The original Hearts of Iron is regarded by many as one of the best WWII real-time strategy games. Incredibly deep, the game is now, after two years, getting a sequel, and if you are a fan of the first game, you will be happy to know that Hearts of Iron II is not only just as deep, but comes loaded with enough new features to make even the most hard-core war gamer’s head swim.
For newcomers, this game, much like the original, will be very intimidating, and it may actually take quite a few days of playtime before you begin to get a grasp on this monster of a game. Fortunately, the game’s difficulty settings can be adjusted to give newcomers a fighting chance against the game’s unforgiving and relentless AI, and the tutorials are actually quite helpful. Still, be prepared to take some serious beatings until you become familiar with all the bells and whistles; this game is not of the “pick up and play” variety.
Hearts of Iron II covers four major campaigns during WWII: 1935, 1939, 1941 and 1944. Regardless of the year in which you choose to begin your campaign, the game lasts until the war ends, in 1947. Needless to say, starting earlier leads to a longer game. Even if you’re a Hearts of Iron veteran, it’s recommended to begin with one of the smaller scrimmages, allowing you to become more comfortable with the basics of combat. These operations include The Coral Sea, Barbarossa, North Africa and the Allied invasions of Normandy, Italy and Japan, just to name a few.
Once you feel ready to take on the grand campaign, you will be responsible not just for the combat, but also for micromanaging every aspect of your war-going life, from troops on the battlefield and negotiations with other countries to trading for resources and allocating production. And you must manage all these aspects while trying to keep the home front happy. Managing all these tasks at once can become overwhelming for those who have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, but die-hard fans of micromanagement and real-time strategies will love the incredibly steep learning curve that Hearts of Iron II has to offer.
For this sequel, Paradox Plaza has enhanced the game’s AI so armies now attack on the move. This means that unlike in previous Paradox games, your armies no longer have to cross into enemy territory before they can engage in combat. Another welcome change is the broader missions for the Navy and Air forces, which eliminates the need to repeatedly issue them orders to attack the same targets. As a result, you can issue an order to bomb a certain group of territories over the span of a few months, and your troops will do so until the timetable for the attacks has been completed or you reach the loss-limit established for those units.
Unlike many recent WWII real-time strategy games, such as the numerous titles CDV has released, Hearts of Iron II has no use (nor need) for flashy or updated graphics. Even by war game standards, the graphics in Hearts of Iron II look outdated, even blocky at times. Although these types of games are about game play and not graphics, it never hurts to add some eye-candy.
The sound effects (or lack thereof) are just as bland as the graphics, so I suggest turning the sound off completely and listing instead to your favorite MP3s. The droning sound of the game’s music is comparable to fingernails on a chalkboard after 10 minutes, and when you’re trying to micromanage a virtual wartime society, anything that promotes frustration is a definite no-no.
Hearts of Iron II is a very complex and difficult WWII strategy game, but it makes no bones about catering to a casual crowd. Newcomers should stay far away, but hardcore RTS fans will find incredible depth. If the recent slew of recent WWII strategy games hasn’t quite filled your challenge quota, Hearts of Iron II is more than ready to step up to the plate.
- Gameplay: 8
- Plain and simple, this is micromanagement heaven but action-oriented hell.
- Graphics: 5
- Outdated and sometimes blocky, they look outdated by today’s PC standards.
- Sound: 4.5
- Boring music and very few sound effects. Just turn it off.
- Replay: 9
- Almost endless hours of gaming, if you’re the type who revels in micromanagement.
- Overall: 8
- A hardcore RTS fan’s dream come true, but only for the most hardcore.
— Randie Kilgore