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Published on July 5th, 2016 | by KBMOD Community

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Review – Hearts of Iron IV

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Empire39 is a KBMOD community member (and has been for over three years!). Anyone can submit content to the site by following the process at https://kbmod.com/contribute/.

Warfare hasn’t been this engaging and deep – yet still easy to get acquainted with – in quite awhile.

The Hearts of Iron series developed by Paradox Development Studio has a long and storied history back to the first release in 2002. The games have all the usual trappings of your classic Paradox grand strategy game; loads of byzantine mechanics, a laundry list of numbers that affect everything, and all of that complicated stuff that lives under the skin of all games. The difference is that in grand strategy games, they’re presented to you with the expectation that you’ll understand it.

So here’s some brief background of Hearts of Iron IV for you: the game is set from the years 1936-1948, and the mission is to guide a nation of your choosing through World War II. While the game presents the “Big Seven” (United States, Britain, France, Germany, Soviet Union, Italy, and Japan) as the best experiences, you can control any nation on earth, though your experience playing as one of the “minor” nations other than Poland or China will likely not be the best.

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To say that Hearts of Iron is a pure game about war is a half-truth, however. You are in charge of pretty much everything from top to bottom of your nation. You need to control your nation diplomatically, militarily, and socially. Not only are you marching around troops on a map a la Risk, you’re allocating your resources and factories to keep them supplied, you’re managing relations with other nations, while all at once trying to keep your nation united and content in the face of war. When you start conquering other nations, you’ll need to ensure that they don’t rise in revolution. It’s a game where you don’t need to necessarily micromanage, but you need to keep on top of things. Your nation needs to be technologically and militarily ready for war at all times.

This is all great in the abstract but in order for people to get a true sense of what the game is like, I’ll tell an anecdote. In my first playthrough, rather than play as a major power, I decided to see if I could turn back the fascist tide as Poland. Poland has a unique focus tree (sort of like a mission system) that allows them to do some weird stuff. So I went ahistorical, and formed Międzymorze – better known in English as “Intermarium.” This proposed Polish-led alliance would unite all the countries between the Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean Seas in an effort to foil the Germans and Soviets, and never came to be in real life. However, I failed miserably. I could only get the Baltic countries to join Międzymorze, and when the Germans came knocking in 1939, I folded instantly as the Polish did in real life. I didn’t know the mechanics well, and I had made a foolish choice of alliances.

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I started up again as Poland; this time, battle-hardened and determined to fight. I turned “historical AI focus” off, which means that the AI controlling the other nations will randomly do things in ahistorical ways, which can lead to some zany results. In this life, I flipped my country to Communist and joined the Soviet-lead Comintern, a pretty grand alliance block. I used my failures as fuel to build up the Polish army, air force, and navy into a powerful force capable of stemming the German tide. I spent two years building forts on the border, and I was ready to defend.

However, the ahistorical AI went nuts. Britain invaded the Netherlands and Belgium to “protect” them from Nazi aggression. Hitler bypassed the events that lead him historically to invade Poland; instead, he used Hungarian claims to invade Romania to get those sweet oil fields in early 1940. The Allies joined in, and suddenly, the Nazis are in a precarious situation. Not only do they have to defend the French border, but also the Belgian and Dutch border, as the British have taken these nations over. Most of their troops are trying to beat Romania, leaving our border undermanned. I smelled blood in the water.

Poland declared war on May 23, 1940. My men stormed into East Prussia and made significant gains into Germany, slowly but steadily. The Soviets provided support in Romania, while the Allies were holding the line in the west. Poland did almost almost all of the work, pushing the Nazis westward until we took Berlin in the summer of 1941. Germany fell about a year later, with Hitler fleeing the country for Italy. After the poor useless Italians were mauled, the war was over in February 1943. (Note: Japan had never joined, as they’d been bogged down in China.)

The Peace Conference of Berlin began, and the victorious nations began to carve up Europe. As I did the lion’s share of the work, Poland mostly decided the fate of the world. I took much of Germany’s land and puppeted what was left, along with Denmark, Austria, and Hungary. The Soviets did a good job of puppeting the Italians and nearly all the Balkan countries, meaning our alliance controlled most of Europe – a great victory for the Comintern. The Brits and the French took minor bits and bobs – parts of Africa, et cetera – and I thought the peace conference went reasonably well, at least logically.

And then the Chinese showed up.

China joined the Allies with about six months left in the war (DAMMIT, CHIANG KAI-SHEK) and provided nominal air support when the Allies stormed Axis-controlled Iran (long story). As far as I know, Chinese guns never directly fired at Axis soldiers. However, this air support gave them enough “war participation” (one of those arbitrary numbers I mentioned earlier) to ANNEX TURKEY. Seriously. Turkey went fascist, and the Chinese provided enough bombing support for them to illogically demand Turkey.

This particular universe left me feeling uneasy about the game’s AI, and a trip to the Paradox’s forums showed me countless other abominations. Greece annexing half of Russia, for example, or Yugoslavia taking most of Germany. The peace conferences are currently shockingly broken. The combat AI isn’t fantastic; the war plans you draw up are usually not performed terribly well by the computer, so you probably still want to direct your little army dudes personally. It’s a step up, in my opinion, for the dense-as-hell “order of battle” system that exists in Hearts of Iron III (*winces in pain), but it’s not great either.

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Mechanically, Hearts of Iron IV is much easier to dive into than the earlier games in the series. While still remarkably dense – I have forty-six hours logged in the game and I still sometimes figure out new mechanics – it’s far streamlined in comparison to the older games. It’s relatively easy to jump in and figure out what is best for your country, though the tutorial is mostly bad and doesn’t ready you enough for war. The interface isn’t particularly great either. It’s all grey and green, and the tooltips that pop up when you hover over something are not always the best written or most explanatory. I watched many hours of YouTubers playing the tutorial to really get the hang of this thing.

That being said, I really love what I’ve been able to experience in Hearts of Iron IV. The stories that it can tell when you really allow it to go a bit crazy are fun, as is the ahistorical nonsense that can happen. More than any other strategy game I’ve ever played, this game makes you feel like a true armchair general that is doing everything he can do to keep his nation alive. The option to turn off historical focuses ensure that no two games will be identical. This is a game that gives you stories to tell.

Pros:
Incredible depth and customizability for your nation
Ahistorical paths ensure that no two games are the same
Chronicle-esque feel. The game allows you to tell a story.
Truly in command of the war from top to bottom
Cons:
Very dense – hard to initially breach
AI is a bit wonky currently
Interface could use some cleaning up
 

 

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Summary: If you’re looking for a fun, easy breeze of a game, this is not it. But if you’re a history buff or a strategy gamer and you’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn everything there is to learn about it, you will feel vindicated when you find victory and glory on the field of battle.

4.5



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