Paradox’s Europa Universalis engine is fired up once again for the WWII strategy game, Hearts of Iron 2. HoI2 still boasts all the crunchy bits that made the original a wargaming paradise to some, an overwhelming chore to others. And while there are a few noticeable changes throughout the game, such as a slightly better AI and some improved interfaces, die-hard Hearts of Iron fans will be able to jump right in. Unfortunately, much like its predecessor, HoI2 is still unfriendly to the newbie or casual wargamer.
Hearts of Iron 2 allows players to take the helm of just about any country in the world, and guide them through the tumultuous years leading up to and through the second World War. While many players will opt to choose the Big Players, such as Germany, Japan, and Great Britain, it’s just as possible to attempt to hold one’s own (or even have an influence) with one of the smaller or more out-of-the-way countries. Regardless of the country chosen, the game begins at one of several points from 1936 though the War, and ends in 1947. Victory, such as it is, seems to be more a personal sense of accomplishment than anything else. Sure, the Axis, Allies, or Comintern can “win” by controlling the most victory-point provinces, but when playing a smaller country it is often a victory to simply retain sovereign control. As in the original, I find the lack of short-term goals or victory conditions to be a bit of a put off, but many will enjoy the open-endedness.
Hearts of Iron 2 is a real-time strategy game, but just barely. I found that if I actually allowed the game to progress without frequent pauses to issue orders, plan technological research, devise production schedules, and attend to the flood of pop-up event windows, I was quickly wiped out. In fact, I spent much more time in “paused” mode than I ever did with the clock running. Why Paradox didn’t just make this some sort of turn-based game is a bit of mystery. Whether or not the clock is running, there’s a tremendous amount to do to keep the country afloat.
Resource gathering is very similar to the original. Each province of a given country produces the resources and manpower necessary to fund the war effort. There are a handful of common resources that most provinces can easily make, and some rarer commodities that must be traded. The production screen itself is a bit cleaner this time around, and building the appropriate troop, aircraft, or naval unit is a breeze. Knowing which unit to build is quite another matter, however. There are a dizzying amount of units available, and the choices constantly change as technology improves through the war years. In addition to producing units, each province is also able to invest its resources to infrastructure improvement, implementing everything from roads and rail to AA guns to factory improvements.
The technology tree is also a bit improved. No longer are energies simply dumped toward a given technology—now, research teams are hired to pursue breakthroughs in particular areas. While the end result is still the same, there is just a better feel to commissioning the Ford Motor Company to lend a hand with infrastructure improvement, while giving Dr. Oppenheimer a try at developing some more…interesting ordinance.
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