The biggest complaint fans of Hearts of Iron II had was that is just wasn’t quite a long enough game. Sure, it spanned the entirety of WWII with oodles of detail, tons of strategy goodness, and enough technological and diplomatic options to make my head spin, but for many the hard-stop date happened all too soon. While history says WWII wound down in the mid 1940s, many players’ virtual empires were just hitting their stride at that time. Paradox heard their fans’ cry, and brought us Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday. With a timeline extended to 1954, players are able to more fully explore the world in which a new and terrifying weapon had arrived: nuclear arms. As happened historically, the race to split the atom adds a complex and intriguing twist to the familiar Hearts of Iron II gameplay.
Those familiar with Hearts of Iron II will find it incredibly easy to dive right into Doomsday. While the added game length and nuclear options make for some interesting twists, the core game is almost completely unchanged. Those unfamiliar with the original can take a quick look at my Hearts of Iron II review for my take on Doomsday’s predecessor. Doomsday brings the same depth, dizzying learning curve, and slick and simple graphics and interface that Hearts of Iron II brought to the gaming table.
As I indicated before, Doomsday allows players to continue their war until 1954. As with Hearts of Iron II, players have the option of taking the helm of a world power, beginning at various points in the war, beginning with 1936. Added to these familiar start times is the new “what if” Doomsday scenario, beginning in 1945. In this, the US has just dropped their nuclear payload on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and relations between the US and the Soviet Union quickly deteriorate to the point where the US unleashes yet another nuclear strike on Soviet targets. The Doomsday scenario drops players right into the thick of things, with the Soviets beginning their march on Europe. While I usually prefer the slow buildup of infrastructure and units allowed by choosing an earlier start date, the chaotic “into the fire” approach of the Doomsday scenario was certainly exciting. In addition to the Doomsday scenario itself, Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday also includes a few smaller “what if” battles to test players’ mettle.
Nuclear power wouldn’t be possible without some amazing advances in technology, and as such Doomsday opens up many new branches on its technology tree. Not only are nuclear advances brought to the table, the extended gameplay allows for the research and fielding of 1950s-era units. While the new units help maintain the feel of the new decade, I never felt they added a great deal of depth to the expansion. The race for nuclear superiority, however, did change things a great deal. Finding the proper balance between researching nuclear capabilities and maintaining cutting edge conventional research is a difficult one, and I never quite got the hang of things. Thankfully, for those who are unwilling or unable to discover their own nuclear secrets, Doomsday introduces a new diplomatic tactic: intelligence.
I was a bit surprised that spies and counterspies didn’t make it into the original Hearts of Iron II, seeing as they can prove invaluable to an empire’s plans of conquest. As is usual with my luck with Doomsday, I was never very good at figuring out the best use of my intelligence agents. However, the computer did quite a bang-up job of constantly learning my heard-earned secrets. In the hands of a capable player, or the more-competent-than-ever AI, the intelligence option is necessary and rewarding.
Is the addition of a few extra years and nuclear options enough to make Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday a worthwhile expansion? This all depends on your reaction to the original. I wasn’t enthralled with the original, and likewise Doomsday didn’t quite manage to capture my attention. It’s a very good game, just not quite made for my tastes. But, for those who just couldn’t get enough of the strategic depth and polished gameplay of the original, Doomsday offers a refreshing new twist on a familiar theme. As a standalone expansion, Doomsday also includes everything found in the original Hearts of Iron II at a very reasonable price, so newcomers to the series have a great opportunity to introduce themselves to one of the most solid, most detailed WWII games on the market.
This stand-alone expansion delivers extended gameplay and adds nuclear strategies to one of the most detailed WWII games on the market. Great for fans of the series who wanted just a few more years to complete their world conquests.
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