World War II was the dark time of political strife and social instability. Nations were fragile, and human lives were sacrificed in the name of nations. A conflict that ends up shaping the world of today is depicted by Hearts of Iron IV a Grand Strategy game by Paradox Interactive. This game is a way to experience and witness the conflict in a global scale. The game is available now on Steam, starting at 20$ for the Cadet Edition.
IntroductionThe difference between other World War II games like Call of Duty or Company of Heroes and Hearts of Iron IV resides on the scale. You don't experience this conflict from a soldier's point of view, not even a general that´s on the battlefield, but rather from the leader of a nation perspective, meaning that you get to make the greater choices of such nation, choices that will end up shaping the world for the rest of the XX century.
This might not be appealing for some, especially if you are used to games that are more mechanically and visually rewarding. But if you love the kind of games that demands your patience and hours of dedication without any instant gratifications, also known as thinking man's games, this will served you just fine. However as you may know, in the long run, this kind of games will end up being really compelling, therefore very addictive.
This game is a simulation of the world during the years 1936 through 1948. Each nation is controlled by their own AI that supposed to behave like the corresponding nation did during that time, but one of these nations have to be controlled by you. Although every nation is eligible, it is recommended to choose between the major war participants like Germany, the United States, Japan, Russia, Italy or France. Mostly because the conflict is centered around these nations.
If you don´t choose any of those, you´ll end up fighting for relevance during the war. Another choice you need to make is to either start the game in 1936, before the war and at the beginning your political career, or just start in 1939, right on time of the blitzkrieg, and immediately jump right into the fray.
The AI can be somewhat erratic since it will not always follow the history by the book. This is a sandbox war game, and some historic changes are prone to happen; this is where most of the fun of the game comes as you have to adapt and try to change or correct the history.
There are two sides of this game. On one hand, you need to manage your country in different areas, hopefully, all of them menu driven but working under different mechanics, and on the other hand, you have the world map, where most of the action takes place.
Some mechanics came back from previous Hearts of Iron entries. Politics still works the same as in previous games. You'll get to choose whom you want in your political cabinet. Depending on whom you choose, you'll get bonuses for resource management or military inquiry.
Here is where you can keep track of one the most important in-game resources, in fact, those resources are the only ones that end up showing on the overlay, National Unity, Manpower, Political Power and Factories. They are the things that keep your nation efficient; the higher those resources are, the faster your country works, the more reinforcements you can have and technologies will develop faster.
And the second important resource, are material resources which, this comes from the land you possess, are also important to keep track import routes and traffic lines between territories, as this can affect your troops in the long run. A common tactic during World War II is to cut away territories for supply lines so they can be weakened. Whenever you need more resources the game will send you a warning, then you only have two options either lower your production rate or ask your allies for resources.
Factories and researches work in a typical fashion of tech trees and production lines, but a new addition to the franchise that goes in hand with those, are the national focus which not only will help you reach certain technology or political stand, but can also nail a historic moment, such as the development of the nuclear bomb or the declaration of war with another country.
This is held together by the UI which is clean and easy to navigate, however at times it can be cumbersome. Using certain commands can be overly complicated, but it hardly affected my experience with the game. Also, this UI is an improvement over previous Hearts of Iron games. Navigating through the menus is a lot easier now, and there are fewer pop-ups that noise the screen. Overall, this makes the whole experience a lot more accessible, and smooth.
world mapIn the world map, you'll get a grasp of your army's divisions around the globe. Your fighting forces are split into three different categories, land forces, air force, and navy. Both Navy and Air Force are pretty straight forward. They are used for Air and Sea superiority. If you get to control any of those, your land troops will easily get through those lands or seas. Positioning and administration of reinforcements, as well the knowledge of when to push or fallback, are the key.
For example, my troops were in Africa when I was playing as England. I got overly confident that my division could crush the Italian forces. So I just issued a front-line attack with a straight offensive right attack into the heart of Egypt. While I was focusing on other things, my troops managed to push into Cairo. Sadly, they got surrounded by Italian forces. After that moment, I realized that securing front-lines and garrison troops is more important than just broad historical knowledge.
The game's map is highly detailed. The terrain is now textured and fully modeled; from snowy mountains to arid deserts. Now you don't need to click on the map or have the geographical knowledge to know where your troops are fighting. This is important depending on the type of units you have. For example, motorized units will have a harder time going through mountains.
Also, there are nice particle effects to show rains, sandstorms, and blizzards. They go in hand with the night and day cycle, making the game´s map more than just a plain and boring game board. This is what makes the bulk of the presentation. When you zoom in, you can also see a general model of the troop you sent, either infantry fighting with tanks or planes fighting over the area. Of course, you don´t spectate highly-detailed battles since this feature is to reinforce the idea of troops fighting.
There´s a serviceable sound design. Resources or political warnings have their distinct sound, and whenever you zoom into the battle, you can hear gunshots or cannon growling. But there´s nothing to talk about. However, the music is pretty amazing, glorious, epic, and sometimes melancholic. It could fit in every World War II movie. But this music could be more context sensitive. It is something that you´ll rarely notice. In the end, you are going to listen to your own music anyways.
Let me do a personal recommendation. Go get some albums from the World War II themed Swedish power metal band Sabaton, and crank up the volume. Somehow, it perfectly fits, and the developers seem to know this.
Command and conquerAs a new addition to the series, you no longer need to issue individual commands to each unit or even make your whole army march to a single location. Now you can assign a group of divisions as an army under the command of a General you can choose. The generals have the special buff for the army of your choices. Once you do that you have many options for your army. They are also known as battle plans. They range from planning sea or airborne invasions to establishing a front-line on a border or assigning an offensive line to a target area. This action will automate your army, and they'll start mobilizing towards a target. Battle plans help a lot for doing coordinated efforts between different armies, like pushing the front-line with the bulk of your army, and having your armor and motorized division do a flanking maneuver at the same time.
The game can be paused using five different speed settings. Each next setting is faster than the previous one. As always in this kind of games, pausing the time is mandatory. This is especially true in the late war when everything becomes truly chaotic and you need to coordinate different theaters of war. This is the time when assigning armies, front-lines, offensive and fallback lines become handy. Thanks to the battle plans, assigning airborne and naval perimeters is an easier task, meaning that you spend less time micromanaging and more time focusing on the big picture, which is the whole point of the entire franchise after all.
Preparing the operation Overlord (D-day, 6 of June 1944) on previous games, especially in Hearts of Iron III, required an herculean amount of micromanagement. Thankfully, this time, you only need to pause the game and gather the troops, or set gathering points from where the invasion is going to take off. Then assign landing points to different groups. It doesn't matter if they are naval or airborne, they all will be handled the same way. After that, un-pause the game and wait for the action to unfold.
However, this very complex and task heavy game is not easy for newcomers. Hearts of Iron IV has a tutorial that is intuitive and good at explaining the mechanics of the game. The tutorial makes sure you know it before you start playing. However, the tutorial is only a tip of the iceberg, the mechanics of this game is deeper and more complex. To aid players the developers have released tutorials on their YouTube channel and created a Wikipedia page that can always help you.
Although this only makes a stiffer learning curve, it also makes the game more rewarding for those who dare to venture into this game.
VerdictHearts of Iron IV is a game that might have a stiff learning curve and an interface that sometimes gets into the way of what you intend, but this is the easiest and friendlier entry in the series. If you don´t mind investing some time into learning the game mechanics, you´ll be rewarded by one of the most compelling strategy games to be released this year. A treat for World War II buff, strategy fans and the ones who always wanted to experience the World War II from a political perspective.
Whenever I sit down to play this game, I know that I´m not going to play it for the next 6 hours. Only to any notion of reality since I only got to think about my next decision as a leader of a troubling nation or a battle plan that will achieve the victory over my enemies.
WARNING: Approach this game with care, if you are not careful you might start playing for hours without end, thinking only about this game for the rest of your life. This game is involving, deep and complex.
| + Highly addictive|| - Highly addictive|
| + Highly rewarding|| - Stiff learning curve|
| + Highly educational|| - Some over-complicated commands|
| + Clean user interface|
| + Battle plans|
| + Simple resources management|