In the 1930’s, the world was plunged into turmoil as it was dragged into another global war. Historical characters of fame and infamy would rise and fall during this time. As well as great heroes on all sides of the conflict. While many games have put players into roles of the single hero, Paradox Interactive goes with a larger focus. In the fourth installment of Hearts of Iron [HOI], players take on the role of an entire country.
I will admit to some apprehension at picking up this game. I had tried Hearts of Iron III and wasn’t able to figure out how to get my units to move. But I was surprised at the difference in UI that Paradox had gone with for this game, somewhat similar to their other game line Europa Universalis [EU]. The difference between EU and HOI is that HOI is built on a division level and not an army level. Divisions are determined by company type; infantry, motorized, armored and artillery. You can further customize units with the addition of support companies like field hospitals, mechanics, recon, supply and artillery. So what does all this mean? A lot, actually, but in a way you get to design your army how you want.
In addition to the makeup, you’ll need to keep in mind another statistic of your division: combat width. Each company has a certain size and when fighting in battles you can only include a limited amount of divisions. The limit is 80 by the way, and if a division would go over this amount, it won’t fight in the battle. If you’re curious how I know this, call it experience. I lost against France as Germany because I made my divisions too big.
I was excited by a new feature allowing me to customize units like tanks, making giant mobile fortresses of steel that belch death and move with some speed. You can also do this with naval vessels. Improving anti-submarine weapons for destroyers will ensure the safety of your capital ships who are weak against their attacks. Meanwhile, you can improve the stealth of your subs so that they can strike unseen. For larger ships, they follow similar improvements to tanks. Your air force also has improvements, such as to the operational range, improving how much of a region they’re able to effectively cover; as well as their firepower and engines for agility (how effectively they evade attacks). These improvements aren’t free, they’re bought with experience that’s generated from your men training or through fighting battles.
No RTS is complete without a resource system and HOI doesn’t cut corners when it comes to this category. The first key resource is manpower, how many people you have available to fill your armies. Like in real life, not everyone fights and you can only draw on a certain percentage of your populace even in a time of crisis. Your territories also have set amounts of resources such as iron, oil, and rubber. These are all used to make literally everything that you need to build your army. You can get missing resources through trade with other nations, but be careful. Going to war with a nation you heavily rely on for materials will effectively shut down your engines of war. Again, found this out the hard way trying to conquer the US as Communist Mexico, but more on crazy non-history later.
Factories and infrastructure play a hidden and important role within your nation and conquered territories. Infrastructure is an overarching term for railroads and the ability to move troops as well as supplies effectively within a territory. Factories are divided into civilian-used to build other factories-and military factories and dockyards-used to build your war materials. Having more civilian structures allows you to build faster and the same is true for military factories, although this cost more resources. But each territory is limited by to how many factories it can have based on the area type. Proper planning is needed to make sure you have a strong economy to fuel your nation.
Finally, the one thing that allows for so much replayability-aside from achievements-is turning off AI’s requirement to follow historical events. Essentially turning this on causes the world to do whatever it wants. I’ve seen things like France going Communist and joining the Soviet Union to a Fascist United Kingdom devour Europe. There was even a game where somehow Germany lost a war to the Netherlands.
Players are allowed to do whatever they like, see my previous comment about Communist Mexico, but having historical mode will make it harder for your odd choices. So if you want to conquer the world as Fascist Canada-which is an achievement-best to have history sit in the corner.
I only have two real complaints about this game. The first is that it needs some optimization. At around the 1941 year mark, the game noticeably slows down. I compared this game to one of their previous titles EU, and that game runs well even with the amount of small nations that can be on the same screen. The final complaint is resistance in conquered territory. It’s confusing on how to handle it. Seemingly, setting captured territories to harsh should put down resistance but only seems to cause it to grow. While dealing with them gently causes the situation to remain status quo meaning you’re still getting screwed over.
This game is definitely not for the casual gamer. There are far too many conditions that affect battles and your ability to conduct war to have a real turn-off-your-brain appeal. This game is only for the truly serious RTS players. If you think you have what it takes to make the world your prize, however, then more power to you. I’d suggest watching a few Let’s Plays of others playing the game to get a feel for if this game is right for you. Right now the game is a constant learning experience, requiring you to adjust sometimes on the fly in order to win the game. Good luck on the fields of battle, readers!