The Shape of World War 2 to Come - Hearts of Iron IV preview09 Jun 2015 0
Hearts of Iron IV is the latest iteration of Paradox Interactive’s successful World War 2 grand strategy title. However, I have to confess that the last version was, for me, a failure as I just couldn’t get into it at all. Therefore, it was with some trepidation that I accepted an invitation from Paradox to a two day multi-player event being held just outside of London – that’s a lot of time to commit to something you really may not like from the off. This was not helped by having very little time to get to know the game with the beta that was kindly provided and having to get going with game from the start of the event. So how did it work out; read on …
The format of the event was pretty simple. Put 20+ gamers in a room with a PC each, give them all a nation to play, and set up a massive multi-player game starting in 1936. One thing that has to be made clear at this point is that this is still a game under development and, although it looks like all the major building blocks are in place, there may well be changes between now and whenever it finally gets released – and the official word on that was very much of the “when we think it’s ready” sort.
Well to my relief this got off to a good start by being allocated a minor nation, in this case Sweden, rather than one of the major players in the war. Effectively this meant that I could get to know a bit about what was going on before my nation was seriously embroiled in the upcoming war – and let’s face it, with that many gamers a war was guaranteed it was just a question of when.
So, after my rather negative experiences with Hearts of Iron III, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the improvements made to the way you play the game. Put bluntly I am happy to play this version whereas I just avoided the last. Clearly a whole load of work has been put into the game’s accessibility, indeed the devs at the event were quite open that III had been unfriendly, especially to players new to the genre, and that they have made making it easier to get into and play a top priority. Well so far they seem to be succeeding at this. That said this is still an extremely complex game with a huge amount to do and a large number of decisions to take that will dictate the game. Getting a good tutorial for this will be challenging, but it will, I believe, be needed.
One thing about Hearts of Iron IV that became apparent fairly quickly is that this is a game that is very much driven by the actions of the handful of major powers such as Germany, France, UK, and so on. The minor countries, whilst they can have things to do and goals of their own, very much follow events rather than having a material influence on them. Now this is certainly realistic, however, it does pose challenges for larger multiplayer games as a number of players could feel marginalised very quickly – whilst this suited me in this game as a total novice, it could pall very quickly. I think there may well be a challenge here for Paradox to make playing these minor countries a bit more interesting for the player in some way whilst not distorting history too much.
All of the major nations have a unique National Focus tree which takes them through key political and military choices based on those that happened historically such as Germany rearming, reoccupying the Rhineland and such like. Minor powers like Sweden don’t get their own tree, instead they all use a generic tree, however, there are still plenty of options for them. For example Sweden couldn’t declare war until world tension rose to 100% (or even conduct lend/lease until a fair degree of tension had been achieved), but I was still able to direct the country down its own path, in my case majoring on technological improvement and political changes that would allow a degree of intervention in any war.
World tension is measured as a percentage and, as you can guess, is dependent on actions of the players – the more warlike the higher the tension. Nations freedom of action can be determined by the world tension level (as noted above), however, changes in their national outlook and political makeup can alter the options or at least make some things available at lower levels of tension than they may have been. Again using Sweden as my example, by moving the political effort towards a more interventionist stance I could have allowed volunteer brigades to be sent to assist combatants. Not that this happened as Finland invaded me and so brought me into the war, but the theory was OK I think. Oh, and fascist Finland had invaded when the Axis powers spotted I was sending lend/lease aid to the allies after world tension had stepped up far enough to allow me to do that – so my own fault I guess …
And so this brings us nicely to things that pertain to war. One thing all countries will want to do is create and maintain their armed forces. Setting this in motion at the start of the game is fairly easy, and you get to research new technology, etc. along the way as well which give you new options. Available military technology all has a nominal date at which it was developed in the real world. However, it is possible to get hold of these early but it costs you significantly more resource investment the further in the future this nominal date actually is. Again using a Swedish example for my first game by 1938 I was in position to develop nuclear technology (!!), however, the cost of doing this so many years ahead of the real world would mean the cost was about 1600% of what it would be if I waited until the “correct” date. As you can guess I declined that option.
Soldiers are recruited and given equipment that is made by military factories. They can then be set to training mode if allocated to a commander (and you don’t need them to fight right away) during which their effectiveness rises, but they can suffer attrition to their equipment which drains from the amount available for new troops you will inevitably be recruiting. Troops are raised in divisions according to templates. You start with some of these and can amend or create new ones. However, being inexperienced I found the way you do this rather impenetrable – hopefully this can be made easier before release or that some form of tutorial will be made to show you want to do. I don’t think I was the only one to struggle with this.
I must also say that I didn’t really understand many of the stats that went with my military units, however, again I must point out my lack of familiarity with the game and also that I was not involved in much actual fighting and what there was was between limited forces. I did find that in the multiplayer format the combat felt a bit fast and hectic, however, that may well have been due to the game speed setting being used and certainly in a single player game you’d be able to pause the game at will in order to take stock of the situation.
In all fairness a judgement here by a newbie player is probably not the best way to judge the game, even one that is still a beta – so please bear that in mind.
On balance I am impressed with how many improvements Hearts of Iron IV has over III. That in itself is a very positive achievement. However, it is also clear that this is still a game under serious development and there are undoubtedly changes that will be made. Whilst it is much easier to play than its predecessor there are still many parts of the game that are not easy to get a handle on. Now clearly a game of this scope and complexity will never be one you pick up in a 10 minute play through, however, it does need to be as easy to play as possible if it is going to live up to its potential.
There is a real challenge to making the minor nations a bit more interesting to play and also to possibly smooth out the change over from relative peace to a major war – at present there is a very binary feel to this as a lot of game options (e.g. trade) vanish very quickly when the change happens. Doing this whilst keeping the historical basis plausible is, no doubt, tricky; however, I think it is a goal well worth aiming for.
Finally though, perhaps the real important thing to say in conclusion is that even after the event finished I have gone back to the beta to play the game a bit more to see how it ticks. I think that is a positive sign for the developers.
Many thanks to Paradox for the invitation and hospitality at the event.