Hearts of Iron II Review

From the time of hexagons and cardboard units, games on a grand scale have always excited the imaginations of strategic minded gamers. These games provide a gamer with so many options and choices that make them perfect for playing out historical what-if scenarios and guarantees that no two games will ever play out alike. As far as grand scales go, you can’t get much grander than Hearts of Iron II (HoI2). This game not only gives you the opportunity to recreate World War II, it lets you do so across the face of the entire globe. Every nation is here and you are free to take the war in any direction. And you’re not just a military commander in the game, you run every major facet of your country including its diplomacy, production, R&D, and economy. You can follow the historical path in an attempt to recreate history, or you can wildly change its course – say by having the US sue for peace with Japan so that it can turn its attention to invading Mexico. All of this control does not come without a price, though. The game’s learning curve is quite steep and the number of things that you must manage will be overwhelming to a lot of people. Whether or not you enjoy the game will be directly related to your love of detail and minutia. How much must you love minutia? Read on…

HoI2 is war on a global scale. The game is played on a map of the entire world which is broken down into individual provinces. Every nation that existed at the time of the war is here and is run by an AI government. If you think a trade agreement with Brazil is vital to the US war effort, then you can send your diplomats there to negotiate the deal. Even if you do not bring them directly into the war or your economic sphere, all of the countries of the world will be busily going about pursuing their self-interests. If you don’t believe it, the barrage of informational messages the game will throw at you via pop-up windows will quickly convince you that there is a lot going on behind the scenes. This will be your first exposure to the game’s complexity and information overload, and the first thing that you will have to master is filtering the messages so that the truly important information is not lost in the avalanche of information. While trying to close all of the “Peru has entered into a trade agreement with Chile” messages so that you can see the game map you can easily miss something a message informing you that German armies have crossed into the Soviet Union. Even when you do apply liberal filtering to the informational messages you’ll still find yourself pausing the game simply to clear the screen of pop-up windows by clicking on them one by one. Some battles seem to generate two or three messages alone, so you can imagine how cluttered the screen gets after you’ve launched a major offensive.

As leader of your nation you’re responsible for all facets of the war effort. The diplomacy screen presents you with a list of all of the nations of the Earth and allows you to perform both covert and overt political actions. You can attempt to influence a nation and bring it into your sphere with a view towards it joining your side in the war, propose a trade agreement, or declare war on it. Your diplomatic resources are limited so you’ll need to be strategic about which countries you target and which actions that you take.

In the economic realm you’ll need to create a strong war machine while still providing for your people at home. Each territory on the map produces a certain amount of resources – oil, food, etc. – that go into your overall resource pool. These resources are needed both by your standing army and to create and field new units, as well as to run the industry back home. Allocation of resources is handled through a group of sliders – if you allocate more to consumer goods than the sliders for the other areas move lower as a result. You can lock individual sliders to a certain level if need be so that resources for other areas are drawn from elsewhere. You need to provide a minimum amount of resources to a particular facet of your economy for it to function at its peak efficiency, but you’ll rarely have the resources to satisfy all of your needs completely and this is where you’ll need to make some strategic choices.

Technology and its ability to help you field more powerful weapons is critical to your war effort. The tech tree in the game is extensive and is broken down into a number of areas such as armor and artillery, naval units, and aircraft. To begin researching a technology such as heavy tanks you must first select a firm or individual to conduct that research. Each one has its areas of expertise and will do better on some projects than others – for example, Porsche is a much better choice for armor research than is Junkers. The new technologies are broken down by component, and once each component has been researched the new technology will be available.