Hearts of Iron IV review - come back in style
Swedish Paradox studio has been famous for many years for its special knack for creating strategy games. It is thanks to the efforts of the Scandinavians that such popular titles as Cities: Skylines or the recently released Stellaris were released. However, three other series of games occupy a special place in the developer's portfolio, dating back to the beginning of the 21st century. Of course, we are talking about the cult Europe Universalis , as well as the Crusader Kings cycles and Hearts of Iron . These sagas have been classified as a separate subgenre - the so-called "Grand strategy games" because they share the original concept of the game, which is to command entire nations in real time (with an active pause option) on a large world map, and on a scale incomparable to any other position.
Out of the big three, Hearts of Iron , bringing the player back to World War II, has always been considered the most complicated and the most focused on the war aspect of the game. Nevertheless, it has probably the most faithful community of fans who bitten into the details of extremely complex mechanics with unflagging passion, and then share their advice and original strategies. When creating a new part, Paradox studio had to be aware that each change would be subject to strict evaluation. Nevertheless, the "four" does not lack bold novelties and many modifications, clearly showing the authors' willingness to make the game interesting for the next audience, without losing its current character. Did the Swedes succeed in this task?
A game on a global scale
In Hearts of Iron IV, we have the ability to direct virtually every nation on the world map in the 1930s. Although the product suggests which countries are most interesting to play, there is nothing to prevent you from ignoring these tips and choosing, for example, Brazil, Canada or Mongolia. Of course, the countries that played a particularly important role in World War II are mapped much more accurately, for example, with their own inventions, matching national goals or historical leaders. Meanwhile, other countries have to be content with default elements. It is extremely important for Polish players that our country is also among the special nations thanks to the free DLC Poland: United and Ready . The starting point of the game can be set to 1936 to gain more influence on the state of the army and economy before the outbreak of war, or 1939 to find yourself in a global conflict faster. Interestingly, in addition to choosing one of the three levels of difficulty, we can also specify whether computer-controlled countries will faithfully stick to their history, or will become more flexible, looking for the best, but not always compatible with textbooks, solution. The aforementioned momentum of the game determines the identity of the series, being its great and worth noting advantage.
The gameplay in Hearts of Iron IV can be roughly divided into two parts - warfare and the rest, which includes economy, trade, research on new technologies, international politics, etc. Of course, this does not mean that some aspects are irrelevant here. In this game, everything must work like a well-oiled mechanism, and the neglect of even one point immediately causes a fateful domino effect, which ultimately affects the efficiency of our army.
The economic aspect of Hearts of Iron IV is the part that has been truncated compared to previous editions, and these cuts do not always seem to be hit. The basis of all activities are civilian factories, which directly translate into economic strength. The construction of new manufactories is our main goal in times of peace, which we achieve thanks to ... the processing capacity of existing factories. What's more, these factories are also responsible for the construction of other structures, such as bunkers, radars, refineries, airports and shipyards. Therefore, it is difficult for a nation that at the beginning of the game has only a few factories to get out of this vicious circle, regardless of the number of territories or population it has. Although this unrealistic reduction of the main driving force of the economy to just one type of building was already present in previous editions, in Hearts of Iron IV the creators, instead of replacing it with a more thoughtful solution, emphasized it even more. A considerable and unjustified simplification is also the fact that in the "four" we no longer have to provide our citizens with a certain level of consumer goods. Now, depending on the chosen economic policy, a certain percentage of factories are set aside automatically for this purpose. At the same time, the citizen dissatisfaction index, which was present in the previous part, and in my opinion, an intuitive and valuable for the game, which depended on the level of providing goods, disappeared.
The second branch of the economy is, of course, the arms industry, which produces equipment for the army, based on military factories and shipyards. Here the situation is much better and certainly more logical than in the civil aspect of economics. We place all the necessary equipment - rifles, artillery, cars, etc., as well as tanks, planes and ships in production lines, to which we allocate a certain number of plants. We decide what is currently produced and in what quantities. By allocating the capacity of our factories, we can start stockpiling equipment for future conflicts, as well as having obsolete equipment replaced with new ones. The production lines at the beginning have a minimum capacity, which increases over time and decreases again when we want to modify the line. This clever solution forces you to think ahead and reflects the real potential of the industry well.
You need six different resources to produce weapons. They can be mined in selected provinces, and fuel and rubber can be produced in the appropriate buildings. Usually, however, our in-house production does not meet the demand. This is where the weakest, unfortunately, element of the game comes to the rescue - trade. For some reason, the creators gave up the money that was obtained in the "three" by selling surplus raw materials and trading in consumer goods on the internal market. Instead of cash, the currency in the commodity market is ... (yes, you've hit it!) Civilian factories. Leaving aside the complete absurdity of trading buildings, this solution has one major drawback - it does not allow you to accumulate currency reserves for a rainy day. Similarly, it seems counterintuitive to determine the level of exports of our goods with just one decree. As a result, even the raw materials for which we have a demand are sent abroad (for which we receive a civilian factory), only to buy them back.
A political masterpiece
In Hearts of Iron IV there is an incredibly rich palette of possible political games, both in the case of your own country and activities in the international arena. What's more, the game does not seem surprised at all by the events we have caused and unknown from history, smoothly adjusting the reactions of other countries (press releases, country flags or portraits of leaders) to the current situation. This creates a genuine opportunity to change the course of history without losing the consistency of events.
The main tool for creating our vision of the state are trees of national goals, which give access to economic, scientific, military and political bonuses. Each of these projects takes 70 days to complete and costs 1 political power point per day. We choose which goals will be realized, but in order to access some of them, we have to meet certain prerequisites. The developers themselves admitted in one of the developer's journals that the general concept of this element was long discussed and often changed. This hesitation can be clearly felt, because many goals are of little importance and can hardly be called national projects. So we discover them only to gain access to more, more serious options. Some doubts may also be raised by the fact that each goal, regardless of its importance, is always developed with the same amount of time, as well as the fact that we do not have any participation in the implementation of most projects - apart from selecting them from the tree and waiting the mentioned 70 days. Despite this, the possibility of a significant impact on the development of the state in every aspect, and above all the power of political branches of national goals, along with the option of creating your own faction (in the case of Poland - the creation of the Intermarium), changing the ideology or annexing certain lands, makes this element boldly save a plus.
According to the tradition of the series, war in Hearts of Iron IV is a key and very detailed element. Our responsibilities include commanding land, naval and air forces, as well as organization, modernization, provisioning and training. All of these areas are highly elaborated and fit perfectly into the gameplay.
The command system on land is an extension of the ideas that appeared in one of the additions to the "three" under the title Their Finest Hour . We give orders to the divisions united in the army by marking out fronts and marking lines of attack, defense and withdrawal. Thanks to these tools, you can create a very detailed attack plan, which will then be executed automatically by our general. This solution works really well, and planning an attack in this way best reflects the realities of World War II. In relation to the "three", however, the number of levels of command was reduced to only three: divisions, the army and the theater of operations, which only groups armies and is not used to issue orders. The Corps level would definitely be useful, to make it easier to manage multi-stage plans and avoid separating the army into infantry and armored forces - due to the special abilities of the generals. Both the navy and the air force operate on a mission basis. After the wings are assigned to specific regions, they can support fighting units, bombard cities or protect their own skies. The domination at sea is also important, as it can break supply routes and prevent the transport of enemy troops.
A huge advantage of the game turns out to be a powerful division creator, which allows for very precise selection of battalions and support, and thus adapting the trained troops to the enemy's forces, as well as to the terrain and weather conditions that are important for the course of the battle. It is at this point that the military aspect of Hearts of Iron IV reaches the level of true finesse - it will be appreciated by those who become proficient in command after the first hardships.
A few words of praise should go to artificial intelligence. The computer plays aggressively and takes advantage of our weaknesses, especially when at the beginning of the game it is freed from the chains of history. The enemy tries to surround our units so that they cannot retreat anywhere, rationally manages their forces and does not hoe to the sun. However, our generals sometimes need some support. When implementing our plans, they stick to them so rigidly that they are able to miss some tactical opportunities. However, there are no obstacles for us to give more precise orders personally to parts of the division.
All alliances and factions work very well in the game, so opening one front immediately entails counterattacks in other parts of our borders. An example of how easy it is to take an unexpected blow in Hearts of Iron IV is when, playing as Italy and doing well on the French and Yugoslav fronts, I left the center of the country without sufficient protection. British paratroopers landed in Genoa, whose rapid rally ended with the capture of Rome. It turned out to be impossible to get the army from the front in time, and when the troops arrived, they were so tired of the fight and journey that they had so far failed to recapture the capital.
Poland: Ready and United
Already at the time of the premiere, the creators released the free DLC - Poland: United and Ready , which means that while playing our country, we have access to dedicated national goals and a special technology research tree, as well as many other native accents in the game. This is an extremely nice gesture from the Swedish studio towards Polish fans, who are a large part of the community around Paradox games, and appreciating the role of our country in World War II. Together with the additions that the DLC brings, the game of Poland becomes particularly attractive. Still, the leadership of the Second Polish Republic is an extremely difficult task. Despite several attempts, I did not manage to survive the German blitzkrieg. However, those who find a way out of the trap, be it military or diplomatic, can count on an interesting gameplay, because the creators planned the Polish technology tree until the end of the war.