Hearts of Iron III Hands-On Preview (PC)

Hearts of Iron III
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
Genre: Grand Strategy
Release Date: Q3 2009

I won’t lie. One of the main reasons I joined Diehard GameFAN is to get free videogames, and the game I wanted most over all others is this one: Hearts of Iron III. Hearts of Iron II still stands as one of my favorite strategy games and I played it almost religiously along with its expansion packs.

For those that don’t know what Hearts of Iron is all about, it’s a real time grand strategy game set in the turbulent years of the Second World War. You can take control of any country (even minnows like Mongolia) during this period and lead it to glory in any fashion you wish.

Hearts of Iron III brings the series into the 3-D age using the Europa Universalis III engine. I don’t consider this a good thing as I felt the extremely basic 3-D in EU added nothing to the game. It also didn’t look as good as plain old 2D, but I have to admit that the 3-D in HOI3 is done very well. The map has this rough texture that makes it look like an authentic WWII map when zoomed out (though when fully zoomed out the textures are removed for better viewing), but when you completely zoom in, it uses models instead of counters. Here the screen takes an annoying ¾ view that somewhat lessens the amount of map you can see. As such, it’s better to use the NATO style military counters.

After sitting through a tutorial hosted by Adolf Hitler, I picked Italy as I have fond memories of starting a south-eastern European empire stretching to Afghanistan in the east. The first thing I noticed is how the Diplomacy and Politics are now their own separate tabs and each of them has been fleshed out with more options than ever before. In politics you now have to balance out the different political parties vying for power and also enact laws concerning training, education and the economy. Basically, this replaces the old slider system where you had the chance to move the slider once per year. Now you’re free to move laws around as you wish, provided you’ve met their pre-conditions (You can’t have a full mobilized economy when you’re at peace, for example).

Diplomacy is now also a far more complex game with a triangle representing the three great powers (Axis, Allies and Comintern). All of the nations are mapped out on this triangle depending on how close they are to a certain faction. They also drift around depending on how their internal politics are going and how their diplomatic relationships change.

Research took the biggest blow in my opinion. Tech teams are gone and your nation has a “pool” of technical experience that increases the more you do research. For example, the more you research tank technologies, the better your nation gets at tank research and so on. It makes perfect sense from a gameplay point of view, but from a romantic point of view I’ll never have the chance to instruct Mitsubishi to research new fighter aircraft ever again.

The biggest addition is the huge number of provinces in the game: over 14,000! This has huge repercussions on gameplay as now you have a lot more territory to cover. So no more of those huge stacks of divisions slugging it out in narrow chokepoints anymore. Winning requires actual strategy and planning.

I’m also happy to report that the beta is very stable with no obvious glitches or crashing whatsoever, athough the AI is still being tweaked so it’s pretty dumb right now. The tutorial is very bare bones and barely covers the game. Since no manual is out yet, I was left scratching my head at many points in the game. The large amount of Engrishy text didn’t help to clarify matters.

All in all, Hearts of Iron fans have something special to look forward to when this game lands sometime in the third quarter of this year as I haven’t even touched on many other great aspects Paradox have included in this release (license building, division builder, expanded intelligence…ect) so look forward to the review of Hearts of Iron III on Diehard GameFAN.

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