The year was 1870 and things were very much not going well for France. Getting into character as Napoleon III, I had previously embarked on a series of foreign adventures that quickly turned into calamitous humiliations: an uprising in Savoy, a pig headed Mexican adventure, an ill-advised conflict with Belgium over railroads or some such nonsense.
And now the Prussians were pushing into Alsace-Lorraine! Fearing a military coup against my flailing regime, I tacitly accepted Blanquist support for an assassination attempt against General MacMahon, one of my top field commanders. When the assassination failed, the General and his allies fled to Bordeaux to raise a rebellion in the southwest. It was only a matter of time before a flood of Prussians pushed through the fortified border, captured my unlucky emperor, and marched on Paris mere days after a government of national defense could be organized.
That was the high-water mark of my first campaign of End of a New Beginning (or, EoaNB), a mod for Paradox Interactive’s WWII simulator Hearts of Iron IV. It’s a project with an impressively ambitious mandate: extend the timeline in HoI4 to cover the period from 1857 to 2050. Although the mod is still very early in its development, it scratches a very particular itch. It offers the promise of a modern grand strategy experience set (if only partially) in the Victorian era, that age of industrialization and imperialism.
Could this be a substitute for Victoria III, that forbidden fruit Paradox diehards have been clamoring about for years? It certainly has the potential, even if it is still too early to tell. While it might not be the Victoria III we deserve, it could, based on the trajectory of its development, be the one we desperately need right now.
Whether or not it can get to that stage could very well be contingent on if the direction the mod’s development takes in the next few months.
Building a New Beginning
If that claim of a nearly 200-year timeframe gave you misgivings, then you are not alone. Building a mod that can accurately, or even broadly, model military and political conflict ranging from the cabinet wars of European nation-states to the ideological proxy wars of global superpowers seems like a fool’s errand, at best. To do this in a game that was originally designed to support a time-frame of 1936-48 seems an especially egregious affront to reality.
But then, the Hoi4 mod scene is as impressive as it is bustling, producing some excellent (and incredibly ambitious) fan-made mods such as Kaiserreich and Millennium Dawn, mods that push the boundaries of what the base systems were designed to do.
EoaNB is striving not just for length, but also depth. To this end, the mod has totally overhauled the economic, political, and cultural systems from HoI4. The ultimate end goal is to create a sandbox (not that dissimilar to Victoria II) in which players can guide their nations through 200-years of revolutionary change.
The world in 1857 is lovingly detailed, with everything from European microstates to the vast tapestry of uncolonized African nations. An impressive amount of these states already have detailed National Focus Trees and unique decisions. Even in its barebones state, the world is impressively realized.
The economic system has been totally overhauled. The basic six strategic resources of HoI4 have been increased to nineteen in order to fuel the expanded economy. Military and civilian factories, the basic unit of the game’s war machine, have been supplemented with numerous new buildings such as cotton farms, textile mills, coal mines, and rubber refineries.
The political system (or lack thereof) has been replaced with a new comprehensive government panel with the ability to change everything from your economic policy to your level of press freedom. As of right now, the political system is more aspirational than anything but offers the possibility of adding a layer of detailed national management that is entirely absent from the original game.
To coincide with the vastly extended timeline, the tech trees are absolutely sprawling and cover a wide array of fields such as biochemistry, socio-cultural advancement, and mechanical engineering that were either absent or abstracted away. The result is a mod that looks like it may somehow turn HoI4, a game narrowly focused on the lead-up and execution of World War II, into a socio-economic simulator capable of capturing some of the nuances of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ambition: Enemy of Success
Much of these systems are still only in the very early stages of development. Events and Focus Trees where present currently only extend into the early 1880s at the latest. Even then, it seems clear that there is serious potential for this mod. The few pivotal nations that are serving as the backbone of the mod and have received the bulk of the dev’s attention look incredibly promising, so long as a similar level of detail can trickle down to secondary and tertiary nations.
But some fault lines are already visible in the project, some of which could present serious issues for the mod’s ambitious plans. For example:
- The military system has not been overhauled in the same way as the political and economic systems. At present, warfare in 1857 is no different from warfare in 1945, sans some planes and tanks. It seems unlikely that the mechanics could adequately model warfare in the Franco-Prussian or American Civil War, much less a cyberwar in 2050. Some sort of mobilization mechanic seems necessary to reflect the war-by-timetable reality of armies in the period.
- The in-game clock moves way too slow. Unlike other paradox titles that move by days, HoI4 moves by hours. This makes sense for a game that is operating on a 10-year timescale, less so for one operating on a 200-year one. At the moment, there is a painfully long amount of time between interesting things happening, even when leaving the timer on the highest speed setting.
- Most importantly, the mod is likely sacrificing depth for length. Rather than focus on a narrower timeframe (say the 1850s to 1930s) or a more specific goal, its overly ambitious plans may leave this promising mod flailing. Rather than a carefully curated experience filled with bespoke events and decisions, it could be spread too thin interesting ideas, poorly executed. The sandbox could become a quagmire.
Victoria 3 or Bust?
EoaNB certainly has the potential to fill the currently unoccupied grand strategy niche of a Victoria successor, but only if it doubles down on that period and that period alone. Many of the mechanics are in place, but the polish is not yet there, and may not be for a long time coming. Many grand strategy fans would jump at the chance to play an ersatz Victoria III. EoaNB should lean on this enthusiasm.
Whether the entirety of its ambitious goals can be achieved is an open question. But as the mod’s wiki states, the “sole goal is to make it work, no matter how difficult it is.” Hopefully, they do. But even if they fall short, this is an excellent mod to keep an eye on as its community grows, and the project comes together. The interested should check out the community Discord server to follow along.