Hearts of Iron IV Review
I’ve been a big fan of strategy games for quite some time now. When it comes to World War 2 games, the vast majority of WW2 strategy games tend to come in one of two varieties. You have your standard real-time strategy games such as the Company of Heroes or Steel Division franchises, where you’re more or less zoomed right into the action. On the other side of the coin are the more strategic, board game type affairs, such as Panzer Corps or Strategic Command.
I’ve played all of those games but always felt like something was missing. RTS games certainly are one-off affairs where you try to beat opponents on a single map and then that’s it. Meanwhile, their more strategic counterparts struggle to capture the epic nature of WW2.
Being a relative newcomer to Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy titles (I started with Stellaris in 2016), my initial impression of their WW2 wargame, Hearts of Iron IV, was that it was probably just another game similar to the ones I’d already seen. Boy, was I wrong.
After becoming addicted to both Stellaris and Europa Universalis IV, it was inevitable that I’d give HOI4 a shot. After all, I love studying WW2 history. One twist to the standard WW2 equation that I didn’t see coming with HOI4, was the ability to either play the war out in a more historical way, or, engage it in a more alt-history fashion.
To start with, you can choose from a wide range of both major and minor powers, each of which has been meticulously rendered down to their individual provinces. You get to choose between starting in 1936 or 1939. If you feel like jumping straight into commanding your country just as things are reaching a boiling point, 1939 would be a good choice.
However, if you’re like me and want to experience the years before the war touched off, starting things in 1936 can give you more time to build your country up, as well as observe all of the geopolitical machinations that transpire. This earlier start also gives the world more time to split off from the more traditional WW2 historical timeline and progress along a more organically emergent, alt-history.
Along with five different difficulty levels, there’s even a “Historical AI Focuses” option that you can either check or uncheck, depending on how close to history you’d like your adversaries to stay (or veer away from).
We all know who won WW2, but HOI4 enables you to alter the course of how things turn out, by retelling it through your actions. For instance, perhaps you’d like to take control of France and build up its military early on. Through shrewd diplomacy and careful economic and trade management, this is entirely possible. This tact may even allow you to not only stave off their kraut aggressors but even counter-attack. And what if Germany hadn’t betrayed their non-aggression pact with Russia and avoided fighting a war on two fronts? What if the United States has entered into the war earlier?
All of these depend on each nation’s focus tree, which determines what branching paths your country takes. HOI4 gives you the freedom to alter many elements—including how many civilian and industrial factories you want to have operational, who your trading partners are, and even what political ideology you want your country to follow. Do you want the United Kingdom to reject democracy and embrace communism or fascism instead? It’s doable. All of these variables result in HOI4 having near-limitless replay value since there are so many different ways that things can pan out.
I actually consider myself fortunate to come late to this party, because HOI4 has had a good amount of DLC and other additional content built up since its release three years ago. In addition to armor, naval, and even radio packs that are available for purchase (I recommend the Colonel Edition Upgrade Pack), there are four content-rich DLC that have been released. I’ll give a brief description as to what each of them entails, below:
Together for Victory DLC: Brings the British Commonwealth factions into focus, including Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and the British Raj. Also brings a new lend-lease system into play, which allows your country to ask for, or loan out equipment.
Death or Dishonor DLC: This DLC offers new focus trees for Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, which were the minor powers trapped between Germany and Russia during WW2. New mechanics include the ability to repurpose antiquated or captured equipment; and licensing, which allows a nation to gain access to another nation’s equipment designs in exchange for industrial capacity, or license their own designs for a profit.
Waking the Tiger DLC: Packed to the brim with new content for China, including powerful command abilities which allow certain generals to spend Command Power on temporary, unique bonuses to the armies they lead; sneaky Infiltration mechanics that allow Chinese communists to subvert local authorities; and the new Expanded Decisions list, which grants the ability to form anachronistic/ahistorical nations.
Man the Guns DLC: A naval-centric content pack which further fleshes out the US, UK, Mexico, and the Netherlands. New naval capabilities include a ship designer, refitting your ship and tons of other naval enhancements. The Government-in-Exile mechanic is critical for smaller nations that typically get squashed by the major powers.
The base game of Hearts of Iron IV is a deep and strategically satisfying experience all on its own. However, the four DLC available thus far add a veritable plethora of content that will further enrich the already intricately-designed WW2 alt-history sim. Make sure you clear a good amount of time ahead of your play sessions—this one should come with an addiction warning!
Hears of Iron 4 features some pretty nice looking graphics that make its grand strategy gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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