It's no secret I'm a pretty huge fan of Paradox's grand strategy titles. Both Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV are still in semi-regular rotation on my days off, and I could bore you to death talking about setting colonial trade policies.
But Hearts of Iron, Paradox's take on World War II, has yet to receive the modernized overhaul that EUIV and CKII underwent. You know: A semi-functional tutorial, stylish artwork, an emphasis on being at least somewhat accessible. Basically, the things that make Paradox's grand strategy games somewhat broadly playable nowadays in a way that past entries weren't.
It's especially notable in the case of the Hearts of Iron series because Hearts of Iron III was...problematic. Enough so that most fans will still tell you to play Hearts of Iron II instead. I don't know, because I found it intimidatingly hard to get into either of the two.
So now Hearts of Iron IV is on the horizon. I got my hands on the game recently, playing as both Germany and Japan. Here's what I learned.
This game is still insanely hard
Demoing a Paradox game is probably the worst trial-by-combat I've ever experienced in this industry. Ideally, a Paradox grand strategy title is something you ease into, like training for a marathon — except instead of limbering up and gradually building endurance, you're sitting in a desk chair for hours on end sipping scotch and occasionally muttering to yourself about tariffs.
The first time I demoed Europa Universalis IV the dev team wanted to play a bit of multiplayer with us. I decided to try and play as the Golden Horde, at which point I was promptly conquered by my neighbors in the first five minutes and booted from the game. The Paradox team laughed at me and basically said "Yeah, that's a horrible country to try and start as. We'll restart the game so you can get back in."
My time with Hearts of Iron IV didn't go much better. Paradox wanted us to start as Germany in 1936 because it's a fast-paced start with an immediate objective (capture Poland) and a fair number of troops at your disposal (in contrast to starting as Sweden, for instance).
Like Paradox's other grand strategy titles, the game is sort of a hybrid of what you'd expect from real-time and turn-based strategy games. The game runs at a steady pace, but you can pause at any point to make decisions (at least when you're playing alone), and troop movements or research take a set period of time. Since this is World War II and not the entirety of the colonial era, these periods of time are reduced from "years" in Europa Universalis to mere months or even days in Hearts of Iron IV.
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