Gamers are not renowned for their patience, their planning abilities, their attention to detail. Non gamers often think that video games are only first person shooters that teach us nothing and offer no clear skills. Well, I played at least one game that taught me World War II history, taught me how to plan ahead and how to manage resources. I also developed a healthy respect for tacticians and for researchers and have a better idea of how alternate history scenarios involving Nazis and fascist America could play out. The name of the game was Hearts of Iron III complete with the recently launched Semper Fi expansion pack and the most recent beta patch.Gameplay
It's hard to describe what Hearts of Iron III asks from the player. Paradox Interactive has managed to cram a lot of different game systems into this game and it can all be quite overwhelming, especially for those who do not have a previous experience with the first two games in the series. Basically the player is the leader of any nation he chooses and he can control the diplomacy, the unit building, the development of new technology, the intelligence work and the moves of the national armies. Depending on what country he chooses to play he can set his own goals, shaped by the way the world looked at the beginning of the game, or he can choose to get to certain goals suggested by the developers. At any points sections of the experience can be delegated to the Artificial Intelligence, which is usually a pretty bad idea but can relieve the player of some pressure.
Semper Fi introduces a lot of significant positive changes to Hearts of Iron III. The biggest of them is the visual Order of Battle tool. The chain of command can easily be seen on the map and selecting any unit leads to a menu that shows it's relation to the rest of the army and can guide the player around the structure of division, corps and theaters. It's easier than ever to assign commanders and to change army distribution. The fact that new theaters can now be defined easily by drag and drop on the map is also a huge help to those who play nations with world conquest ambitions.
Semper Fi also brings two new map modes, one naval and one aerial that are helpful when looking to defeat enemy strategic bombardment incursions or determine the best spot for convoy raiding. There are also an option to call specific allied powers to one province, either to defend them or to force them to attack it, although the orders don't always determine actual action on the part of the ally. Paradox is also talking a lot about improvements to the Artificial Intelligence and when it comes to battle tactics the computer seems to put up a better fight. A new patch that makes it even more capable is being worked on at the moment when I am writing this review.
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|Feels like winning ||Ready for some more units |
There is also an unfortunate addition packaged with Semper Fi. Paradox has repeatedly said that Hearts of Iron III is not a historical simulator but a sandbox game, yet they chose to add events linked to real world battles that pop up at the most inappropriate of times, never adding anything in terms of immersion.
One very bad issue that Semper Fi does not change in any way is the lack of a proper introduction to the mechanics. The tutorial is mostly a joke and true preparation entails reading the manual to the two releases and then looking to the official forum for more information and the strategy guide. If another expansion is ever delivered it would be nice to see a true introduction, guiding the player around the interface and how certain gameplay mechanics influence each other.
Graphics and audio
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|Command chain ||Situation on the front |
Hearts of Iron III is not aiming to be a good looking video game as usability trumps beauty when it comes to controlling an entire world war. The game now has more map modes, allowing for more information to be viewed at a glance without scrolling through ledgers. I tend to play Hearts of Iron III with counter on but there are also new sprites to look at for those who do not like the monotony of the counters. One major addition to the graphical section of the game is the fact that the Order of Battle can now be seen clearly, with different colored lines connecting units and options being introduced to allow HQ units to be represented bigger the higher they are in the command chain.
Sound is another aspect of the experience that has limited importance for the gamer looking to conquer the world playing as Argentina (apparently currently not doable in Hearts of Iron III). The music is serviceable enough but I tend to find that firing up a music player and putting on some classical music works well with the World War II theme.Multiplayer
It's pretty easy to set up a multiplayer game of Hearts of Iron III as long as you have a group with which to play. It's pretty hard to jump in with random persons because skill and knowledge of the mechanics is so important in experiencing and in enjoying the game when facing off against other players. Groups should also lay down some house rules, mostly related to the building of Industrial Capacity and to the exploitation of certain types of units.
But once a game gets going and with plenty of time available Hearts of Iron III is a joy to play with other humans. Most of the tactics that work against the Artificial Intelligence no longer work and there's also the challenge of learning what makes another player and nation tick and exploiting that knowledge in order to defeat them. The only problem is that any small modifications made to an install of Hearts of Iron III will change the checksum and a reinstall might be in order before a multiplayer session can be joined.Conclusion
Hearts of Iron III with this new expansion pack is one of the deepest and most engaging strategy titles on the market at the moment. It can easily steal four hours a day for three or four months as one tries the various big nations from World War II and then tries a few minors. Those who also throw mods, created by the community to enhance certain elements of the game or to change the fundamental structure of the gameplay, and another couple of months can easily be eaten up by Hearts of Iron III. And in a few months community favorites like C.O.R.E. and the Total Realism Project will be launched, making the Paradox title feel completely different from the original release.
Sure, new comers might have a problem with the difficulty curve and there are a lot of crashes still reported on the official forums, although I seem to only have one when quitting the game. The way Paradox now develops its franchises, with the potential of one title being only realized after a few expansions and patches can also be off putting for a lot of gamers. But I urge them to get over their issues and take Hearts of Iron III and the Semper Fi expansion out for the spin so that they can discover one of the most ambitious and most complex video games of the year.