Here’s the thing about Hearts of Iron IV: this is a game that focus mainly on 3 things, DIPLOMACY, LOGISTICS and MILITARY STRATEGIC COMMAND to the detriment of everything else. And while it does not excel at any of those, it does not fail either. It’s a double edge sword. There’s a really deep ocean of gameplay and choices here, but probably not on the departments most fans of previous Hearts of Iron are looking for. The game is great for role-play, not so much for historical accuracy, and that seems intentional on the part of Paradox.This review will focus on exploring all those 3 facets of the game, it’s highs and lows and give some insight on how to improve in these areas.
DIPLOMACY- The game puts you in charge of a country from 1936 onwards until 5 or 6 years after the supposed ending of world war 2. It is probably the shallowest of layers in here but the amount of choice for roleplay is there. Do you want to play as Democratic Germany? Well, just push the democratic parties until they take over. Do you want to play as the fascist Unite States? You can do that too. Fascist Soviet Union? The game has got you cover. This allows for an insurmountable replayabillity factor. Personally I never tried to play trough world war 2 as it is supposed to be since other options are way more interesting (i.e.Playing as Portugal, conquering Spain during the civil war and reclaim it’s colonies on north africa and then fighting the allied forces while a part of the axis… who would want to play the eastern front once again? Meh!)
You can lend lease equipments, send volunteers to fight in foreing wars, create and dismiss factions, join wars or ask your allies to do so for you. No big stuff here, what’s expected is there. Interesting, yet flawed, are “Peace Conferences”, where your contribution to win a war allows you to negotiate what actions you’re going to take against the defeated countries. My main problem here is that you “contribution”, that is converted to points in the Conferences are obtained in very obscure and artificialized ways, so far I’ve notice that countries with the highest dead count take most of that contribution and same for the countries with the most victory points. While this is great for being able to predict results, it feels fake and sometimes unfair. In one gameplay (Using the Millenium Dawn mod, more on that later, a war broke out between India and NATO, playing as the United States and using only 15 divisions of American-France forces I was able to cut out from supplies more than half of the India army, single handed winning the war right there. My contribution for the final score? 7%… This system should be way less focused on trowing huge amount of troops at the enemy lines and victory point grabbing and more on competent military actions.
LOGISTICS- This, for me, is the FIRST game that made logistics an interesting part of gameplay, other than just being a nuissanse for the sake of being there, as it happens with so many wargames. The only thing you have to worry about in the strategic map is if you have enough infrastructure to make sure supplies, reinforcements and equipment reach your troops on the ground. No need for useless micromanagement, everything that you would assume is needed for a military company to function is under the production line of Support Equipment, and i’m sure that is supposed to encapsulate, we shall say: Bandages, food, tents, shovels, maintenance material, uniforms, ammunitions and all that minor stuff. So you don’t need to worry about each individual supply being managed and arriving at the front, as long as you are producing enough of it and you have an able enough supply infrastructure you are set to go and launch your attacks. This might sound simple enough, and it mostly is, but it will take you some military blunders to realize how important it trully is. Going into the desert to fight? Defeat by attrition. Launching an invasion without assuring you have one or two ports for supplies to arrive? Defeat is certain. This creates somre amazingly interesting strategies where you are forced to trully think as a commander, launching land invasions to secure airports and cities, paratroopers to secure supply lines, naval invasions to establish beach-heads.
The production side of things is also pretty damn good and very well streamlined, as long as you have enough factories (that you can build continously trough the game) and resourses you can keep production going. Production lines have an efficient rating that, as long as you keep making the same material, they will increase production over time, making you ponder if you should lose that efficience for a shinny new toy, or just upgrade a later variant of that faithfull Panzer IV that’s been serving you so well since 1941. Personally, logistics are the best part of the game, engaging, simple and meaningfull, they are the back bone to 21st century warfare and it shows perfectly in Hearts of Iron IV.
STRATEGIC COMMAND- In Hearts of Iron IV you’re a Supreme Commander like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Montgomery or Georgy Zhukov. You’re not a major, nor a captain, not even a coronel, you’re in your office, staring at a map, planning massive offensive operations, making sure your armies are well equipped and all the needs for such massive endeavours are met. You’re deciding where to strike, when to strike, which general should lead their troops in the field, which troops are assigned to each task which air support will they need, where the navies should be. You ARE NOT leading them into battle, that is up to your officers to do. You dispatch commands, they execute them. This is done in such a simple way using the Frontline system, where you just draw a frontline on the map, then decide which actions that assigned army to take, should it do a naval invasion? A land push for a pincir movement? Fallback to a better defensive position? It’s all up to you to figure out. Once again, it’s a system so easy to use but it provides you with imense play opportunities. How amazing it is to plan an invasion and watch all your 3 armies execute your plans perfecty, that moment your paratroopers drop behind enemy lines to cut them off while your main strike force advances forward to smash and isolate the poor suckers. It’s so satisfying to see it all come to life as soon as you press that “execute” buttom. Hopefully they will introduce ways to time your attacks properly, without having to manually be paying attention to 3 or 4 different fronts at the same time. Also, a small warning for when you are preparing a naval invasion and don’t have enough recon should prompt the moment your troops start to get ready, not when you launch the invasion. Just some quality of life improvements, not necessarily big improvements.
MULTIPLAYER- I don’t care for multiplayer on strategy games.
MODS- For me, personally, mods are one of the main reasons to get the game, with the Hearts of Iron IV: The Great War and Millennium Dawn: Modern Day you have pretty much an entire century of global warfare to try and explore. This comes mainly to personal preference as a lot of people really don’t enjoy the half baked experience most mods offer, but so far so good, those two are clearly impressive and feel like small expansions for the game itself.
FINAL OPINION- Overall Hearts of Iron IV is an amazing game that is going to scratch a very specific itch for a very specific audience, if you’re not interested in learing about 21st century warfare, logistics and political diplomacy or, if you’re overall ignorant to these then this is not the game for you. While more streamlined than previous Hearts of Iron titles I disagree when it’s acused of being dumbed down. The opportunity for unlimited and varied play is there, you just need to engage with it. Don’t expect an historical title, a world war 2 simulator, see rather as what it is trying to be, a sandbox, and pretty damn good one at that.