Hearts of darkness
Following up on the continuing recent success of Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, Paradox is revisiting another beloved grand strategy series, Hearts of Iron, with the recently announced Hearts of Iron IV.
The Hearts of Iron series focuses on the World War II period of world history and has a much more concentrated focus on combat than other Paradox strategy games. If you were interested in Crusader Kings II or Europa, but felt overwhelmed or bored by some of the headier mechanics, this may be the grand strategy game for you.
While the bulk of World War II dealings are centralized in Europe, Hearts of Iron allows you take control of any country from the period, from Venezuela to Germany. You can alter the course of history or try to repeat history with a major power, or just try to sustain yourself -- and maybe even have some greater effect -- with a smaller power.
The first thing that caught my eye in Hearts of Iron IV was the terribly pretty map. I'm no cartographile, but seeing eye-popping HD maps that put those of my childhood classrooms to shame is kind of neat.
Plus, an important part of the game is its day and night cycle; for example, you don't want to be deploying your stealth bombers in the day time where they can be spotted like dalmatians. This is represented as a cool, large amplitude oscillation on the map (because timezones mean it is day or night in various parts of the world simultaneously).
The seasons also play an important part in deciding strategy, and they're represented on the map at more zoomed in levels. You'll be able to easily see that those cumbersome mountains that would make your invasion a challenge are now covered in nearly impassable snowfall. And what sort of idiot would attack Russia in the winter?
That's up there with getting involved in a land war in Asia.
The neatest addition to Hearts of Iron IV has to be the battle plan system. Zoomed all the way into your country, you'll find it broken down in provinces, upon which you can place a unit (strategically, you'll want infantry in forests, tanks in flat lands, and so on). You can control your units in a simple fell swoop with the battle plan feature that lets you draw arrows to orient your units and then hit execute to have them follow the plan.
Did you ever watch the history channel before it got consumed by the reality TV bug? Remember all the maps with wavy arrows indicating movement? It's that, basically. You draw out your strategy and set everything in motion at once, rather than stabbing at individual units, though you could do that if you want.
I didn't go hands-on with it or see too much, but early in development it looked good and seemed conceptually sound. A few arrows saw a whole smattering of troops head east and establish a front. There's even a way to sort of paint a country's border for simple front establishing, and you can advance that whole front at once when the time is right. It's a cool touch that's organic and could simplify and hasten the process of play without sacrificing anything.
Also, there is 32-player multiplayer, in addition to the single-player. You can have everyone play as their own country, or even co-op play a country.
Other than that, Hearts of Iron IV will feel like a familiar grand strategy game when it comes to PC, Mac and Linux early 2015. There are Doctrines that act as overall directions for you country. Two are based on German and American styles, respectively, while the other two are based on Russian/Chinese and Japanese/British styles.
And, of course, there are bundles of other decisions to be made within those doctrines, paths to branch out on, and more nitty gritty details to manage.
Producing early tech tanks becomes easier as the years go on thanks to an efficiency bonus from repeat production. Do you go the German route and produce the most technologically good tanks, losing that bonus by changing the means of production, or do you do things the American way and mass produce a crappy tank, winning by sheer volume? Rotting, burnt corpse volume.
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