Paradox is certainly getting some good mileage out of their Europa Universalis engine. I haven’t had much experience with these games in the past, but the franchise is growing on me. Heart of Iron Platinum is a re-release of Paradox’s 2002 epic World War 2 strategy game. Like other games in this series, Hearts of Iron plays something like a cross between a traditional RTS game and a boardgame.
The premise is straightforward enough. The game begins at one of four points between the years of 1936 and 1948. Players can choose to control just about any country in the world, but the focus of the game is on the major players of WW2, such as Germany, Britain, Japan, and the US. While it might be amusing to play a small Asian province, the game is much more exciting when taking the helm of one of the major powers. At the end of 1948, the side controlling the most victory points wins. Victory points are gained by controlling various strategically important locations on the map, such as London or Berlin. Of course, it’s not a simple matter to wield enough military and diplomatic power to gain and keep these important provinces.
Like in many strategy games, there is a need to accumulate and efficiently utilize various resources, such as Coal, Rubber, and Oil. At the beginning of the game, none of the major world powers have convenient access to all the necessary resources, so some acquisitions will need to take place in order to keep things running smoothly. In addition to balancing natural resources, countries also need to keep an eye on the actual number of people available for fighting. Run out of Manpower, and the country has no one to drive the tanks or fly the planes.
Speaking of tanks and planes, there is quite an impressive array of units in Hearts of Iron. Thankfully, the game organizes these units in such a way as to make things flow very smoothly. Units are organized into armies (fleets, divisions, etc.) under the control of a Leader. Many of the leaders are historical representations of famous commanders from the war, and each has a varying level of skill and command abilities. As these commanders head into the field of battle, they accrue experience and are able to increase those leadership skills. The armies only consist of one particular type of unit—there are no mixed ground and air unit armies here. This adds not only a dose of realism to the game, but also makes for some interesting strategic and tactical decisions in trying to coordinate attacks from several different land, sea, and air avenues.
These coordinations are made quite simple by a rather nifty feature found in the troop movement command. Whenever a particular army is moved from one province to another, a small popup command window allows the commander to arrive at a very specific time. Therefore, it’s a simple matter to command the naval fleet and bomber wings to attack a few hours before the ground troops arrive, even when the air units could make the trip days more quickly than the land-based forces. And, as the game marches on and several different battlefronts open up, this ease in command is a very good thing.
Hearts of Iron is an epic game. With a dizzying number of provinces on the world map, there are often dozens of battlefronts at any given time for a particular country. This gets quite overwhelming at times, especially when first playing the game. Combat itself is pretty simple, however. When the stacks of enemy armies meet in a particular province, they start fighting. The computer controls all of the actual combat, which is influenced by the abilities of the army’s leader and the technological advances made by the embattled units. Once an army’s numbers are sufficiently reduced, they’ll attempt to retreat to safe provinces and the opposing units will gain control of the province.
Technology also plays a large role in the progression of the War. Players have a multitude of choices of which research paths to take, focusing on everything from various War Doctrines to infantry improvements to harnessing nuclear weaponry. As is the case in most strategy games, the more resources poured into technological research, the less available for the building of units and infrastructure. Unit building is actually a rather slow process. Building troops can take as little as a few months, while building an aircraft carrier can take more than a year. Careful planning is necessary to figure out when to begin to push the unit buildup, when to concentrate on technological advances, and when to actually enter into the War itself.
Hearts of Iron also boasts a fairly unique diplomacy system. As time progresses, countries gain diplomatic clout. This resource can be used to attempt to sway other countries and provinces toward a particular political viewpoint (Communism, Fascism, or Democracy), to apply non-military pressure, to incite a coup, to set up a shadow government, or to form alliances. The effectiveness of each diplomatic action is dependant, in part, on the abilities of the leadership and Cabinet of the country. Each country has a Leader and several cabinet members. Each potential cabinet member has a specific trait which lends various military or diplomatic bonuses when they fill a given cabinet position. These bonuses include increasing effectiveness of diplomatic actions, increasing certain unit’s military effectiveness, or decreasing the costs of some of the various facets of the game.
Given the overall complexity of Hearts of Iron, it’s surprising that Paradox found such a smooth interface. Everything is quickly available with just a few clicks or hotkeys, and helpful tooltips pop up for just about everything on the screen. After a short amount of time I was up and running efficiently, if not effectively. There is also a decent tutorial to get everything rolling, for those who like to jump right in without careful perusal of the manual.
An epic WW2 strategy game encompassing just about every major and minor power of the War. Sometimes frantic, sometimes overwhelming, but quite a bit of fun throughout.