Hearts of Iron IV – The ‘What if?’ World War Simulator

After an extensive amount of revision for my history A level, I’ve developed a yearning for changing events. What if, Hitler sent the panza division to Dunkirk? What if JFK wasn’t assassinated? What if Trump was? What if I spent time doing my essay instead of playing Tetris into the early hours of Monday morning? Problem is, we haven’t developed any technology of the sort so in the mean time I’ll stick to virtually changing 1936-1945. Paradox Software’s latest ‘epic strategy’ game Hearts of Iron IV allows the player to take control of any country in 1936 or 1938 and dictate their actions through out the World War 2 , historically accurate or not.

Now that’s the simple summary out the way, time to get into the nitty-gritty. The gameplay is pretty complicated. I say ‘pretty’ with a fear of admitting how long it took me to even understand the game and I know I am nowhere near mastering it. It would take longer than this train journey to Manchester to describe to you so  I advise anyone interested to watch a twenty part tutorial if they want to learn. Whilst this has immediately turned off a lot of you already from even consider buying the game I’ll try to show you why I am having so much fun with it.

Paradox Software have used all their expertise in this game to create a thoroughly enjoyable game that keeps you engaged. They have allowed room for imagination they perfected with their genre-defying City Skylines and nailed the historical feel they gained knowledge about in Europa Universalis IV. The game all takes place on a boardgame-style map of the world which has acute detail when you scroll right into the forests of Northern Russia and an enchanting feel of scale of when you zoom out to see the continent of Africa. This allows for some real immersion in the game’s single-player as you genuinely feel strength when you can crush countries like Lithuania and keel over in fear of the Nazi Regime blitzkrieg-ing through the entirety of Europe. The UI is neatly designed also allowing an easy button press to take off a lot of annoying features like the day and night cycle (who plays with that seriously?) and to toggle on and off allied battle plans. That one comes pretty important when your pal Stalin is planning a separate plan for each of his thirty armies but you can’t see what your two divisions of Mongolian Calvary are up to. Side note: Don’t pick Mongolia unless you want to sit there for 2 hours trying to develop an army even Greenland wouldn’t use (Long live the Mongolian Fascist Regime).

Whilst the gameplay is too complicated for me to explain, take my word for it when I say it works. In fact, it’s so well designed even your craziest dreams are possible, for instance, what if the USA suddenly turned communist? I don’t know but it sounds fun. Every country has its own ‘National Focus’ tree which gives them tailored and well thought out event trees you can go down, which give their own benefits and drawbacks respectively. Even as I write this I want to just name off possible things to try out and see what changes. To make it even more fun I advise turning off historic AI so theirs even more randomness to their actions. As for the actual combat, it would make any battlefield tactics enthusiast giggle like a little school girl. To continue my quest of keeping this review simple I’ll just state theirs a lot of micro-management possible and depth to the battle plans but can just be set to auto and watch your troops plough through the lands of your enemies.

A major enjoyment factor for me is the politics and diplomacy threaded through the game. The game allows you plenty of options to interact with other countries like improving relations and creating factions but also allow for you to influence a political party’s popularity or even cause a civil war if you’ve got the political power to do it. I enjoy it so much because every sensible interaction possible has an ‘event’ for it. This is simply a little news article that pops up with a headline and a bit of text explaining whats going on but shows that extra bit of care that Paradox took to make this game. I challenged myself to find one it didn’t have it for by being Czechoslovkia and pushing to capture the German Reich but lo and behold a little article popped up stating ‘The Fall of Berlin’ and detail explaining how the Czechs pushed through. Like the gameplay, the politics is sensible and believable, an example being if Poland invaded Finland, Finland would join the allies and bring in the UK to help them. On the other hand, if Finland flipped to a communist state it would call on the great Mother Russia to stomp them out. This sometimes leads to even more countries piling in to defend certain pacts and alliances to the point where you ‘accidentally’ cause World War Two to happen three years earlier.

Although a lot of my playtime is spent on me playing on my own adventures, the multiplayer allows for even more surreal game experiences. Like being every country in south America and sweeping the USA out the game before they can even consider the Nuclear bomb (We got you Japan). This is of course, assuming your friends don’t just want to solely take you out the game as early as they can. Which has its own enjoyment factor as you have to end up trying to get one ups against them in the micro-management combat, there’s also nothing more satisfying as capitulating another player’s country. Now there are loads of features I’ve left out and not talked about ( Navy, Air Combat, Factories, Division Designers to name a few) but I hope I can convince you when I say it’s probably my favorite game I’ve played in recent history. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s overtaken the Civilization series when it comes to these strategic epics – However that could just be due to gross amount of playing the games – and if I knew about it last year probably would have been my game of the year.

As a lovely side dish, the game is constantly being updated with a weekly development log and a super active modding community behind it allows for fine tuning of elements and allows some countries that get overlooked to gain as much enjoyment as playing as a major power. Whilst I could name problems like the sometimes silly A.I when it comes the automatic combat mode or occasional bugs in online mode, they have a really minimal effect on the overall game experience.

I hope my abnormal amount of praise for this game convinced you to give it a look. I don’t usually have this much to talk about. Let’s just hope that Mongolia will finally get’s its buff to be as powerful as the German Reich and finally fulfill my dream of the entire world being under the Mongolian Fascist Regime.

A Division has no orders,

-Sam Burdis

P.S A Levels are finally here and Summer so I’ll be returning probably in September sometime and whilst I travel to Salford for a university interview I hope I’ll be speaking to you from a comfy student union. x


Hearts of Iron IV – The ‘What if?’ World War Simulator