The makers of Europa Universalis are making a bigger name for themselves on their Hearts of Iron franchise than that earlier Euro-centric title. The reason? My university professor can answer that. There is no topic more written about in the annals of modern history and historiography than the issue of World War II. It’s that popular and it’s no wonder Hearts of Iron has been so enduring since its first incarnation despite covering roughly the same topic.
Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday extends the original game into 1953 when the Soviet Union tests their first h-bomb and the end of the Korean conflict. Not only does it give players a longer period of time to get upgrades and prosecute war, it develops on Churchill’s speech that, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” It’s this iron curtain that spurs further conflict amongst the victorious Allied powers. The Soviets, with their gargantuan wartime army along the eastern bloc borders are poised to strike but they lack atomic power. The Allies, on the other hand, are overstretched and tired from the initial conflict but they hold the trump card of the atomic bomb which shortly after the campaign begins, the United States can elect to use on the Soviet Union.
One of the nice things of the expanded campaign is the fact that many nations start off on relatively good footing. If you are playing a secondary nation like Canada, Australia or China, you aren’t pitching Great War units into battle any longer. That wasn’t entirely possible if you started pre 1939 simply because of the game’s massive technology and research tree. There is no way a small nation can attain all the benefits of the great powers without the use of alliances. Again, if you play some country out of the way (such as in South America or the remote corners of the Asian Pacific), you’re pretty much progressing at a laissez faire pace. Good for tutorials and figuring things out, but not that great of a gameplay experience.
Much of the game still revolves around balancing your industrial capacity between research, production and reinforcing frontline troops in battle. Resources are not so much a problem if you have good trade networks or generous allies on your side. This is all done playing with sliders and depending on changes in circumstances you’ll have to adjust your priorities to compensate. For example, after a battle, you’ll need to ratchet up that reinforcement counter. An enhanced AI counter
I’ve already mentioned the use of alliances twice and diplomacy plays a big role in Hearts of Iron. Doomsday adds the option to use spies. The intelligence screen enables you to infiltrate other countries, monitor their activities (such as what units are being built), sabotage their production or, the holy grail, steal away technology. The makers of Doomsday have also added some automatic measures to deal with trade requests. If you’re ever in a country of significance with an allied network, i.e. the Commonwealth or the Allied powers, you’re bombarded every second your resources dip below the critical level. Clearing out trade requests is time consuming and now there’s a computer helper to assist.
Battles haven’t been enhanced in this expansion much. Besides the new units, you still have secondary powers being steamrolled over by the major countries even post 1945. Numerical superiority doesn’t mean much if you’re still wielding outdated equipment and the most vicious attacks that reduce enemy morale and get them to turn tails will demand combined arms tactics. Conflicts are also resolved with little graphical or audio splendor, which is something I hope the developers will work on when they release the next Hearts of Iron title.
A scenario editor is now released with Doomsday, and like the game itself, it’s fairly complex. The extended campaign is good, not only for the inevitable United States versus Soviet Union, but it helps resolve some other conflicts like Communist and Nationalist China. I didn’t like the fact that Doomsday didn’t have much for the colonial powers. After World War II, there was significant reconquering and decolonization happening in overseas dominions. Britain and France, in particular, had to fight off communist insurgencies in Malaya and Vietnam respectively. India becomes independent and the Dutch withdraw from Indonesia. These would have been interesting scenarios by themselves.
At $19.99 US, Doomsday extends the life of Hearts of Iron II. It’s a standalone expansion pack, meaning new players can join in with the added functions. In this new form, it’s certainly a more polished game but nevertheless, will involve a lot of trial and error to pick up as no tutorial sequence can hope to cover the amount of options available to players. Be wary, though, as Doomsday, like its predecessor, can suck away hours to no end. And in the final analysis, that’s not a bad thing at all.