Sid Meier's Pirates!

PC games are full of arcane artifacts spurring on ancient civilizations, Nazis riding dinosaurs, and Ghandi nuking the entire planet. Historical accuracy isn’t always a priority, and even the ones that try to get it right have to take some liberties with the facts modern scholarship hands down to us to be, you know, a fun game. But there is a definite divide between games that offer a mere nod to history (or use some vague, pop culture-informed stereotype of it as a jumping-off point) and those that actually put in enough research time to get at least some of the important facts straight.

It’s hard to measure a variable like “historicity” when it comes to games—and yes, that is a real word. Games that put history first tend to wind up overly complicated rather than fun, so I've highlighted genuinely great PC games that go out of their way to include some historical accuracy. In particular, I chose games that accurately and ably depict a facet of history that is often misrepresented or ignored in other, ostensibly historical games.

In chronological order based on their setting, here are the most historical PC games.

Screenshot via Steam user OriginalNickname

Total War: Attila - Most historical game about the collapse of the Western Roman Empire 

Attila pulled Total War’s tired campaign formula out of its slump and gave us a living map that portrayed the cultural, political, and environmental challenges facing Rome in her twilight years. Rather than playing into the stereotype of angry, marauding barbarians showing up out of nowhere to sew chaos, the map really put you in the middle of why these invasions were happening—the oncoming of climate change making northern regions progressively less supportive of large populations, and the migration of the Huns into Eastern Europe.

It was also the first Total War game to model the fact that not all societies have permanent cities, and how tributary relationships could form between cultures as a pressure valve against open war.

Assassin’s Creed series - Most historical depiction of ancient cities 

There is very little about the plot of any Assassin’s Creed game that could be regarded as staunchly historical (though we do get some cool nods here and there—the Siege of Masyaf in AC1 is a thing that really happened). However, they’ve gone to great lengths to depict, in full scale, what it would be like to walk the streets of Renaissance Florence or medieval Jerusalem. From the crowds, to the architecture, to the small details, there is a lot of history to experience just by wandering the environments. My personal favorite is Revelations’ post-Ottoman-conquest Constantinople, perhaps one of the most interesting cities in world history snapshotted at one of its most interesting ages.

Screenshot via Steam user Mr.Nekator

Crusader Kings 2 - Most historical modeling of medieval Western European politics 

With expansions highlighting Satanic cults and fanciful, “What if?” Aztec invasions, there is plenty of ahistorical nonsense kicking around CK2 these days. But at its core is a system that does an excellent job of modeling how politics worked in Western Europe from about 1000 to 1400 AD. We take for granted the concept of a nation state in our modern world, but if you lived in Auvergne, France in 1150, you were probably loyal to a person, not a flag or a constitution. All of CK2’s titles have holders, and it is they who interact and play the grand game against one another.

A strong realm can crumble under a weak king just as a poor realm can rise to glory under a great king. And while the hierarchical depiction of feudalism it presents is highly disputed in modern scholarship, excellent expansions like Conclave have added more weight to the lateral bonds that many historians argue were the greater driving force among the nobility of the age.

Expeditions: Viking -  Most historical Viking game

I was impressed immediately by how apparent it was that the designers of Expeditions: Viking put stereotypes out of their mind and hit the books. As my primary historical interest area, I have a high standard for games about the Viking Age, and this one really has you doing a lot of the things a viking ruler would have actually found him or herself doing.

There are kinship-based blood feuds to manage. There is the emphasis on the necessity of presenting yourself as both a strong and a just ruler, not taking for granted that people will follow you based on your name. It even models the effects those notorious raids had on Scandinavia—bringing back captives and wealth that would help build infrastructure and birth three of the most influential kingdoms in European history.

Banished - Most historical game about frontier settlement

Banished is a fairly simple game. I might even argue that it’s too simple, but the mechanics it chooses to focus on are very much the sorts of things that say, an English settler in the 17th Century Virginia Colony would have been concerned with. Keeping your people warm, fed, and healthy are your main goals. You have to use the resources in your environment and trade with distant lands to provide for a growing population. A harsh winter or a disease outbreak can be utterly disastrous and end your whole settlement—as they often did for early European settlements in the New World.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! - Most historical pirate game 

While Pirates! does allow itself to indulge in some buccaneer stereotypes, it also models a lot of the genuine realities a privateer captain during the Golden Age of Piracy would have to be concerned with. A crew is a ragtag collection of malcontents picked up from all across the Caribbean who will only stay with you as long as they feel like there’s a monetary reward in it. The political interplay between the Spanish, English, French, and Dutch is an ongoing conundrum, and you’ll usually be working for at least one of them. And of course, its modeling of naval combat with wind direction, hull size, decks, guns, and even shot type really gives you a glimpse of all the skills necessary to be a naval officer in that era.

Screenshot via Steam user [HWK] Turenne

Victoria 2 - Most historical game about the Industrial Revolution 

Vicky 2 is probably the most intimidating and inaccessible game on this list, but it deserves its spot for hanging its top hat on aspects of history that often get ignored. The level of literacy among your population matters. More literate societies will become more productive… but they also gain Consciousness, which can lead them towards social movements like communism and demanding an end to slavery, universal suffrage, and labor rights. You know, pesky commoner stuff. It also models industrialization, war profiteering, and the advantages and disadvantages of free markets versus command economies. If you have the patience to learn it, it's well worth the investment.

The Oregon Trail - Most historical game about the Oregon Trail 

An oldie but a goodie. The various iterations of The Oregon Trail that have been released since 1971's HP 2100 version (how’s that for some history!) have all been lauded for their educational value. And with good reason. If a modern person tries to imagine the struggles faced by an American pioneer making the journey from Independence to the Willamette Valley in the mid-1800s, they probably wouldn’t give much thought to how many spare wagon tongues you’d need to bring. But that was the reality, and The Oregon Trail put us in the middle of it. It probably also made us a little more afraid of dysentery than we have cause to be in an era of modern medicine and sanitation, but no game is perfect.

Ultimate General: Civil War - Most historical game about the Civil War  

I know I’ll take my share of hard tac for failing to call out some hex-based, in-depth wargame that features the weight and height of every soldier who fought at Gettysburg compiled from census records, but Ultimate General is the perfect midpoint between attention to historical detail, accessibility, and fun. Its combat engine realistically models terrain, movement, casualties, and morale in real time. The recently released campaign mode even gets into how generals in this era had to prove themselves to the political leadership if they wanted to be well-supplied and have weight given to their strategic advice.

Screenshot via Steam user Stuart

Steel Division: Normandy 44 - Most historical game about tactical combat in World War 2

A truly impressive feat to a military history nerd, Steel Division’s maps are built from actual aerial reconnaissance photographs taken during the Normandy invasion, down to the village layouts and placement of hedgerows. It also features realistic ranges and damage modeling for all of its vehicles and weapons, and even the relative speed and maneuverability of its air units. It limits heavier units to spawning later in a battle to simulate the simple fact that they would have taken longer to get there after first contact with the enemy.

Possibly most notable of all, though, is that it does an uncommonly good job stressing the importance of ground-based reconnaissance on the battlefields of World War 2, and the idea that engagements could be won or lost based on which side had better information.

Screenshot via Steam user 65y Afrika

IL-2 Sturmovik series - Most historical combat flight simulator 

I think most flight sim enthusiasts remember the first time they tried to do a backflip in IL-2 and saw the screen start to fade out, wondering if there was something wrong with their monitor. Not only are the controls and handling in this classic historically accurate, but it simulates the effects G-forces have on a fighter pilot maneuvering at high speeds. Force too much blood into your head and you’ll experience redout. Force too much into your feet and you’ll experience blackout. In addition, the titular IL-2 was depicted in meticulous, 3D detail and the combat missions presented plausible scenarios.

Screenshot via Steam user XaRoS

Verdun - Most historical World War I shooter 

Move over, Battlefield 1. Verdun sets out to accurately depict trench warfare on the Western Front, and does a pretty good job of it for a multiplayer shooter. Its inaccuracies are forgivable sacrifices to scale, rather than in the details. it would be very difficult to get enough players on a single server to really depict some of the bigger battles of The Great War, and a lot more time was spent waiting around hoping not to get blown up by a shell than was spent taking aim and firing at the enemy—which isn’t really fun if you just have an hour a night to jump in the mud with your buds. Particularly impressive is the detail that goes into the uniforms, with items as small as buttons being painstakingly reproduced from period photographs.

Kerbal Space Program - Most historical game about the space program 

With its science-based modeling of orbital mechanics, propulsion, and aerodynamics, Kerbal Space Program is a great platform to teach about the history of spaceflight. In fact, the developers at Squad agree, and are working on an official Making History expansion. But if you don’t want to wait, the community has already beaten them to the punch. A number of mods, including the Historical Missions Pack, allow you to experience launches spanning from the first German V2 rocket tests all the way up to SpaceX and beyond. 

Deus Ex series - Most historical game about… the future?

So this one is mostly my own speculation based on observation of current trends, rather than anything backed up by in-depth scholarship. But I’ve always been impressed with how well Deus Ex depicts what I see as humanity’s likely next steps. Huge strides are being made in brain-computer interfaces, prosthetics, and artificial intelligence, while advancements in fields like spaceflight and laser swords are becoming increasingly hard to come by. Were I a betting man, I’d put my money on the assumption that we’ll see the world of Adam Jensen come to pass long before the world of Captain Picard.

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PC Gamer

Paradox Development Studio is known for some well-regarded grand strategy titles with notoriously high learning curves such as Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings. In an era where plenty of PC franchises seem to have been streamlined to appeal to a wider market, Paradox hasn't let up in terms of the often almost Byzantine depth (pun intended) its core titles are built on. Studio lead Johan Andersson, speaking to Digitally Downloaded, said that he doesn't think a game has to pick between appealing to a wide audience or being complex.

In Andersson's philosophy, the solution to reaching a wider audience isn't simplifying or taking things away. It lies in making the features that are already there easier to understand, as is the studio's goal in the upcoming Europa Universails IV. "Improvements to your interface allow you to keep the same level of complexity while at the same time broadening the appeal," he said. "With a new a game and the freedom it offers we can start from square one with the interface. So we are looking to streamline the interface to help new and old players alike."

Andersson also reaffirmed his studio's commitment to the PC, and expressed that there are no current plans to expand the core family of grand strategy titles to other platforms. "We hope come across as grand, fun and challenging and we´re not sure we could make that on console," he explained. "I've worked for over 18 years in the gaming industry, and I've seen so many things come and go, that I just believe in one thing: 'good games sell.'"

You can read the full interview on Digitally Downloaded.
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Three new DLC's for Victoria II are now available on Steam!

Songs of the Civil War adds nine minutes of music to enhance the atmosphere of Victoria II.

German Unit Pack adds updated uniforms and units for German soldiers. This includes units and uniforms for the German Empire, North German Federation, South German Federation and Prussia.

Interwar Engineer Unit adds unique uniforms for armies using engineer divisions in the interwar period between WWI and WWII.

PC Gamer

The second expansion for Paradox's Victorian Era grand strategy sandbox, Heart of Darkness, is now available. Our extensive Q&A covers the details, but if you're just looking for the Cliff's Notes (much as I once was for the novel from which the expansion takes its name), Heart of Darkness focuses on colonization, the scramble for Africa, and a lot of general improvements to just about every major system in play. Put on your favorite monocle and top hat, light a pipe, and check out the launch trailer above.

If you're new to Vicky 2, you can also get the base game, the previous expansion, all the unit pack DLCs, and the original Victoria game on Steam for $10 right now.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll be by the grandfather clock in the drawing room wondering why in the flying heck there isn't a steampunk mod for this game yet.
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Victoria II: A Heart of Darkness, all new content for Victoria II is Now Available on Steam!

Victoria II: Heart of Darkness is the second expansion for the grand strategy and political simulator Victoria II. This expansion focuses on the Scramble for Africa. Compete with other colonial powers and experience international crises which require Great Power mediation if the world is to avoid war in this experience crafted by Paradox Development Studio.

In celebration of the launch of this new expansion, take 75% off the rest of the Victoria franchise on Steam*!

*Offer ends April 23rd at 10AM Pacific time

PC Gamer

The second expansion for Paradox's 19th/20th Century global grand strategy sandbox, Victoria II, is set to release in just a couple weeks. It's bringing improvements to just about all of the game's rabbit-hole-deep systems, from naval combat to colonization to the complex, dynamic economy and politics. We had our secret police round up Game Designer Chris King to ask about all of these changes, which you can read more about in the official developer diaries.

PC Gamer: Victoria II was originally released over two and a half years ago. What made you decide to go back to it and do a big expansion so long after the fact?

Chris King: Victoria II is, in common with all our games, a labor of love. So we always want to return to games and do more if we can. Since no game is ever completely perfect, there are always things we can do to make them even better. And Victoria II, with its focus on politics and economics, makes it a very interesting game to work with. Plus, if you look at Europa Universalis III and the length time it received expansions, in Paradox Development Studio terms, it isn't really that long…

I guess that the simple answer is that this was the right time to do it. If we have a good idea for an expansion, we always try to make it happen, if we can. The Heart of Darkness expansion focuses on two core features. The new colonization system makes being the first to colonize a province less important, and makes the colonial race more competitive. It also ties colonial empire to naval size making releasing dominions a very useful thing to do. Then we have the new crisis system, which allows the Great Powers to support sides in territorial conflicts and allows a potential peaceful solution to them. It acts as a tie-breaker on colonial races, gives Minor Powers a means of expansion, and also allows states that do not exist a means to come into being.

And of course, we are aware of the fact is that we have reached new gamers with the success of our strategy/RPG Crusader Kings II. So naturally, we hope that new gamers get an opportunity to discover our previous game series, including Victoria II. Because all our games are so radically different in their gameplay, and all gamers have their own favorites. I, personally, love the Victoria series a lot since it offers a focus on political simulation where the population will react to your decisions. It is a challenging game that makes you think in completely different ways when you play, using politics as your primary tools.

Paradox Development Studio has shown a lot of improvements to the new player experience in games like Crusader Kings II and March of the Eagles. But Victoria II is a much more complex game. I've played over 200 hours of Crusader Kings and even I struggled with it at first. Will Heart of Darkness be incorporating anything to help smooth out the learning curve?

We have worked to improve the current information in the interface. Improving the information the player receives from tool tips. We hope that this will assist players of all levels in playing the game, and is one of those things you can do with the constraints of an expansion.

We have also done some tweaks to the economic system to improve its functionality. The Capitalist AI has been made better in its factory selection, and the artisan AI has been improved. So even if this may not make it clearer, we definitely do hope these tweaks will make the system function better, thus giving players more chance to get into the game.

The new Crisis system is described as a way to kick off World War I-style conflicts. Will the player be able to adopt a "watch the world burn" style and try to spark a massive conflict?

With the crisis system, we have given the ability for minor countries to encourage crisis in areas that they have cores. The prime reason for this is to give minor countries a route to expansion. However, it does allow minor countries to kick off a crisis (which is what actually happened, when you think about it), and then the world could burn. The only down side is if you are involved in the crisis, you are automatically in the war. So you could spend a lot of time burning with the world.

If I am involved in a crisis as a Minor Power, and the Great Power leading my side tries to offer some of my territory to the enemy in a peace deal, is there a way I can refuse that? Or is there nothing I can really do?

Crisis wars are similar to normal wars in so far as the war leader gets to decide what is handed out as part of a general peace. However, Victoria’s peace system means that you can only offer things that the AI countries have set as war goals, so as a Minor Power you will know if you run the risk of losing territory. Secondly, with the ticking system, as long as you protect your threatened territory, you can make it harder for the other side to achieve the war score to force the hand-over.

As a Great Power, am I obligated to become involved in crises on all continents where I have holdings, or only on my home continent?

If you have holdings on a content that a crisis is in, then you will suffer a prestige loss for not stating an interest, unless you are at war.

What core issues with the naval combat led to the reworking of the system coming in Heart of Darkness?

In the old system, the stack with the biggest firepower would usually win the combat. Which made the naval game not about strategy, but just building a big doom stack. With the changes to range closing and the limits on engagements, we make smaller stacks more capable of doing damage to the enemy, and having small, fast ships as well as big ships can give your fleet an edge in combat.

In that same vein, what problems led to the implementation of Ticking War Score and the other land military changes?

With Ticking War Score, we are seeking to help the peace system in Victoria II. With large empires, it is very hard to force them to come to peace. Now, if you hold the target state for the war, then you will get 100% war score and be able to force peace. This will not only make life easier for players, but also help the AI and prevent it fighting on to complete destruction even though it has clearly lost the war.

With mobilization, we have changed how units mobilize. Instead of arriving instantly at low morale, they arrive with maximum morale and staggered over time. The time it takes to mobilize is linked to your infrastructure development, so building those railways will help your country mobilize. The important thing is that you need a standing army to protect your border provinces while the troops mobilize, otherwise you will not receive them.

Ticking War Score first appeared in Crusader Kings II, and we feel that the feature works very well. Rather than trying to conquer a huge state like Russia or the UK, you only need to capture your war targets to win. The first time you see it in action, the penny drops very quickly, since winning wars involves targeting the region the war is about.

What counts as "Connected to your capital" for the purposes of building big ships, now that you can only build larger ships in those provinces? As Japan, would China or Korea count, if I hold part of that? Is it based on continent, the same way "Encourage Migration" determines what is "overseas?"

Connected to you capital is anywhere you could move a unit to on land from your capital without entering another country. So in the case of Japan, neither China nor Korea count as connected to you Capital.

Does the new naval coordination penalty actually encourage you to fight with smaller fleets, or is it meant just to limit the power of "ganging up" with a much larger stack in a naval battle?

It is there to prevent ganging up. The penalty does not affect an even fight, no matter how large the fleets are.

What is the reasoning behind not allowing naval retreats before you come in firing range? What kind of behavior are you trying to curtail with that?

What we assume is that the commander of the fleet won’t know just how bad a situation is until he is close enough to see the enemy fleet. The main reason we do this is to prevent you sending out unescorted transports, and then always retreating if the enemy catches you.

You've made a lot of changes to the roles of different units. Can you give us an example of what the composition of a balanced early, mid, and late-game army now looks like? How does this change in offensive vs. defensive situations?

In general for Victoria II: Heart of Darkness, you need a certain percentage of your army to be composed of non-infantry units, so that you need a certain number of cavalry (early and mid-game) or tanks (late game) in your army to be effective at capturing an enemy province. Broadly speaking, we have sought to make units more specialized rather than some units always being better than others. For example Guards have lost , defensively.

With the changes to how attrition works, will large armies in hostile territory be taking more or less overall attrition, on average?

We have reduced the general level of attrition to allow larger armies to operate in hostile territory. Also, units coming home through neutral territory after wars no longer suffer any attrition, in order to make the peace less costly than the war.

The new colony system is pretty in-depth, and opens up a lot of new potential strategies. What have you guys done to balance the benefits of Protectorates, Colonies, States, and Dominions? Is it viable to have a mix?

One of our goals is to make the releasing of Dominions a vital strategy for colonial countries. As the scramble for Africa intensifies, you do not want to tie up points in your empire, so countries like Britain should want to release dominions to get points to win its share of the scramble.

Have you observed a wider variety of nations getting big colonies with the changes to how the colonization-enabling techs work?

In my most recent game, Russia carved out its own little piece of Africa. So yes, you do get to see a wider variety of outcomes over a number of games.

How dramatic or noticeable is it? Do the "big colonizers" like France and the Netherlands still do really well? Which nations that didn't get colonies before are getting the most?

The Netherlands does much better with these changes, and France is obviously still strong. However, the bigger change is that it is much more equal between countries. So, as long as you have not managed to lose your navy in the early wars, then you are in the game.

What happens to the colonies of a nation that has their fleet wiped out?

The still keep them, but they cannot colonize anymore, or create states, or upgrade colonies.

Does Great Power or Secondary Power status have any effect on your position in a colonial influence race, other than the obvious larger navy and economy and so on?


Does investing points in colonies work like GP influence (setting a priority and generating points), or do you simply spend out of a common pool?

You spend out of a common pool.

What are the key differences between a Dominion and a regular sphered nation?

A Dominion is much harder to remove from your sphere and you gain full control of their army in a war.

Do you have to be a Great Power to create dominions?

Nope, just need colonial territory. So, as Belgium, you can have the Congo as a Dominion if you so wished.

Will we see a lot of effects on the global economy with the new factory throughput bonuses? Does it affect the weight Capitalists give to building certain factory types?

The Capitalists are aware of these bonuses when they come to choose which factories to build. The goal of these changes is to make the economy flow more logically.

You guys are introducing a new system that allows uncivilized nations to gain research points by attacking their more advanced neighbors. Which nations will be the most fun to take advantage of this with? Can I finally make a warmongering Hawaiian empire that rains Polynesian fury upon the hubris-driven Westerners?

Hawaii is a challenge to use this system due to poor location and size. However a Northern Indian minor state or one out of Central Asia is defiantly good candidates for this.

For someone who has put hundreds of hours into Victoria II, what are the biggest differences they're going to notice, overall?

I would say the Crisis system. It began as a smaller idea, and during development, we started seeing the true potential that the system offered, and we increased the amount of focus on it. Because with the crisis system, we're going to see smaller countries expand much more, and also more, new countries appear. It will make Victoria II less about the Great Powers than previously, and much more dynamic.

A change in our Ruling Party has forced us to release Chris from our interrogation chamber, but we appreciate the information he's left behind. For more on Victoria II and the Heart of Darkness expansion, you can check out the official site.

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