Hearts of Iron IV is the fourth instalment of Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy game focusing on the Second World War. The game focuses on either the preamble to the war, the political tensions and struggles that were going on at the time, or the opening days of the conflict.
Allowing you to play through the game as one of the many world powers at the time. The range is impressive, with the obvious players like Britain’s Neville Chamberlain, the German Reich’s Adolf Hitler, to Mao Zedong in the PRC and Emperor Shōwa of Imperial Japan.
With each nation having different conflicts, alliances, internal and external tensions, plus national beliefs and focus, they provide an interesting variety to the way the game can play itself out. You are also given the choice as playing as other nations, which while having a more generic series of mechanics (that overlaps between the nations considerably more) they are involved in many different, and often more localised conflicts. They are both easier and more difficult to play out. Without an empire, and the conflicts that either border or ravage those nations, you can focus more precisely on managing everything within your state’s boundaries.
For those coming from similar games from Paradox Interactive – such as earlier editions or Europa Universalis, the gameplay will feel familiar. Industry and development are controlled by factories (designated military or civilian) that produce the required vehicles or munitions for your war effort. Diverting resources to in-demand items is very simple and this screen makes it very clear what is needed and how long it will take to produce them. War is controlled by building armies from divisions of soldiers, and then drawing front lines and directing offensive drives.
For those coming into this game fresh to the genre, it will all appear utterly overwhelming if you just try and dive straight in. It is possible to do so, but it is likely you will find yourself stuck at points, or operating in an extremely inefficient manner. When you understand what the options and illustrations on the map mean, managing everything is very easy. When you don’t know what they mean you can intuit an incorrect understanding and wander into a fight you are never going to win. This is especially important to consider if you are coming from other strategies games like Civilisation V, for which management of troops and resources is substantially simpler than here.
The game encourages you to follow through national behaviours that occurred in the 1930’s and 40’s, but you can choose to ignore these for either personal or mechanical benefits. If you want to become the leader of the Conservative Party and install a communist front bench, you are free to do so. The focus is still very much based in the history of the time. As the game opens civil wars break out, the German Reich begins its expansionary approach, and you have to respond to them, mostly within the realms of what is expected of your leader. But as the game goes on, and conflicts and events are resolved differently to how the timeline begins to divulge, and you can begin to feel like you are truly in control of the destiny of your country.
Hearts of Iron IV is a game that seems to gain mechanical depth with each playthrough. Every time you try a new nation, approach, or personal objective you find new opportunities that are built into the mechanics of the game. The game is hard to explain in words because it is so mechanically dense (and the guide that Paradox provided me was only 26 pages long), but for those who enjoy grand strategy games there is a vast world to get sunk into, and if you enjoy the history of WWII as well then this is a game that would be unfortunate to miss. It is not the easiest game, and it can feel very opaque at times, but Hearts of Iron IV is a wonderful entry in the grand strategy genre.