accessibility to one of my favorite Paradox games.
Vicky 2: HOD is an expansion that we don’t see from nine tenths of the game development community: A proper and devoted expansion for an already underplayed game. Not to say that DLC isn’t a cheap and sometimes useful distraction to the game it is supporting, but Heart Of Darkness adds multiple layers of depth and by association, an unfathomable amount of re-playability. Really, how could I possibly play the over 130 countries without devoting my entire life to this game? Hmm, science should find a way. But just like that, you will be wondering aloud to neighbors, friends, and pets in the local vicinity, “ Could I possibly play as Korea, create a crisis with international help, and fully realize a North Korean Empire?” Why yes, yes you probably could. And even if North Korea isn’t an option off of the bat, the player can find a mod for it or make a mod for it. I am getting ahead of myself, but (and I can’t understate this) Victoria II: Heart of Darkness has plenty of bugs and gameplay issues, luckily none of these devilish problems are enough to turn me away or, hopefully, you from playing this game.
Vicky II: HOD expands the core gameplay of politics, industrialization, colonization, military might, and high seas tom-foolery. It has re-balanced everything from naval and land combat to political dealings with major and minor powers, as well as including a multitude of changes to the colonization system, making it more robust and exciting than before. Heart of Darkness is one of those wonderful expansions that comes out and then you find yourself realizing, “How did I play this same game without the expansion?” Though, I do have to say, the new newspaper system is a neat idea that could have been executed with a little more panache. By the end of the game the pestering newspaper number irked some sort of gaming compulsion that has been ingrained in me. You see, the newspapers tell you an average amount of detail (maybe a country fears you, or maybe the war you have been engaged in needs to be reiterated to you the same for 100 years!) It was clear that the task of trying to convey what is happening behind the curtain was a noble one, but in the end, my papers collected dust on the front of my colonial style wrap around porch.
My first time playing HOD, I tried my hand as the British Empire. I had never played as the Imperial Masters before, and seeing as they were the largest colonial power from 1836 to 1936, I knew this would be a great nation to get to know the new systems of Heart of Darkness.
HOD cleverly adds depth to the revamped colonization system. No longer will you use a national focus to carve out new territory for your empire, but instead you will use colonial points, which are limited, to determine the race for each area of the un-colonized globe.
By the middle of Vicky 2, my colonial provinces were becoming quite a burden. This is one of the brilliant additions to the colonial system. By creating proxy wars over colonial territory, my English empire was now coming to blows with the French, Italians and Americans all in central Africa. I had to use my political might and naval expertise to claim what was rightfully mine. Though it can be seen as offensive, Paradox has taken the route of disconnection when it comes to dealings with colonial subjects (a rather terrible and bloody part of colonial history). Frantz Fanon would not be happy. As my British empire expanded so did my colonial reach, and as my colonial reach expanded, my colonial conquests were running out of gas.
HOD has introduced an easier system for setting Dominions of colonial states, now making it much easier for you to have control of an area without actually owning it. The beauty of dominions comes from the ability to manually take control over the dominion forces. Also, the new crisis system is at times brilliant and at other times, rather irritating. I was able to bully my way through most of the game because of my supposed power, even though I never felt particularly unified. You see, when a smaller country wants to expand their “rightful” borders, they will go to a local major power to back their cause. It’s an interesting idea to create more situations that ultimately fueled the first World War, but I was still only ever pulled into combat once.
Luckily, countries with enough foresight will not engage in military hostilities. But to make militant hostilities more balanced, HOD has added importance to the naval aspect of the game, no longer allowing the player to build capital ships from any port. This makes the player focus on key ports to produce the modern pieces of their navy. Land combat has also received some important tweaks. No longer will you be able to march unhindered through enemy territory with a single stack of 50,000 soldiers. Instead, you are encouraged to diversify your army to fight off attrition and help maintain sieges.
Heart of Darkness is a meaningful and much needed improvement for the Victoria II vanilla game and the A House Divided expansion. Even though the newspaper system is a bit of drag (especially by the end of the game),Paradox has created a wholly new and enjoyable game.
If you haven’t played Victoria II in a while due to bugs or lack of interest, now would be a great time to jump back into the colonial fold. If you’ve never played Vicky II, I say you have many great reasons to play this smart and satisfying game.
8 colonial provinces out of 10.