Hearts of Iron IV review (PC)

Hearts of Iron IV is the latest entry in Paradox’s long-running strategy franchise. Here is our review.

When looking at Paradox, it’s easy to conclude that they stick by their strategy franchises and keep improving them. Just look at Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron, which both have been going strong for about 15 years now. This isn’t just because of a new game every couple of years, it’s also because extra content and game updates are regularly released. It’s that type of dedication that shines through in Hearts of Iron IV as well, and it pays off.

Hearts of Iron IV is a so-called ‘grand strategy’ game that focuses on the period around the Second World War. It plays out in real time, but it’s different from real time strategy games in that your typical real time strategy title revolves around missions that take place in a limited area whereas the scope of a game like Hearts of Iron is global. Where real time strategy usually focuses on resource management, base building and troop movements, grand strategy has a bigger emphasis on things like politics and negotiations as well.

In Hearts of Iron IV, you’re free to choose and command any nation that played a part in the Second World War. This is a highly impactful choice, because choosing a superpower will result in a very different type of game than choosing a small country will. Your goal might be conquest, or it could be to get through the war through smart negotiations and decisions that keep your country away from conflict. And those are just the big goals to strive for, since there are numerous ways to reach them.

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Hearts of Iron IV gives you, especially when playing as a superpower, the option to wage war on land, sea and in the air. Combining these is often central to your chances of success, since taking out a group of enemies from the air can pave the way for your ground troops to move into a strategically important spot. This is made even more interesting by the role that the terrain and weather conditions play. If you have units that do well in snow, you can use the cover of the Alps to flank an opponent and attack them from behind.

Then there is the non-military part of the game, which is especially important when playing with a smaller nation but also plays a large role when controlling a mighty military empire. You’ll have to form smart alliances through politics and diplomacy, but making the right trade decisions can go a long way in establishing and maintaining these relationships as well.

With such a multi-facetted game, it’s easy to get lost in all kinds of micromanagement if you’re not careful. Luckily, the game provides AI assistants to help you with most of these tasks. As long as you give them clear enough instructions and boundaries to work in, they usually do a good enough job at keeping things running smoothly. Every now and then the AI (yours, but also the enemy’s) will show some erratic (or inexplicable) behavior though, where you have no idea why war was just declared or a treaty was broken. Then again, maybe war is not supposed to make sense.

Like most strategy titles, Hearts of Iron IV features a technology tree that allows you to develop your nation’s skills and knowledge. You’re not restricted to just developing one technology at a time, although spreading your resources thinly does of course have an effect on how fast you’ll finishing researching something. In addition to generic technologies that every nation can research, you also have access to a few nation-specific technologies that resonate with the real-life events of the time period. For instance, if you choose to play with Germany then you might want to invest heavily in U-boat technology, an option that makes no sense for other nations.

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Devising and executing a strategy isn’t a split second decision, but rather a process that can take months (of in-game time) for you to complete. If your plan is to invade a nation, then you’ll spend a lot of time researching the right technologies, making sure you have the right treaties in place and have access to resources, and building up your military might. That doesn’t even mention your troop movements and strategy for the actual invasion. This just goes to show that once such an invasion is successful, the feeling of accomplishment is a well-deserved one.

The Hearts of Iron games have never been audiovisual treats, and part IV is no exception. The game did get a substantial upgrade in terms of how everything looks though – and in a game like this it’s not the 3D graphics that you buy the game for. Performance levels are high, and despite being a complex game the UI presents everything clearly to the user. The game could have used more (or better) tutorials to help explain some of the game’s intricacies, because at times we had to resort to some trial and error to get things done. Luckily, this becomes less and less of a factor the more you play.

With so many ways to play the game, even when you keep playing with the same nation, Hearts of Iron IV is an excellent strategy title and a worthy addition to a long-running series of games. We haven’t even touched on multiplayer because we sank so much time into various single player games already, but that just goes to show how much value for money you’re getting here.

Score: 8.6/10

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