Hearts of Iron IV – The Verdict

Hearts of Iron IV – The Verdict

January 1951, the world is in flames and has been in a state of near constant war and I have dropped more Nuke’s than I would like to admit. I think back to the early months of my adventure with Italy in Hearts of Iron IV, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I had made some different choices.

First though, it is worth considering for a moment how far Paradox Interactive, developers supreme of PC  Grand Strategy games have come since the last Hearts of Iron game was released in 2009. Since then, we have seen Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV and Stellaris come out, and in some way or other, shape people’s expectations of a Paradox game. Some of the general trends that I have seen people say over the years are that:

  • There will be a massively detailed map
  • The tutorial will be helpful, but only cover half of what you would hope for
  • The UI will be confusing, but you will figure out where things are when you have to deal with your first catastrophe
  • The initial release will be buggy of poorly balanced, but you know Paradox will fix, and improve, things with a series of impressive patches based on user feedback

These things are all true with Hearts of Iron IV, but compared with III, you can really see that Paradox have come a long, long way. While some of these issues remain, I wouldn’t have played for 20 hours and reached 1951 if this was in any way bad. But players should know that Hearts of Iron is a different beast from the other titans from the Paradox stable.

Few things in Hearts of Iron are as sweet as drafting a good battle plan.
Few things in Hearts of Iron are as sweet as drafting a good battle plan.

Diplomacy and trade take a back seat and domestic political intrigue is limited, this is a game of war after all. You will spend your time drawing up battle plans, creating and changing army templates and managing the production of your war machines. This is all great, and everything works so well (even if I think the AI could do with some tweaking), but I won’t deny that I wished there was greater depth to the diplomatic and political machinations.

Back in 1936, all was at peace in the world.
Back in 1936, all was at peace in the world.

My leadership of Italy started way back in the mist of time – 1936 and Mussolini was leading the Fascist party. The tutorial guided me through the basics of production, planning and warfare leading me to conquer Ethiopia before leaving me alone behind the wheel. One of my early decisions, after building up some Political Capital, was to hire an advisor who would instigate a growth in support for the Democratic party. I could have chosen an advisor who would have backed the Fascist state, or even a Communist one. I could have used my Political Capital to employ a military strategist or changed my conscription laws, but I chose Democracy.

Several choice cropped up during my journey to Democracy. More of these, about any other domestic issue, would have been welcomed with open arms.
Several choices cropped up during my journey to Democracy. More of these, about any other domestic issue, would have been welcomed with open arms.

My second decision, which would have a destabilising effect on Europe was to resist supporting Nationalist Spain during the civil war. Obviously, I don’t know the impact that my neutrality in the conflict ultimately had – I’m not sure what the AI was getting up to at the time. The result though was the formation of Republican Spain. A Spain who would join the Commintern. While I was exploring the road to Democracy, I resisted German efforts to join them against the Commintern. While my relationship with Nazi Germany didn’t suffer, my choices ultimately led me away from joining Germany in an Axis alliance.

Albania didn't last long. Sorry.
Albania didn’t last long.
Sorry.

Instead, I used my National Focus Tree to support the development of an oil empire in my Libyan territories and later took myself on a journey towards instilling an Italy First focus. Friendships were developed via a mixture of the classic diplomatic option, “Improve Relations” and some of my Italian specific National Focuses. Albania was conquered in a week long war, and shortly after the Democratic party had gathered enough support to demand a referendum. I used this major moment as the perfect time to form Republican Italy.

Mussolini has gone, a Democratic leader takes the throne.
Mussolini has gone, a Democratic leader takes the throne.

As I spent my research points on industrial and infantry focused benefits, I knew that I was leaving my navy and airforce using outdated equipment, but I had what I needed to secure my position in the Mediterranean while keeping my hair out of British-German tensions.

I spent a lot of time on my research. Choosing the right path at the right time can be tough.
I spent a lot of time on my research. Choosing the right path at the right time can be tough.

After a few further choices down my National Focus Tree, I had developed friendships with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria which allowed me to form my own Faction – Novus Imperium Romanum. I felt power like never before, and while Europe went up in flames following the German invasion of Poland, I had the opportunity to strike at Greece. Having avoided antagonising the Allies, they weren’t too concerned with my growing version of a modern Roman Empire. With the Greeks taken care of, Turkey joined my Faction and all was well leading into the summer of 1940.

The Greek's put up a fight, but I won through.
The Greek’s put up a fight, but I won through.

Of course, having kept at peace with the Allies, they didn’t have an almighty African war to worry about. Somehow, war in mainland Europe had taken a turn for the bizarre. Dunkirk never happened, and by October 1940, Britain had capture Berlin after launching a decisive strike through Denmark. Any resemblance of history had long gone.

Having maintained my infantry divisions, fearful of France of Germany using my northern borders for a proxy war, I struck into southern Germany in the winter of 1940. Between the Allies and Soviet Union (with the Spanish even getting into the action), Germany was soon defeated, all this before Japan could attack at Pearl Harbour.

The Americans were part of the Allies, but would never, even up until 1951, get directly involved in the war. They sent in volunteer units, but that was the extent of their involvement. This all left Japan as the lone Axis state standing. Lacking any realistic land route to the Far East, and with my navy lacking the range to cross the globe, I sat and waited for Britain (and Denmark!) to finish Japan off. As I waited for the Allies to finish the war, I hastened my research into rocketry and building The Bomb.

Japan was defeated, and it was time to share out the spoils.
Japan was defeated, and it was time to share out the spoils.

On the 20th January 1943, the Treaty of Bratislava was signed. During the peace negotiations, I saved my war score in the early rounds of talks and ultimately secured land in the heart of what used to be Germany, with the remainder of the country being divided into traditional Western and Eastern directions.

This was all great fun, but I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to agree my own peace with Japan before the Bratislava talks. The rigid rules around when peace can be negotiated when Factions are involved are a bugbear of mine. While waiting for Japan to surrender to Britain allowed me valuable research time, I was only at war with them because they were part of the Axis. Things would have been different if I hadn’t invaded Germany, I know.

What did amuse me was that on the 21st January 1943, Japan held host to the Olympic Games. The day after their defeat in what was World War Two? I don’t understand what happened there.

The Olympics the day after the peace summit? Bizarre.
The Olympics the day after the peace summit? Bizarre.

All through the war, my National Focus Tree had remained the same as it had been under Mussolini. Certain options weren’t an available anymore – supporting Nationalist Spain or forming the Pact of Steel with Germany had gone. But nothing changed to indicate my political ideology had changed. Being able to choose a National Focus is a great part of Hearts of Iron, but I would love for it to adapt to current affairs to a much greater degree. The only time it changed in this way was following the Treaty of Bratislava. A focus I never chose (War with the UK) was magically bypassed, and Befriend Japan took its place. I was sorely hoping for something more dynamic.

This! I want more of this! The National Focus tree is so fun.
This! I want more of this! The National Focus tree is so fun.

Combined with the fact that only a select group of countries (Germany, France, Britain, America, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union) have unique National Focuses at the moment, and this feels like a missed opportunity from Paradox. Poland will receive a National Focus as part of a free DLC pack, but we will have to wait for further DLC (or hopefully, free updates) for other nations to receive a unique National Focus Tree. It’s a great feature, but one that could be so much more than it is.

By the end of 1943, less than a year after the Treaty of Bratislava, a new war was to start. Stalin had eyes on Turkey a member of my new Roman Empire, and he didn’t care if one war had just finished. I wasn’t prepared for full scale war, and  it wasn’t just Turkey that war was coming to. A part of the Commintern, Stalin’s buddies in Eastern Europe quickly steamrolled over my Bulgarian and Yugoslavian allies and the territory I had gained after the Bratislava Peace was gone.

Turkey proved to be regular battleground.
Turkey proved to be regular battleground.

I think it was the Alps which saved me, that and hurriedly sending units into battle under equipped and without complete training. I launched a daring counter thrust against Soviet Forces in Turkey, and soon had the Soviet’s on the run towards the Crimea. It was here that my decision to play the game at super-fast forward would be one part of my undoing. I hadn’t noticed the Soviet’s attacking through Iran and Iraq, and my Crimean undertaking had to be pared back to avoid being cut off entirely. All the way inside Turkey’s original border I went.

There had been one small saving grace. My Crimean onslaught took Stalin’s eye off Europe, and I was soon rolling Soviet forces back and rapidly conquered East Germany and the Communist incarnations of Austria and Hungary. As the war raged, I had developed The Bomb and launched it at the capital of one of Stalin’s Commintern allies. I don’t know what impact it had, if any. War carried on regardless.

With stalemate in eastern Turkey, I had neglected the border with Greece which had fallen to Soviet hands in the early stages of our war. Before too much damage could be done, my European army secured both sides of Turkey – important as Turkey was the Soviet war goal after all.

Stalingrad was mine!
Stalingrad was mine!

By this point China had gone through all kinds of hell, and was ultimately fighting the Soviet’s in the East, while Britain and France were giving minimal support to their allies in the Middle East – Iraq and Iran. The Western powers showed no desire for a fight, and by being part of my own Faction, there was no way to invite the Allies to support my fight against the Commintern and Stalin. A glaring failure of the diplomatic side of the game if ever I saw one.

Years had gone by (all at super-fast forward!), and by the summer of 1949, Stalingrad fell to my troops. Supplies were a constant issue, but thanks to air support (I was flying in jet planes by now), I had air domination. Not that I ever saw any other nation using their air power mind. It might have happened elsewhere, but not from what I could see. The AI could do with some tweaking, but I didn’t mind as it allowed me to land what I thought would be a critical blow. I dropped a Nuke on Moscow.

I really thought this would have a greater impact.
I really thought this would have a greater impact.

By now, I would have been happy negotiating a peace treaty with the Soviet’s, standing alongside Republican Spain as the last members of the Commintern. But, despite being the “defenders” in this war, defenders who had just Nuked Moscow, I couldn’t enter peace talks until the Soviet Union, as the faction leader, capitulated. This would only happen once they had lost x% of Victory Points (cities can range from 1 Victory Point, to 30 for a Capital).

I just want an end to war!
I just want an end to war!

Throwing common sense and all military planning to the wind, I split my army in two – one went east in the hope of linking up with the Chinese offensive, while my most skilled commander made a dive for Moscow. The trouble at this point was that supplies were limited, my factories I had conquered in Germany were being sabotaged every month and my manpower was at breaking point. Making a foolhardy dive for Moscow without further support would prove my undoing, as it does for so many.

While I captured Moscow, I had done so on such a narrow front, that my troops were cut off and rapidly encircled. The Turkish and Crimean situation was fluid with Republican Spain landing in southern Turkey, all while I was trying to mop up the last dregs of Soviet forces in a pincer movement.

By January 1951, the situation was bleak. The Soviet’s were pushing south from Moscow, and the potential for losing my forces in the Urals was real. I couldn’t produce enough equipment to meet demand for reinforcements, and my manpower had fallen so low I couldn’t recruit any more divisions. Worse, the Naval war was turning against me with Spanish and Soviet ships starting to prowl the Mediterranean.

The final standings.
The final standings.

I hit the quit button, and in the final rankings, I ended up 5th. I was let down by my lack of industry, but somehow Britain’s war score was miles greater than even China’s, apparently it was all thanks to the RAF and their air superiority. I wish I’d seen those fliers, maybe it would have given me courage to continue the fight. Ultimately though, I decided to quit because a mixture of a lack of diplomatic and peace options. Being the initial defender in the Italian-Soviet war on behalf of Turkey, and not being able to call a peace conference after taking Moscow is a travesty.

The journey had been great fun, but after 20 hours of action, I felt let down by rules around ending a war and forming alliances. I will definitely return, either picking up my save from January 1951 before I quit, or with a new country. The Second Brazilian Republic sounds interesting.

South America next?
South America next?

Tl;dr version

  • Hearts of Iron IV is a great game, but suffers from some typical Paradox issues around AI and UI.
  • The new National Focus Trees are great fun, but could be more dynamic, and for a wider range of nations.
  • I still want more, and better, options for diplomacy and instigating peace negotiations.
  • As a war game, it is still bloody awesome. Worth of a Head Shot, but too many niggles to get the fabled Red Mist.

The Verdict – Head Shot

Platforms Played/Reviewed – PC

Review based on a review copy supplied by PR. Please read this post for more on our scoring policy.

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