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.
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