“War!”, says just one of many headlines that flooded the world as national powers entered the second world war in 1939. Now, Hearts of Iron IV‘s release date coincides with D-Day, where the U.S. deployed 160,000 troops onto the beaches of Normandy. Hearts of Iron IV respectfully allows you to take control of any country’s leader and take them through World War II, where success is achieved by outlasting your enemies and accumulating the most victory points when the war comes to a close. This has been one of the best strategy games that has a high learning curve like many Paradox games do, but with great, intuitive gameplay that is time well spent.
Hearts of Iron IV is a bit of a smaller scale than that of Paradox’s own Europa Universalis IV. This World War II grand strategy wargame has a lot to offer. This is further contrasts from Europa Universalis IV where in that game, you could set something and forget it, and its automation would just take care of it. Here you have to pay attention to the day-to-day operations and control every aspect of your country’s military in order to stay successful. And Hearts of Iron IV does a great job at delivering you the information you need to make assessments on that.
Starting off, you can choose between two scenarios: one in 1936 to really build up armies in preparation, or 1939 where the beginnings immediately pop off where Germany invades Poland. The game overtly shows you are the more important powers to be, but you can be more obscure countries like: France, US, UK, German, Italy, Japan, or the Soviet Union. Once you’ve started, there’s a shell of accuracy to play with. Sure, you can play as accurate to the events as possible, but the game does go into alternate history scenarios as you make decisions that divert from the historical. There are times where the war doesn’t end in 1945, and will go long into the 1950s. Instead of playing the game over the course of decades or centuries, days and years go by, and as short of a time-span that seems, and a lot can happen.
At the start of each game, you have to pick a National Focus, a goal for the country. This can be anything like focusing on Army, Navy, aviation, industry, and so on. You then must research things that will benefit your war effort, but you must stay close to historical accuracy. For instance, you cannot research the atomic bomb in 1939 and win the war early. Now, you can have access the atomic bomb if you’ve met the prerequisites, and if it is early than history recorded it, there is a time penalty slowing down the time it’ll take to research it. Research options must be strategic choices of time and what you need coming up. If you have no interest in naval warfare, don’t spend any time or resources on it.
Hearts of Iron IV carefully avoids the horrors of these wars from the likes of Germany and Italy and instead focuses on: Research, Diplomacy, Trade, Construction, Production, Recruit & Deploy, and Logistics. Each of these options have their own submenus and skill trees to provide you with everything you will use to manage your country pre-war through to the end of the war. The top left gives you all that you need to know about the strength of your forces, and if you’ve researched the atomic bomb, adds it so you know how many you have built. The UI is crisp and clear with everything being a touch away. It’s good to save often, while Hearts of Iron IV autosaves, it can’t hurt to make your own saves just in case. Diplomacy does exist, and is what you’d expect, form and collapse alliances with other countries. You can get a country to become a puppet of yours, but only after it is 90% occupied by your forces. All negative actions resulting in country on country war raises the world tension, indicated by an ever-increasing globe engulfed in flames because once it is at 100%, World War II has begun and things quickly escalate and change. Hearts of Iron IV has subtle changes to the music when things become intense in wartime, than the softer music playing when not.
Hearts of Iron IV requires a lot of micromanaging, and perhaps more than I would have liked. It’s not so much a juggling act, but about spinning plates. and the speed at which the game goes entirely up to you, to include stopping time completely to make decisions. You just have to be hands-on and involved in every part of the decision making process from forming armies, deploying air wings to maintain air superiority and keeping up with technology demands to not fall behind and become inferior. Controlling the Army, Air Force, and Navy is daunting, but is satisfying once you get the hang of it. I have minor gripe you can develop Marine units which are housed within the Army when they should be a Naval unit, as they are a Department of the Navy. Now, playing a nation like the US and UK require a strong navy as they have to deploy across bodies of water whereas Italy, Russia, and Germany have it easier as they historically just stayed within the continent. Any deviations from historical accuracy will need a strong naval force to get them across oceans.
When it is time to take over a country or defend when a war breaks out, the battle planning tool is easily the coolest thing I’ve seen in a wargame or strategy title. You get to draw your front lines and set positions where your troops will go. This is absolutely a fantastic feature, like seeing the History Channel drawing arrows on a map or perhaps more like a commander at headquarters drawing their battle plans, it’s extremely intuitive and one of the best parts of the game. During this planning phase, it’s good to be be mindful of time of day, and the seasons as some units will perform better at night if they have night vision researched, or might move slower in rain or snow depending on the region.
Construction is a huge part of the game, it is what fuels your war efforts with military and civilian factories. If you run out of any materials, the game is good about telling you what you need so you can trade for it. If you are in an alliance with a country that goes to work against a country you are trading with, that relationship is severed and you must strike a new deal. Sometimes your military factories will need to be converted to civilian ones, an d vice versa. This especially true when say the United States’ national focus is to make war bonds.
Divisions are all-inclusive clusters of Army, Navy, and Air Force units that you can use to move towards a country. The Division Designer lets you remove or add units. It’s a complex designer used for more advanced players, and I never felt it was needed. Units will move as their slowest unit, so if you put troops in a division with tanks, they will only go as fast as tanks. You can train and edit from here. You can select what weapons units use, whether they be the newest, or the oldest. Can set their priority and for flair, give it an icon. It’s a deep set of choices, and that once saved, affects everything currently deployed within the division
Hearts of Iron IV is an excellent way to play a World War II strategy game, and is grand in every sense of the word. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of micromanaging and decisions to be made, but with simply hovering the mouse over something, told me what I needed to know, and the most important items were notifications, I felt that after a dozen hours, I was really getting to terms with everything. This is not a game you can just pick up and play, it takes many hours to learn the systems, how they interact, and what works well. This is a game that still teaches as long as you’re still learning, and this is a finely tuned wargame that has captured my heart and mind.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes.