Högni and Amy's game project

Thought in deed

Hearts of Iron III

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For those who don’t know, Hearts of Iron is a WWII deep strategy game. I don’t really play a lot of this type of game, but I spent a while playing this one.

Some time ago I tried to play Hearts of Iron II, the preceding release in the series. After trying for a couple of hours, I gave up, as the interface and gameplay was too difficult to get into. I read some reviews and forum postings about the new release and saw they were mostly favourable so I decided to give this installment a try. I bought the game on steam and started diving in. I read several informative tutorial posts on the Paradox Plaza HOI3 After Action Reports forum, and I finally got into the game.

My initial impressions were very good. The gameplay was relatively easy going, with only a slight learning curve. I started a game as the British Empire in 1936. After several restarts, I finally got the hang of the detailed resource management and thought I was in a good position by 1939, when the war historically started. Then things started to go a bit downhill. The problem is not the socio-political management simulation, which is good. The land combat modelling is also very nice, enabling the player to perform envelopments and tactical retreats and more. The problem lies in the fact that the naval and aerial combat modelling is completely broken.

This might not affect players if they are playing as germany or russia or another major land antagonist. It does however severely affect any player playing as Britain, USA or Italy. All these nations historically relied on air and naval power to forward their objectives. The north african campaign for example was arguably decided by air and naval power alone. Sure, there was grunt work involved, but British air power based on Malta, and naval power based in Alexandria managed to nearly stop alll reinforcements from reaching North Africa from Italy. There are examples of convoys leaving Italy and losing fully 3/4 their number to airplanes.

In Hearts of Iron ships are hardly ever sunk by airplanes. Airplanes have little if any effect on land combat, even specialized close support units. This is completely at odds with historical fact. The battle of the bulge took a decided turn when the weather lifted and air attacks destroyed the german tank columns.

My first game developed along the usual (HOI3) lines of germany attacks poland and eliminates it, then attacks france and is stopped at the Maginot Line. Attacking through the low countries never occurs to the german AI. Italy then proceeds to conquer France. None the less, after France falls, it goes to Germany, either annexed or Puppeted as Vichy France. Germany then attacks into Denmark and is stopped by the Danish and Swedish armies. Seeing this, I sent my army into Denmark, cut of roughly a thirds of the german army there, and then proceeded to conquer all of Germany.

Those landings in Denmark and northern Germany should have been impossible due to the number of planes in german possession. But all of my ships got through, despite heavy air attacks on the landing fleet.

In my next game germany never declared war on the allies. They invaded Greece and took it, but no invasion was ever attempted on France. In the game thereafter, everything looked like the same thing would happen, and I finally decided to declare war myself. My african armies quickly eliminated the italians in Africa, and I decided to take a closer look at what was happening in Europe. As it turned out, the germans had not invaded France yet, but the Italians were deep in Champagne country. After taking stock of my forces, I sent all units that were not engaged in East Africa stamping out the remains of the ethiopian army, to the border of Italy and France, cutting off most of the Italian army inside France without supplies. Again, if air power was properly modelled I would never have been able to send dozens of ships, unmolested, up the west coast of Italy, to land forces at the top of the boot. After the Italian army in France was enveloped and destroyed, France happily went ahead and conquered all of Italy while I sent my forces into Germany. 2 months later it was all over again.

After this I can’t really justify spending time on this game. Even though building up your forces in the pre-war years is fun and interesting, the actual war is without any challenge whatsoever. Added to that, playing as a naval nation is neutered by the wierd ineffectiveness of landbased air power. It should be difficult to maintain supply lines to North Africa for the British, with the Italians controlling the air. It’s not. It should be a challenge to face the Japanese in the Pacific, facing supply difficulties and distances. Ditto here. The Japanese are overrun in the first months of the war by the Nationalist Chinese in short order and are a non-entity in the game.

After spending hours in the buildup, the game is always completely dissapointing in the endgame. What a shame, as it promised to bring a deep strategy game to the masses, yet fails by the fact that it plays completely unrealistically.

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Written by Högni Gylfason

16.09.09 at 11:29

Posted in Games

Tagged with ,

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