Halcyon Days: A Critical Look at the Current State of Hearts of Iron IV

By Jeff Renaud 02 Sep 2016 3

The thoughts, opinions & analysis of Hearts of Iron IV are correct as of 2nd August 2016, where the current patch version is 1.1.

George Santayana first uttered the phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” According to many Paradox Interactive customers, the company has perhaps forgotten the history of their signature WWII game Hearts of Iron (HoI) with its latest incarnation, Hearts of Iron IV. Infrequent developer diaries leaves me, among others, in limbo. That is, up until the recent announcement of Patch 1.2!

I only wish to explore some of the changes, features, etc., that I’d like to see, so that I might go back to it as I did previous versions. I have loved this series since its inception 14 years ago (I even have the D-Day landing scene set as my desktop wallpaper!).

Steam indicates that I logged over 200 hours in HoI III – and I know I reinstalled it at least once, so that number should be at least doubled, probably tripled or more. My stats with Hearts of Iron IV, though, show only 27 hours; I put it aside shortly after getting it. When I mentioned this to Joe, he wanted to know why. Two months after its release, I wanted to know as well; taking into account that I must have put in at least as many hours in each of their predecessors, twenty-seven is really low; real life and ‘other interests’ don’t quite account for everything.

GAME ON!

I’ve recently replayed the game several times – my stats now show 57 hours – to remind myself why I temporarily abandoned it. I also searched the forums to see what others have been saying, and to check on what, if anything, in the way of patches or updates may have been released; see above. Glory Hallelujah! Patch 1.2 will primarily concentrate on the naval bomber issue, in addition to an AI enhancement. Otherwise, what I found elsewhere seems condensable into a couple of basic issues, starting with whether the game is an ‘historical’ WWII wargame or some kind of quasi-historical sandbox world conquest simulator.

North Sea Encounter

I actually beat the Royal Navy! Creamed them, even! Wait… what?

I recall similar arguments about HoI III, and whence arises my bemusement of history repeating itself. In a way, though, I feel for the devs; how can they please a fan-base that seems to want two different games? If ‘history’ changes too much – e.g., Tannu Tuva annexes the Soviet Union – wails of protest arise that it’s ‘unrealistic’ (or ahistorical). On the other hand, if Poland and France are ‘doomed’, where’s the fun in playing either of them? It’s the proverbial Catch-22.

There are also complaints about supposed anomalies such as industry ‘magically’ appearing through events; private enterprise existed during WWII, did it not? Players complain when countries don’t following historical research paths, as well as when they do. Yet, in my opinion, there’s a huge amount of ‘grey area’ when we start tossing around terms like realism and historicity – which may take an entire article on their own. Not only that, various Dev Diary videos and forum posts seem to confirm Paradox’s intention to make a WWII-themed grand-strategy game in an open sandbox, not a ‘railroaded’ WWII simulator.

[Editor's Note: My own recollection of Hearts of Iron III is that it was more 'guided' – Germany, especially, had a very scripted experience. In my opinion, scripting events is the only way to bring about historicity, because otherwise the element of 'choice' can prove problematic.]

Regardless, there are still problems, such as the AI not knowing how to fight a war. I saw similar issues with HoI III that were eventually fixed, either through mods, patches, DLC, or all three; patches addressed game imbalances and the like, while various mods and DLC offered more or less historical event scripting, OOBs, etc.; players could choose how they wanted their games to flow depending on what they installed or did not. This is why I yet hold hope for IV; that the Spanish Civil War won’t go on for years while the Republicans and Nationalists chase each other across Iberia (my meagre two-or-three division Legion Condor trying their best to keep up).

SCW

Crush the Republicans!

At least I helped win the SCW as Germany in one of my games, perhaps in record time: by the end of June 1936. I conquered Poland in August ’39; France October ’40. Okay… this is more like it. Then a massive wave of 300-400 British naval bombers sank my entire Ostseeflotte in Konigsberg harbour inside of a few hours. From where?They have that kind of range in 1940? My 240-odd force of Me109s flying sorties over Northwestern Germany and Western Poland were apparently impotent to do anything about that. Oh yeah… That’s why I quit playing… Restart! In my next game, I may have resolved that issue; perhaps I did not have enough air cover dedicated to Intercept; and no provincial AA.

The other main problem is trying to figure out the AI and its priorities, something that the majority of players seem to feel is the chief thing ‘broken’ about the game. While for me, it’s nice not to be able to anticipate events going off at more or less the exact historical date, or even the way they occurred – where’s the fun in taking all the mystery out of the game? – some odd things do occur. I strangely got away without France declaring war on me (Germany) along with the U.K. et al. after Poland refused to give in to the “Danzig or War” ultimatum. Okay, so, we’re not trying to repeat history exactly here, right? I can live with that. I even avoided war with the U.S.S.R. – or so I thought, until my allies, Japan and Finland, pulled me into their wars.

WHAT NOW?

I feel for the players who are aggravated by the AI doing such ‘weird’ things. Yet, for me, it was more about, “Am I not still Faction Leader; others have to ‘apply’ to join?” Different game… Oh. OK… So be it! Live and learn; start again.

80 Ships

82 ships & 300 torpedo bombers?!

In the meantime, I still miss things like the HQ hierarchy; the whole Theatre-Army-Corps structure seemed to work in HoI III (eventually), and I’m having trouble identifying with the generic armies created by IV, and ranks other than Field Marshal (Gen. of the Army) and the basic ‘General’. Plus, no air leaders. I agree with posters who say that the ‘aces’ don’t seem to add the same flavour (and they die a lot…).

Furthermore, the Battle Planning still seems awkward to me, but perhaps I still haven’t quite got the hang of yet, is all. And there are other, little things: I’d like to be notified when ‘Training’ is complete (since units cannot be trained beyond Regular, and they just suffer attrition). Additionally, although many on the forums would like to see the messaging system from HoI III return, personally I’m not a huge fan; I turned most of them off, as they began to spam me. Also the mini-map; I don’t miss it myself, much, but I admit it would probably be almost indispensable for a player of, say, the U.K. Yet, I don’t understand all the consternation regarding map overlays; aren’t they there? Try pressing F1, F2, F3… We also have dynamic weather effects, toggle-able day/night, Battle Plan overlay… Perhaps these were added after the post(s) complaining about it; I’m not aware of the timing. But, they are present, now.

GAME BREAKERS

Perhaps the worst game-breaker for me, though, is certain ‘impossibilities’; given the research, infrastructure, industry, and resource requirements, some feats seem to be accomplished well outside credible timelines. And there are other foibles. For example, considering operational realities facing the U.K., with a huge empire to patrol by sea, how could – or why would – the U.K. amass a flotilla of 80+ warships just in the North Sea and English Channel alone? In most of my games, soon my German early-war fleet is found (too easily), and it’s gone. There are other ‘implausibilities’: In every one of my games as Germany, the Allied AI (even Canada?!) manages to attempt an invasion of the Wilhemshaven-Hamburg-Kiel area within a few weeks, months at most. Finally, there’s the naval bomber issue; the Allied AI can send a swarm of 600 or 800 over the English Channel to sink subs with impunity in 1940. Is any of this ‘realistic’? Does it matter? It feels like it should, and I join the chorus of gratitude that it’s being fixed.

Port Strike

Too Many Naval Bombers?

Although the naval bomber thingy is not restricted to the U.K. AI – see this thread – in their most recent Developer Diary mentioned above, Paradox says that their fix will be to allow Port Strike missions only if “enemy air superiority isn’t above… (30%...)”. They will additionally impose a “stacking penalty”, so 1000 bombers can’t get at a single fleet. This is seen as a “lazy” fix according to some comments, and does not address this issue of French and British naval bombers striking well outside their ‘historical’ range. For example, at the start of the war, the U.K. had the Fairey Swordfish, which should be unable to reach targets outside its reported range of 522 mi (840 km, 455 nm). How is their range coded – or a different model already developed – so as to enable attacks outside this ‘real-life’ range in 1939/40? Such things can be modded, so can it not be ‘fixed’?

Perhaps, as I suggest above, it ultimately doesn’t matter and it’s simply a matter of finding the right counter. According to the thread cited previously, setting fighters to Intercept instead of Air Superiority doesn’t seem to work, although I appeared to have a little success with it in a later game. Oh, and I see there is a minister available for Military High Command who gives a bonus to naval AA attack, and another to buff Interception…

Soviet Polish War

Wait… what? Where’s the fun in Germany not running over Poland?

I don’t want to give up on Hearts of Iron IV; I will persevere. Already, there’s plenty of theory-crafting material to read through, like Wargamer’s own article. Stuff like this – reading tips and watching video tutorials, going back to retry different things – will keep me interested for a while, and now some word from the devs to instill further hope. I may put HoI IV aside again temporarily if something especially annoys me to ruin yet another game, but surely, they’ll get it right in the end.

I have to go now – the U.S.S.R. just DoWed Poland, and the Poles have asked to join the Axis. And the Netherlands joined the Comintern…

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