McMillan’s Codex #51 by C.T. McMillan
Hearts of Iron IV
Trying new things can be daunting. Traveling, shooting a gun, and performing a stunt can be exhilarating and stressful if you have never done so before.
Videogames outside your preferred genre can be like that: you must consider the time and money required. You may play a game many people praise, but find your interest dissolving. That was my experience leading up to the purchase of Hearts of Iron IV (HoI).
I first heard about the game upon revisiting a YouTube channel I long since abandoned called DevilDogGamer. The titular DevilDog is a fan of all things military and HoI’s WWII setting appealed to him. Sometimes he delves into strategy, the game’s chosen genre, but unlike typical strategy games, HoI does something totally different.
The grand strategy genre takes elements of strategy and makes them bigger, complex, and depth-full. As you control units and their production, you must research technology, manage a country’s ideology, industry, and infrastructure. This scale of control is the heart (no pun intended) of HoI’s gameplay.
Imagine you are America in 1936 and you want to recruit an army. In an ordinary game, all you need is a building that produces combat units. In HoI, first you have to consider your level of manpower. In my case, my manpower was low because as America I was isolationist and disarmed. I could still mobilize an army, but the process took a while.
To change these factors, I could wait until WWII officially began or change America’s political ideology by appointing communist or fascist officials into government. After making my choice the political spectrum would shift from Democracy to whatever I chose. From there I could make changes to the economy and military systems to allow for better army production.
Then I had to make arms and equipment for my forces. Production requires factories, so I needed to build military factories in my available territory. Each state has a factory limit and I also had to consider importing resources, which requires civilian factories. You get to a point where you must choose between having a well-equipped small army or a massive horde armed with muskets. There are also the essential materiel like tanks, airplanes and ships if your ambitions are global.
The stat values or strength of the arms and equipment is determined by what technologies you research. From weapons to science there are several upgrades and modifiers that become available, but you have a limited number of research slots, and each takes months of game time to complete. Luckily, time can be sped up and extra slots can be unlocked later. Once the technologies are unlocked they can be applied to production. If an army has outdated equipment, they will be replaced with the new.
The most important part of gameplay is combat. Before marching on a rival you want to conquer, you must justify a war goal with your government. Then you can move your army to the border, establish a front line your army will hold, and declare war. Along the frontline your army will spread out into individual units, making movement easy as you guide the army. Alternatively, you can set up an offensive line that your army will march to automatically. Here the micromanagement of equipment comes into play as your army’s stats are pitted against your enemy.
When playing HoI, you must consider all of that. Every move you make does not occur without considering all the variables. You cannot march into enemy territory without figuring in the infrastructure required to keep your army reinforced. You cannot build up forces without taking into account the required manpower. The complexity of gameplay is so immense I had to rely on second-hand materials to learn what the game’s mediocre tutorial could not teach.
What drew me to the game was the fact that you can change history. HoI takes place in the earlier years of WWII, but the events that followed can play out at random. If you turn off the game’s historical accuracy modifier, other factions will do whatever they want. Germany may defeat the Soviet Union, Japan may conquer Siberia, or the United Kingdom may take the whole of Africa. With the country you pick, you can change the course of history. What if America remained isolationist and let Hitler run rampant or became a fascist empire that took over South America? The possibilities are endless.
For all the faults in learning how to play and the massive complexity, Hearts of Iron IV could not be more worth consideration. Once you understand the mechanics the game becomes engrossing and a great challenge. Moreover, the alternate history angle makes the experience an absolute blast.