It is tough to talk about Hearts of Iron without commenting on its
lineage. Vis-à-vis Paradox's Europa Univeralis II, Hearts of Iron
literally uses the same graphics, interface and underlying engine to
tackle the tumultuous period from 1936 to 1948 when the world went to
war and conflicting ideologies openly clashed with one another. It's
evident that a lot of work has gone into Hearts of Iron. Every nation,
great, middle or small power is playable and each comes with its own
biography, a list of leaders as well as a technology tree that mirrors
historical developments into the post WWII era.
For those who aren't familiar with Paradox titles, Hearts of Iron is a
real time wargame. To the uneducated observer, it looks inspired from
games like Risk, Axis and Allies, so on and so forth. In spite of that,
it's actually fairly complex. Diplomacy between nations involves
something other than simply declaring war on someone. You can annex a
nation, setup autonomous puppet governments, demand territories and
exert influence. Hearts of Iron splits the major powers into three
camps: the Comintern, Axis and Allies. Britain, for example, is the
leading nation amongst Allies and it becomes her job to influence and
woo nations to the Allied cause. Democratic nations can't simply
declare war on a whim. You have to have public support and that adds to
the "problems" of being one of the good guys.
Most people will think this is a typical wargame when they see miniature
military divisions displayed on top of provinces. Combat is a passive
affair; events statistically churned out based on terrain, leadership
and unit attributes. You can appoint different military leaders. You
can loan armies out as expeditionary forces. You can execute
co-ordinated attacks (each unit can move to a destination based on a
timetable) and as befitting the nature of WWII, Hearts of Iron models
the naval, ground and air war of the time.
Beside that, you also have a country to manage. Your military units
won't get anywhere if they aren't supplied and they'll slowly wither
away if you aren't in allied territory or supplied via ship. WWII was
also known for its innovation. Hence, conducting industrial, military,
electronics and theoretical research is crucial to staying at the
forefront of the war. When you have to wield infantry wading around in
boots in the Sudan and your opponent drives around all of Africa in
halftracks, you'll know why you're at a disadvantage if you depend on
Great War technology.
To maintain research and war, you'll have to put your nation's resources
to work. Raw materials, attributed to each province you control, are
used for industry but resources like oil are directly applicable to the
war effort. Industry (ICs) is in turn used for building machines of
war, fueling the population's basic needs, generating war supplies and
acting as credit for research. You'll need to pay special attention in
how you focus your industries. Too little attention to your population
and dissent will foment revolts. Too few supplies created and you won't
have much of an army anymore.
Paradox has spent a lot of time fusing real world events into the game.
At specific junctures, historical events like Germany's Anschluss, or
Stalin's officer purge will figure into the game. Having played through
Hearts of Iron through varying difficulty levels, I can attest that this
sometimes makes the game eerily realistic in that the powers actually
perform on WWII timetables or it makes for alternate histories that are
completely wacky. Often, some minor power will come over and annex a
few territories or a perfectly sound nation will disappear off the map.
Much of this is due to the spotty AI in Hearts of Iron. Some nations
are simply not aggressive enough while others are too aggressive.
Decisions made by your fellow leaders can also be pretty dumb. In one
game, the Soviet Union was almost driven to the Pacific Ocean by the
German army. Yet a historical event where Soviet Union sues for peace
will restore more Soviet possessions than German ones. Germany didn't
get a good bargain at all in that. Another scenario involves some
middle European powers. I spent a lot of time influencing the Low
Countries and Denmark, hoping they would allow me to place troops there
to help the French defense effort. The Low Countries and France were
overrun but Denmark continued to remain neutral well into the 1940s.
Add a few more weird things: Poland still holding on as neutral in the
1940s and France always crumbling far sooner than its six-week
expiration date. This is an AI problem simply because if you play
France as an aggressor and you take Blum and Daladier out of their
appeasement dream land, you can easily fend off German advances into
There's questionable merit in including so many playable nations. Some,
like playing Haiti or Luxemburg, is completely absurd. Your one
province will not support more than one army. If you play the
Netherlands or Belgium, you'd think you could retreat to your badly
garrisoned colonial holdings but the fact that you can't move your
capital and base of resources away to another province hinders you from
performing well as a government in exile. Long after Amsterdam fell, my
resources were still being deducted from the German held Amsterdam.
Most provinces, particularly in the colonial areas, have low
infrastructure and industrial capacity. Because it takes up to a year
to improve them by one point and because the entire campaign is only a
dozen or so years, there's really no incentive to say, as Belgium or
Netherlands, seriously invest in your overseas colonies. Extending the
campaign would, indeed, promote more care in taking advantage of
underdeveloped areas like Asia and Africa.
While Paradox has invested a lot of time in maintaining the authenticity
of the era, there are a few hiccups in terms of realism. Macau, for
example, is Portuguese territory in Asia. Its size on the map dwarfs
the real significance of the colony. Then there's the fact that Hong
Kong is owned by the British but the territories of Kowloon are
classified as a non British possession. And in terms of other
alliances, like the British Empire and Commonwealth, Paradox has loosely
brushed over the significance of extra-Allied, Axis and Comintern
relationships. According to the in-game fiction, the Commonwealth
gained "independence" from the Balfour Declaration and Westminster act,
which most certainly was not true as the Commonwealth members (save
South Africa) were still bound to Britain. But Britain cannot really
marshal the forces of the Commonwealth. Conversely, as a Commonwealth
country, you basically can't depend on Britain's laissez-fare AI leader
for shared research or a cohesive battle plan.
If Hearts of Iron sounds complex, it partly isn't. It's made complex
because of the user interface, which is anything but logical and
intuitive. There are too many instances where doing something simple
can be needlessly complicated. Adjusting the percentage sliders for
your industry, for example, should be easy. Double-clicking it to fix
the percentage is tricky and even if you do it, it really isn't all that
fixed. If your industrial capacity decreases overall, you won't meet
your quotas and the game won't tell you that 20% of your IC dedicated to
supplies won't foot the bill for your army any longer.
Hearts of Iron truly lacks an executive assistant. There should be a
briefing by your ministers and secretaries to inform you of important
events: whether your raw materials are becoming exhausted or whether an
army is soon to be dissolved because it's out of supply. Simple things
like these could be notified via an advisor panel, making it less a
chore to manage.
There are other shoddy aspects of the game that need attention. Trading
on the world market is fairly lopsided, particularly when the war begins
and you have to trade two, three or more of your commodity for one.
Setting up the deals themselves would hardly be called intuitive. Other
jarring errors include the fact that you can't cancel production of
military units; at least not without the addition of a patch.
In addition to intermittent supply problems, quirky air forces and
paratroopers, you'll find a whole host of bugs discussed by players on
the Hearts of Iron message board (which ironically, is listed under the
Europa Universalis site). Europa Universalis II becomes a double-edged
cause célèbre for Hearts of Iron. I'm not sure how patched up Europa
Universalis II was but it couldn't be as rough as Hearts of Iron. If
anything, Hearts of Iron should be more refined because of the Europa
Universalis II experience.
When I first played this game, I thought the interface was so
cumbersome, I just quit after thirty minutes. But those who know me
know I have a soft spot for WWII so I came back to it, played through
the insignificant tutorials and leafed through the vapid and meaningless
manual. After a few hours, I was hooked. The visuals may be a little
depressing. The interface may be a convoluted mess. The actual history
may be off and three campaigns over twelve years may be shortchanging
but I really wanted to like this game. No doubt, it is ambitious and at
times, it can be fun but those moments can't discount the fact that
there are long bouts of waiting around for your armies to train, as well
as stints where you'll find yourself cursing at the game.
The amount of bugs out of the box (my suggestion: get the patch as soon
as you crack open the shrinkwrap), genuinely makes this a difficult
title to recommend to everyone. The soundtrack is a phenomenal
compilation of who's who in classical music from Grieg, to Wagner, to
Beethoven and Tchaikosvky. While it doesn't match what happens in the
game, it is effortlessly enjoyable unless you bear a hatred for the
Along those lines, Hearts of Iron and classic music aren't too
dissimilar. You have to have an acquired taste to really appreciate it.