By: Brian Gunn
Hearts of Iron IV is the latest grand strategy game from Paradox Interactive, a studio that’s made the genre their own over the past few years. Each entry in their various series has become more acclaimed and has reached wider audiences. Can the approach that made Crusader Kings 2 and Stellaris hits with hardcores and newbies alike win over people with an interest in World War II as well?
It’s a little daunting to approach Hearts of Iron IV‘s systems. It’s entirely mouse based and mostly menu operated, though its laid back approach to time management at least means players will be able to acclimate themselves at their own pace. Still, I found getting used to things compared to their other recent games a bit harder.
If you’re playing grand strategy games, you probably don’t care too much about presentation. Still, Hearts of Iron embraces the general industrial image of World War II fairly well. It focuses mainly on larger countries to create cleaner, less cluttered moment-to moment-gameplay that allows players to understand their positions rather quickly.
Audio fares a little better. Music, some original and some simply public domain, instantly transports you to the era. It’s an odd feeling; hearing tunes that almost feel nostalgic or optimistic given the circumstances are so grave. Sound effects are hit or miss, with the various unit responses sometimes getting annoying depending on how much micromanaging you do.
World War II has arrived once again, and the latest Hearts of Iron game tasks players with assuming the role of one of the major factions, ranging from typical Axis and Allies countries like Germany or America to also relatively minor ones like Yugoslavia. These smaller countries tend to be for more hardcore players, though, with the major powers better suited to less dedicated players.
Players start near the beginning of the war, and the victory conditions are simple. As an Axis power, you take over the world, and as an Ally, you attempt to stop the Axis. There are not a whole lot of concrete goals beyond surviving until the end of the war, when your “victory points” are tallied up to determine if you’ve won.
Some of these victory point qualifiers are a little hard to grasp at first, but they do allow for a surprising amount of freedom. You’ll often have the easiest time acting like the country did in real life, but you can, with some effort and patience, get the United Kingdom to start spreading communism if you want.
The usual staples like research, diplomacy and unit upgrading are present. I found some aspects of these hard to follow. In similar games, going from bronze to steel is a pretty universal upgrade that’s easily understood.
However, in a game involving dozens of examples of real military gear, I’d find myself having to go back to understand. This goes into the combat as well, with tanks or munitions not necessarily translating well into easily digestible information.
Still, once you get a handle of things, it can be great fun. Planning out your short-term goals like taking over a tiny country while dealing with the larger threats is often challenging and addictive. Hearts of Iron IV also offers multiple difficulties as well as AI that can be tweaked to follow its historical path or not.
Furthermore, while the game does more or less end when the real war ended, you are allowed to play on after. This is great for those experimenting or wanting to do things like take over the world with Poland.
Paradox Interactive has once again crafted a sprawling and interesting strategy game. While Hearts of Iron IV isn’t as intuitive as some of its other recent releases, those with a World War II interest have no reason to avoid the title.