Hearts of Iron Review

Hearts of Iron (HOI) is a grand strategic game of World War II that puts other strategy games to shame in terms of scope.  The entire globe is divided into territories, and while many World War II games have let you command forces in Western Europe and the South Pacific, not many have let you do both ... and also let you open up a front on the Indian subcontinent if you wanted.

HOI is a sequel of sorts, being built upon the Europa Universalis games.  However, it is not simply Europa Universalis with aircraft.  Paradox has added significantly more depth to the game with a complex and very detailed research and technology component, generals and government ministers, and coordinated attacks.  Unfortunately all of this depth has come at the cost of complexity, and HOI's interface is not quite up to the task.

Germany moves in on Austria in 1936.

The in-game tutorials only cover the basics of play and the manual is inconsistent, so many gamers will find the game overwhelming when they first sit down to play.  As soon as things get started you'll be bombarded by pop-up status messages informing you of every minute event occurring in the game.  Even an army moving to an adjacent friendly territory generates a pop-up message.  If the game speed is set to a faster speed, the screen will literally fill up with dozens of messages.  The messages also appear in a log at the bottom of the screen, so it is a mystery why every event needs a pop-up message as well.  The game will begin with the tedious process of right-clicking on each class of message and specifying that it should not appear in a pop-up window.  An options menu allows you to go through all of the types of messages and specify whether it should be displayed or not, but there is no way to select multiple messages - you need to turn off the dozens of messages individually.

The game is filled with such interface issues.  For example, when deploying newly available troops you need to scroll through a long list that combines available units with those still under construction.  There is no way to sort units by type or status.  When you find a unit that is ready for deployment, you need to click on a green colored territory.  This is not mentioned in the manual or specified in the tutorial, and if you click on a territory of a different color, you are taken to that territory's production screen without any message informing you why your selection was invalid.  Why are there messages when a unit moves to a new zone but none for invalid orders?  Furthermore, once you figure out how to deploy units (not that you'll necessarily understand why some territories are OK for deployment while others or not, or why these territories are different for different units) the list will scroll back to the top.  As an example, at the start of the 1939 scenario Germany has a lot of naval units in production and a number of army units ready to deploy.  Right at the start of the game you're stuck with a long cycle of scrolling down to the army units, looking for green territories, clicking on one, returning to the list and scrolling down, etc.  An auto-deploy option or support for multiple selection would have been nice, to say the least.

If you're looking for a quick-fix of world domination or making the world safe for democracy, then this game is not for you.  HOI requires a lot of dedication to figure out just how to manage all of the research options, economic sliders, generals and cabinet ministers, and diplomatic options.  The game progresses in real-time, but there is so much to keep track of that you'll spend most of the time with the game paused.  The lack of global setting controls or a single interface for managing territories means that you need to click through each territory one by one to manage it.  The US alone is divided into 30+ territories, so you can imagine how much work this involves.