Developed by Paradox Interactive By Blood Alone is the latest expansion pack for Hearts Of Iron IV. This new DLC features expanded focus trees for Italy, Ethiopia, and Switzerland. As well as a new Air Craft designer and a reworked peace conference system amongst a range of updates added into this latest release. It goes without saying that it features content that the community has been wanting for some time; especially in the case of the update to Italy.
Hearts Of Iron IV: By Blood Alone has been a challenge to review, especially given how difficult a certain nation can be. But more on that later. And as an avid fan of the title I have to say that I’ve enjoyed many of the new additions that have been made to the game. Even if I don’t feel they are presented in the best ways. And that the peace conference system isn’t quite the revolution I had hoped it would be.
Story – Once Upon a Time in Italy
Okay, it goes without saying that being a game based around real events Hearts Of Iron IV: By Blood Alone doesn’t really have a story. At least not in the traditional sense. It is a title that sticks close to real-world history as well as adds a few ways to allow players to go down alternate history paths. As such, I can’t really review it as I would do a traditional narrative video game. Plus I’m not even going to pretend I have the historical knowledge to vet the accuracy of the options presented. And as such I’m looking at this more about how it executes its text. And in that regard this game rather well.
I do wish that there was more flavour text; this being text that, whilst not impacting upon the gameplay gives insight into the world and events. This would have been a great opportunity to give a historical insight into how things were in Ethiopia during the war with Italy. Beyond that, from a more utilitarian point of view, I do wish that some descriptions on the Focus Tree were clearer. As it is very easy to find yourself heading down dead ends, or with some of the finer gameplay elements not being fully explained as they really should be.
Gameplay – By Blood Home Alone
The two biggest additions to the game beyond the focus trees are the revamped Peace Conference system and the new Air Craft designer. Two things which really change the flow of games for all nations. Well, one does far more than the other. I will be blunt dear reader, I was never a fan of the Peace Conference system in Hearts Of Iron IV up until this point; it felt underdeveloped, was prone to border gore, and it was hard to get a decent settlement for your efforts. As such, I always used a mod to give me full control over it. By Blood Alone changes that, making the system more involved.
Previously you would be given a share of points based on your efforts during the war. These points were then exchanged for what you wanted during the conference; land, liberating nations, puppeting your foes etc. You could skip your turn in the conference, this would give you chance to bank points to spend on higher-valued prizes. But could risk another power taking what you wanted. In BBA this changes to a more dynamic system which has a range of new options.
Winning The Peace
These new options include (but are not limited to) demilitarizing areas, taking resource rights, and even taking the defeated nation’s navy. And within the peace system now you are able to contest the demands of other participants that round. Whilst some of the new options might seem odd to some players given that most nations only really fight in World War II and that is it, it can prove useful for smaller nations and any that find themselves in an early war.
However, if you were hoping that this new system would prevent ‘border gore’ then you will be disappointed. Whilst it seems that you are less likely to see snaking paths of land gained by the AI it can still give some strange results. In one game World War II ended with four Germanys, in another five Frances, all caused by nations taking and releasing nations, puppeting it from one province and then changing the government on whatever was left. Sure, by that point my games were winding down. But still, anyone hoping for a cleaner-looking end map will be disappointed.
Into the Sky!
The new Air Craft designer is the second biggest change to the title. Allowing you to create and modify your own aircraft. Up until now, all you could do was spend Air Experience to upgrade a stat. Now you can fully design your own from a selection of parts. Some were added from the revamped air tech tree, and others from semi-related techs; unlocking anti-tank gives you parts that give bonuses to anti-tank planes. And honestly, it is a lot of fun to see what parts can do what and what combinations you can come up with.
Want a fighter that also doubles as close air support? You can do it! Want close air support that doubles as a spy plane? You’ve got it? Want a medium plane with enough guns to tear down pretty much anything that is thrown at it? Done! Its versatility of it is rather amazing. Allowing even small nations a chance to build craft they wouldn’t be able to support thanks to being able to make multi-purpose aircraft. Sure, the more complex the design the longer it will take to build. But that is the balance you need to strike.
However, if I am to be critical I do feel that the nations included to show off this tech are, to be blunt, the worst choices given that their starting industry and focuses don’t really lend themselves to making a powerful air force. Ethiopia starts at war with a vastly unindustrialised nation, Switzerland is too small to support the more powerful designs, and Italy gains few production bonuses to aircraft. If you want to get a full feel on what this part of the DLC can do ironically I’d recommend not playing as the nations who are expanded upon in this DLC! On a minor note, I do wish there was a way of saving some designs to be able to load them between play-throughs rather than rebuilding them each time.
It isn’t a bad feature. In the right hands, it can do devastating things, providing you have the industry for it. However, this isn’t quite the revolutionary change that it feels it should be. Especially seeing as at this point, even with this new system, it still feels more cost and time effective to just make a ton of fighters and CAS over tactical/strategic bombers or whatever other madcap inventions you might devise.
By War Alone
In addition to all of this, there are new focus trees for Italy, Switzerland, Ethiopia, and the various regions that comprise Ethiopia. The trees themselves are fine for what they are. And keep up with the quality you’d come to expect of most recent Hearts Of Iron IV DLCs. Though the difficulty and experience of them vary greatly. With some being rather straight forwards and easy to understand for players old and new. And some feel like they are geared more towards veterans.
The focus tree for Italy, as well as their campaign in general, is the most traditional compared to the others in this DLC. To go through all the changes would take too long, as it is one of the largest trees. Offering expanded options to maintain and develop your colonies, and upgrade your army. As well as a score of historical and alt-history paths to go down.
A Hitaly in Italy
Almost all of these are dependent on your successes or failures in Ethiopia; you will start the game at war with them. And how you do there can be the catalyst for a more powerful Italy under Mussolini, or one under Communist, Royal, Democratic, or even the rule of rivals in his government. If I am to be critical about it, as fun and intuitive as it is, it does feel like it takes too long to get into the alternate history paths, this is due to the new balance of power system which is present in all the updated nations. Certain paths can only be unlocked once a certain faction gains enough influence. Influence can be gained from completing focuses or from a selection of decisions.
However, some of these decisions can take up to a year to be done a second or third time. Meaning you need to be careful not to accidentally do something that tips the power too far one way; some foreign policy decisions can boost influence for the party in charge, however, this isn’t mentioned in the focus descriptions. Meaning it isn’t too hard to accidentally lock yourself out of a certain path due to expanding your empire too far too soon.
Speaking of locking yourself out of paths, Switzerland’s path is the second easiest (or most difficult depending on your point of view) in the DLC. And is far more centred around the balance of power mechanics. As well as retaining political balance as a whole; you are a neutral nation, and if you lean too far in favour of one side in the war you can and will be invaded by the other. For such a small nation that is unable to do much of anything for the vast majority of the game the political wrangling you need to balance is weirdly engaging.
However, if you do certain paths and take certain policies it is easy to lock yourself out of large sections of the tree. In my initial run, I found myself getting locked out of the majority of the military tree because I had advanced beyond the balance of power mechanics. Thus rendering the requirements for it void. And with it not being evident that was the military tree (honestly it looked more like a neutral path) I was left with an even more underpowered army than I really should have. Still, with the right planning, you can grow into a decent nation. One that can offer some rather powerful buffs to their allies. Providing you don’t get wiped off the map early on trying to go down one of the paths too quickly.
Trouble in Ethiopia
The final (well, kind of) nation to get expanded upon is Ethiopia. They start at war with Italy and if they win they could change the direction that Italy itself goes down. I say “If” as this is due to just how hard this nation is. When you start your campaign Ethiopia is a vastly underdeveloped nation with a modestly sized and under-equipped army. As such most of your game will be spent doing some intense micro to hold them off. All whilst you either build up your power to take the fight to them, seek help from the Leauge Of Nations or the Soviet Union, or decide to throw your lot in with the fascists and become a puppet.
Each political path has great consequences depending on which you pick; if you choose to stand and fight you’ll largely be on your own facing a far more powerful nation. Seek help from the League and you can inflict some powerful debuffs on Italy and fight them on your own terms. But you will be limited in what territory you can get at the end of the war. The Communist path can result in you becoming a puppet of the Soviet Union. And the fascist path will drag you into war with the Allies when the war comes. It feels like a nation front loaded with content. Because as soon as that war ends there isn’t much to do. And if it drags on too long you might not have the time to build up to expand or gain extra territory.
There is also a bonus nation included, this being the Sultanate of Aussa. It and the other releasable nations within Ethiopia gain their own mini-focus trees. However, it is just the same shared tree with a few cosmetic changes here and there. They aren’t as in-depth as the others but it is neat I suppose if you ever want to play as one of them and reform/replace Ethiopia in the region. Incidentally whilst you can release and balkanise Italy but the nations spawned by that do not gain their own trees and instead have a generic one.
As a whole, the changes brought in Hearts Of Iron IV: By Blood Alone have been interesting to play in this review. Whilst many are welcome (like giving Italy a decent focus tree) this isn’t the major shake-up it feels it should be. Don’t get me wrong, all the changes are good in and of themself. But it feels like a collection of ideas that oftentimes don’t sit well together or feel underdeveloped (like the balance of power concept). But I suppose that is where the modding community will race to our aid as always.
Graphics & Audio – Hearts Of Ironing
As one would expect the soundtrack for Hearts Of Iron IV: By Blood Alone features a collection of new tracks all of which I enjoyed listening to during my playthrough for this review. Generally speaking, I don’t really have the game’s soundtrack playing whilst I play. And will usually have like a podcast or something going instead. But with how good the music is in this update I may do that a little less in future. Or at least until I grab a few achievements here and there.
The graphics are largely unchanged from the base game. With any changes and alterations to them relatively minor things. Or changes that are generally on the interface side of things; alterations to menus and such. And for the most part, Paradox has done a fine job in producing graphics that are easy to view; the new peace conference system is easy enough to read (even if some icons are too small). And the plane designer is easy to navigate. The only issue I have comes with the new medal system. Basically once a division has achieved something great it can earn a medal to boost its stats. Plus you can promote the officer from that division to a general and they may start out with a trait. However, how this works isn’t clear from how it is presented. And it isn’t obvious where you find this stuff out intuitively.
Hearts Of Iron IV: By Blood Alone was reviewed on PC.