Friday, October 09, 2009

Hearts of Iron 3

When I wrote my first impressions for Hearts of Iron 3 a couple of weeks ago, I didn't sound very pleased with the game. Which is a first when it comes to new games. Normally I start liking it then go off them when I realise a couple of days later that actually it is boring and repetitive.

In truth, my negative impressions didn't disappear the day after I wrote that. Hardly a time went by without me cursing the game numerous times. Playing it became a chore. I only persisted for three reasons:

  1. Troy Goodfellow, a reviewer I respect greatly, said it was good
  2. The concept filled me with a buzz, I wanted to be a commander in a massive theatre of war
  3. I had spent money on it, I wasn't about to chuck it away
However, as you may have guessed, I am now thoroughly in to the game. It is far from perfect, and there are still plenty of elements I curse for just being so stupidly convoluted. However, I now feel comfortable that I am playing it right, and hence write a review.

However, I won't be attaching my normal scoring system to this review like I do with every other game I have ever reviewed. The reason is simple, the score will be completely different depending on who you are. I am not going to lie to you, if the concept of the game does not fill you with excitement you will never get in to the game. Even if it does, you will still need a large amount of patience. Even then, the game is far from perfect. For this reason, I shall not give the game a score. For some of you, it would be an 8.5 whilst for others it would be a 0.

As I have said, the game has numerous flaws. These range from frustrating glitches, poor memory management (the game will lag, unless you are running some kind of super computer, I have 4GB of RAM, which should be more than enough), and plenty of user interface floors.

Getting an overview of what is going on is nearly impossible. The game does a poor job of choosing what information you need to see (like provinces being taken) and what is utterly irrelevant (like minor research developments). You have to manually choose what information you want displayed and how, which simply isn't practical. When you are going through the game for the first time, you don't know what will be important. However, you neither want to be overwhelmed or missing out on key bits of information. I felt both of these as getting in to Hearts of Iron.

They have implemented a fantastic system to break down your troops in to divisions and then companies then brigades, but offer no group selection other than drag and drop, meaning that divisions serve no practical purpose. They also allow you to put theatres or divisions under control of generals. However, it is neither obvious how you do it, nor is it clear if there are disadvantages for using less talented generals.

You start the game with numerous units, but the game lacks a clear overview screen so you must spend the first 45 minutes of any game going through all your units so you have a clear idea of what you have and where they are. I found that unless you are prepared to micromanage everything, your units will not be organised in to any kind of hierarchy and you will simply move

The game gives you control over loads of things, but each screen is overwhelming when you first look at it, with only the ever tempting "Give AI Control" element making sense! Fortunatley, the most important screen, the production screen, where you choose what to build, is fairly intuitive and helpful tool-tips clear up any confusion. However, one of your tasks is to split your resources between various different things through sliders. However, between a bug that means they reset every 5 seconds if you don't close the screen or pause the game, and the fact that there is simply not enough options for controlling them (for example, I want to be able to set some of them to track their minimum value) it becomes a frustrating balancing act, and takes you away from the fun of the game.

Despite all that, once you understand what is going on, the game is fun. Managing your troops and conquering the world is great, once you have got over the oddities of simple things like selecting and transporting troops etc. Because the game models things like supply routes, you have so much more freedom when it comes to strategies. Doing things like encircling your enemy as they run out of supplies make you feel like a real war general. And when the enemy does the same to you, dropping in supplies by plane or using the last of your troops supplies to make a mad dash to re-establish routes creates a real sense of war that no game I have ever played has managed. The World War 2 feel is captured perfectly and the boxes that look like you would find on a generals map help the war aesthetic.

So in short, a really interesting grand strategy game hides behind numerous problems that means this game is going to be a big time investment to get in to. Frustratingly obvious things that seem so simple to fix really detract from the whole experience, even after you have got in to it. As I said at the beginning, you will only get past the huge learning curve if you really want to. If you want a light grand strategy game with immediate rewards, play something like Sins of a Solar Empire, which is much more instantly gratifying. However, if thinking about managing supply lines, moving vast armies and playing the diplomatic game in the epic setting of World War 2 fills you with excitement, then there is a really interesting, deep and rewarding game here.

It it worth noting that the manual is particularly useful and, at time of publication, the game is not cheaper on Steam than at retail shops. As such, if you are going to get it, I strongly recommend purchasing it in real life. I am hopefully going to write a very short noobs guide to getting in to Hears of Iron 3 over the next week.


  1. so when you've written this noob guide, can i come round and play it...for a week???

  2. Yeah you might need to! I would offer to lend it to you, but I don't think it runs on Mac, have you got boot camp or whatever it's called? The thing that lets you run Windows stuff.


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