World War II has long been one of (if not THE most) the most popular wars in media, such as films and video games. So, when the masters of strategy, Paradox Interactive, chose to make a grand strategy game on WW II, titled “Hearts of Iron 4,” it was only natural that strategy gamers would flock to it.
Although HOI4 is now six years old, it’s going stronger than ever. Its latest expansion, By Blood Alone, has finally updated the long, long neglected nation of Italy. Every other major nation (and many, many other smaller nations) got some TLC over the last six years, and, so now Italy has finally been brought up to date, along with new focus tree updates for Switzerland and Ethiopia. Not only that, but navies, armies, supplies, spies, and, with By Blood Alone, air forces have all been made into deeper systems.
Switzerland have had a really nice makeover, with a fairly substantial focus tree, offering political options to side with the Axis, become an independent fascist state, remain neutral (of course), or to become a sort of Central European Non-Aligned cudgel, where Switzerland gets war goals on all fascist neighbours. Funky!
The country’s brand new political trees tie directly into the military for Switzerland, as they can’t actually train army units… at first, anyway. Instead, the Swiss can call up large amounts of militia units that can have their division templates modified by selected focuses, and these units can eventually be turned into regular army units if certain focuses are selected.
I’d say that Switzerland’s had a more substantial change from any other nation I can think of, especially considering that HOI4 is, at its heart, more of a wargame than a grand strategy game, and so much of Switzerland’s tree is devoted to building up their defenses to enforce their neutrality (or not).
Ethiopia now also has its own focus tree as well. I didn’t know how much extra an Ethiopian tree would get, as they frequently get destroyed by the Italians early one in games. However, By Blood Alone has made the war more difficult for the Italians, giving the Ethiopians room to pursue a number of different political options.
The Ethiopian focus trees are less centralized than for the Swiss, as the Ethiopians have more flexibility in their situation, especially considering that they start the game mid-war with the Italians.
It must be said that several of the focuses deal with decisions on what overall strategy to take with the war: whether to go on offensives, wait out the Italians, capitulate, or set up a government in exile to continue the fight after the front collapses in Ethiopia.
And of course, last but certainly not least is Italy, which many people have been looking for over the years. As with Ethiopia, Italy has focuses centered on the war, but, interestingly, if you want to pursue a non-fascist option, you’re encouraged to commit to losing the war, as the loss of the war will allow for more political opponents to join an opposition party.
What is great here is the overall desire of this DLC to try to be realistic with its ahistorical options, as previous DLCs have been somewhat looser with those focuses that diverge from real-world history. Italy’s options are, of course, to remain fascist, become fascist in a less ‘Duce’ direction, or to go communist or democratic-socialist.
Italy’s trees offer quite a bit to do, and they really focus on Africa, a largely irrelevant continent prior to By Blood Alone. Italian interest in Africa can vary from wanting to expand colonial possessions to a more radical approach, as a communist Italy can support decolonization efforts through war, just as Ethiopia can.
And as an added bonus, Paradox threw in a brand new aviation system. Perhaps calling it a new system is incorrect, as the core of the air war hasn’t changed, it’s just been refined. The combat aircraft can, however, now be modified just as much as ships and tanks can.
In fact, weapons, modules, and even the amount of engines on the plane can be customized to best fit the fighting needs of your country, and you can get real wacky with it. By that I mean you can stick four engines, four sets of guns, and four turrets on a medium airframe for an absurd flying fortress that exists purely to punish any enemy planes for existing near it.
Players who have experience with modifying ships or tanks from the previous expansions will be familiar with the way the aircraft customization works, though modifications are much cheaper here than for tanks or ships, as it’s much easier to throw together new plane models than new tank or ship models.
In the end, playing the By Blood Alone DLC has been a blast. I feel By Blood Alone pushes the game towards more of a complete experience, although we’re not quite there yet.
So, get those gaming PCs ready for action!