Hearts of Iron 4 in the test - Between the fronts

Author: Reiner Hauser
Date: 2016-06-06 16:00:00
Hearts of Iron 4 proves in the test that a strategy game can be highly complex, gripping and too simple at the same time.

And so the global strategy game from Paradox is again dedicated to World War II in the fourth part of the series. From 1936 or 1939 (all other starting years have been omitted) we can change the course of history with any historical nation at our discretion - provided we have the necessary patience. Because Hearts of Iron 4 is not at all easy for beginners.

Dozens of cramped menus, meaningless values, opaque contexts and hardly a guide to cling to. Even the short tutorial raises more questions than it solves , and brazenly refers to the built-in wiki. And indeed: if you want to understand this game, you can hardly avoid trips to the encyclopedia or YouTube. So that you don't end up as helpless as we did after the tutorial, we will guide you step by step through this terrifying and yet fascinating game. Because what if ... players who are put off by numbers and statistics missed an incredibly gripping experience here?

The world war in your head

Basically, Hearts of Iron 4 unfolds an insane game depth. When the (always paused) world war rages around us and we jump from one front to the next, issue attack orders, order tactical retreats, take care of raw material supplies and weapons supplies, repel naval invasions, send our air force to large-scale bombing or submarines on secret missions - then With a little imagination, you really feel like you are in a gigantic war.

And by the way, there are all sorts of great head stories , especially when you turn the historical balance of power upside down with completely insignificant nations. Can Hungary actually conquer Austria as early as 1937? By the way: At the beginning of the game we can set that nations should behave unhistorically, but this did not have any major impact in the test. France and Great Britain, for example, allied themselves despite the supposedly unhistorical development.

The total war economy

You could also think that World War II is always the same anyway. What else does Paradox want to change? Oh a lot! What series connoisseurs first notice in Hearts of Iron 4 is the new production system . At the provincial level, civil factories set up airports, defense systems, other factories and general infrastructure. Military factories, on the other hand, are used exclusively for the production of equipment - from trucks to new tank models, we have to commission everything individually. used.

If we want to raise foot soldiers, we need normal firearms first. So we create a new standing order for infantry weapons in the production menu and assign it up to 15 military factories. The more factories we set aside for this, the faster the corresponding material will be produced and the more resources the order consumes per day.

However, resources are generated exclusively through the ownership of territories and trade with other states. If we start as Germany, we have virtually endless amounts of steel. But what we lack most of all is oil and rubber, which we have to buy from allies or neutral states - not with money, but in exchange for the production output of some civilian factories . We are no longer allowed to sell our own raw materials in a targeted manner, instead our country generally exports a certain percentage of all resources - including those that we really need urgently. Paradox should do it again.

In the »Recruit and deploy« menu, we issue orders for the training of new divisions, to which the game automatically assigns equipment and soldiers. New combat units (which can also be deployed in an unfinished state), however, make no sense if our production can hardly meet the demand of our existing troops; because they constantly consume material in battles.

Once understood, this system works really well and understandably, although it still comes around the corner with a few quirks. For example, if we are researching a new tank model, we have to manually adapt the existing production order for this type of tank in order to actually have the new version manufactured. If you forget that, all the dear weapon research will not help you. That can be annoying - but it is also quite realistic: If you want, you can continue fighting with the old tanks, because they are usually cheaper and faster to build. Who said it was easy to arm an entire army?

Decryption problems

That brings us to a fundamental weakness of Hearts of Iron 4, because the game gives us far too little information about the exact game mechanics and the units. Air combat, for example, is one single feedback catastrophe . If we do not constantly keep an eye on the exact numbers of our squadrons, we do not even begin to see how our air force is doing. Incidentally, nowhere does the game mention that we need to research squadrons for aircraft carriers separately. There's just an inconspicuous icon in the research menu for that.

Even when fighting on the ground, you sit there far too often and don't know why a battle is going well or badly for you. This is again due to the fact that the game does not explain to you how the many bonuses and mali interact in a battle. This becomes all the more annoying because produced vehicle and aircraft models with accumulated combat experience can also be modified, for example we improve their armament or reliability. But what do you do if you don't even know what it will bring?

Apart from that, the interface is confusing and not very intuitive in many places. How do you use atomic bombs? In fact, the operation was quite simple, but it completely contradicts the procedures the Air Force had learned up to then, because it can suddenly be triggered via the provincial interface instead of via the airspace. You just don't look there.

To the front!

Once you have understood the basic operation, we can finally venture into our first war. But he wants to be carefully prepared. With a planning tool, we assign our troops certain front sections by "drawing" them on the map. The divisions are then automatically distributed along these front lines, now we can also use the map brush to assign them a line of attack to which they should advance.

n. The AI then ensures that our front always remains closed, withdraws troubled units and advances independently if we give it appropriate orders. At the same time, we can also control each unit manually and correct errors in the AI . Because they happen again and again. It is particularly annoying when the computer general moves units to the front by "strategic relocation" - which, however, reduces the organizational value of these units to zero. Means: Attacking enemies overrun them immediately.

It is also essential to encircle enemies and cut off supplies, which the AI seldom manages. In addition, AI-guided attacks often create bubbles in the hinterland: areas in which enemy units are still standing, but which our generals do not attack because the front is actually much further. In general, however, the AI already works better than in the original version of Hearts of Iron 3.

Death from above - and from below

Aircraft like ships, like weapons and tanks, are made from the production menu. Unlike with ground troops, however, we do not assign front lines or lines of attack to these armed forces, but station them in (air) ports and assign them (in very cumbersome menus) to airspaces or sea zones . Once there, we can assign missions to the squadrons depending on the aircraft type: destroy industry, support ground troops, intercept enemy aircraft. However, you have to consider the range, as the order efficiency drops considerably over longer distances.

Ship fleets can carry out missions in up to three sea zones at the same time. For example, we send submarines to sink the enemy's supply ships. The air force has the main task of weakening opposing troops and infrastructure, while the navy primarily prepares sea invasions and protects its own coasts.

The automatic war

The AI factions basically make a passable figure and are much smarter than in the original version of Hearts of Iron 3 . For example, this time they manage to start sea invasions right from the start - in the previous version it only worked properly after a few patches. However, the AI is still not error-free, it sometimes reveals dropouts.

Great Britain, for example, is having its entire fleet dismantled by our bombers, France is withdrawing all troops from the fortified Maginot Line due to a small uprising, and allies only sporadically help out on borders that are not directly theirs. In addition, your own unit AI regularly gets problems with fragmented front sections and does not advance properly. Then you often have to lend a hand and laboriously order the troops through the small provinces.

It is rather strange that our AI allies like to leave a large part of their own army to us - as "expedition troops", which we then command ourselves. Italy gave our Germans almost all of their troops in North Africa in the test. Okay, if we command them ourselves, we can at least make sure that the AI is messing up.

It's just stupid that Italy was at war with (communist) Spain at this point, but our German Empire was not. Which in turn led to Spanish troops occupying the Italian lands, but we could not defend ourselves with the expedition troops because they now count as Germans - what a mess!

Of course we could have declared war on the Spaniards now, but they were allied with the Soviets and we didn't want to upset them. Not yet. In addition, our own comrades like to invite other nations into our alliance, even without our consent as leaders of that alliance. This can throw entire games into chaos - for example, when Italy invites Bulgaria to the Axis powers, whereupon Allied Greece immediately invades and threatens our southern flank.

Long live the blob

Conversely, our opponents could work together much better. In clear moments, for example, they start a joint sea avsion and repeatedly set surprise pinpricks, but mostly you can wipe one enemy after the other from the map without much resistance from their allies . If, with a little luck and prudence, you can avoid a multi-front war, Hearts of Iron 4 actually plays too easy - at least for an experienced Paradox disciple - with a great power like Germany.

Basically, the challenge depends largely on the country selected at the beginning of the game and some circumstances. If you can ensure that the Soviet Union does not intervene in the war, there is hardly any stopping Nazi Germany . But if that does not succeed and the Soviet Union or the USA intervene at an inopportune time, the situation can quickly go downhill, especially if your own manpower is slowly but surely dwindling. When you are desperately trying to make the impossible possible and fighting bitterly for every province, Hearts of Iron 4 shows its great strengths.

Focus: ideology and expansion

The diplomatic circumstances described result in particular from the choice of focus. In the new sword point trees we choose the general strategy and orientation of our country. Smaller nations only have generic options à la »unlock additional research slot« - the great powers Germany, France, Great Britain, USA, Soviet Union, Japan and Italy (as well as Poland via free DLC »Poland - United and Ready«) have their own troop designations especially individual focus trees .

In the course of the game, Japan can decide to march against Russia or invade China, France can easily become communist, and Germany, for example, has the choice of approaching the Soviet Union diplomatically or forging an anti-communist alliance.

The historical events that used to take place automatically, such as the German annexation of Austria, can now be found in the focus tree - as well as fictional "What if" variants. What if the German Reich did not simply demand Danzig from Poland, but instead swapped it for Slovakia? What if Yugoslavia agreed to cede Slovenia to the German Reich - without a fight?

The player can ignore these guidelines, but the focal points have clear advantages. It's just a shame that most of the priorities will become superfluous with the outbreak of a major war at the latest, because the parties concerned are already facing each other in the trenches anyway. From halfway through the game we could safely ignore the focus tree.

We should not, however, ignore the diplomacy menu. They can be used to improve relationships, create non-aggression pacts and forge alliances. You can promote political currents in other states and, with a little luck and patience, turn a democratic Great Britain into a fascist model state or even start a civil war in which you can then - quite unselfishly - intervene.

Most diplomatic actions cost political power, a value that is slow to accumulate. These points can also be used to hire consultants who offer bonuses for all areas of the game, such as research. We can also use it to change existing laws. One decides, for example, how extensively the population will be drafted into military service. Just stupid: the more citizens take up arms, the slower the factories work.

Research sequoia

Last but not least, there is the research menu. In contrast to Hearts of Iron 3, in which we could theoretically initiate any number of research projects at the same time, now only four are allowed (with a corresponding focus five). There are still dedicated research trees for infantry, artillery, tanks, airplanes, ships, technology and industry, they enable a variety of research possibilities.

The concrete effect, the actual advantage of one model over another, however, often remains nebulous: Are jet jets really better than classic fan guns or do I not need them at all - at least not in my current situation? In addition, there are the doctrine research trees with which we develop special strategies for land, air and sea that are based on historical approaches. The Soviet Union, for example, starts with a doctrine tree that specializes in mass attacks, but which can also be changed if necessary.