by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Improving the series
In the realm of grand strategy games, perhaps no other series is more widely known for complicated interfaces then the Hearts of Iron series. If you have ever seen the interface for Hearts of Iron III, you know that it offered next to no immediate feedback, with a multitude of menus helping to make sure that the information you wanted to look at will be buried somewhere inconvenient. Having said that, Hearts of Iron has remained as the most expansive Second World War strategy game yet released, a trend that Paradox Interactive hopes to continue with Hearts of Iron IV.
The demo at Gamescom was played as Germany in 1936, weakened but growing in strength in preparation for expansion. Ignoring this, the developer presenting the game rushed forward and tried to conquer Poland immediately, because nothing could possibly go wrong with that decision. Before launching the attack however, we had the oppurtunity to see how the developers have tried to fight back against the series’ well known steep learning curve.
The interface itself looks very clean, with fewer overhead menus and pop ups than there were in previous iterations. An overview of one's entire military command structure is available with one click, as is the menu for managing your economy and industry. On the actual map, it is now much easier to tell how many divisions and what type that division is simply by looking at its icon on the map. Even when grouped together it is easy to tell how many divisions are operating in the same province, especially in comparison to how obtuse Hearts of Iron III was in regards to this.
The first major decision that you will have to make in a normal game will be which doctrine your nation and army will follow throughout the game. Doctrines are general guidelines as to how your nation's army will develop as you progress, with there being four main doctrines with multiple paths to choose from in each. Furthermore, each of the doctrines are based off how four major powers conducted themselves in the war. The Mobile Warfare tract is based off the German concept of Blitzkrieg, though there is a path that focuses more on mobile infantry at the cost of armor. Superior Firepower is the typical American path, with a focus on artillery and bombardments. Rounding out the doctrines are the Japanese based Grand Battleplan and Soviet Mass Assault doctrines. You can switch from doctrine to doctrine during the game, but it will likely result in a weaker, less specialized army.
Another new addition is the introduction of variations to armor and ships. In previous titles when you were upgrading a tank for example, you could only change its model from say a Panzer I to a Panzer II. Now, you can implement minor improvements to a tank, increasing the power of its engine so it can move faster, or its armor so it can survive more powerful anti-tank rounds in order to have a stop gap when you’re researching a new design. This has the added effect of lowering the loss of efficiency that occurs in factories upon switching to a completely different model, allowing you to keep turning out more tanks at a faster pace.
But perhaps the most important improvement to Hearts of Iron IV is the battleplan system. Previously introduced in the final expansion to Hearts of Iron III, battleplans are massive, strategic instructions that tell a large number of units how to engage the enemy in battle. Now you can assign generals to different groups in order to more effectively carry out your orders. Have a large group of armor poised to roll through Belgium? Attach a general who has experience with armor operations and your armored divisions will receive a bonus. Even better, is that it is very easy to create and modify a battleplan on the fly. With a few simple clicks and dragging of the mouse, you can easily create a battleplan in no time at all. However, the longer you wait before you commence a battleplan, the more effective your divisions will be.
Over 100 nations will be fully playable when the game launches, with 32 player multiplayer being ready right from the get go. And despite the legacy that Hearts of Iron IV carries with it, it is certainly working hard to make sure that the game will be more accessible when it launches in 2015.