I’ve owned the Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy game Hearts of Iron IV for quite a while now. It came out in June of 2016, and I’m going to guess I bought it a year later during Paradox’s infamous summer sale. So let’s say four years. Aaaand I sucked. So I didn’t play it. And while I wanted to like it, I wasn’t really sure I did, mostly because I sucked. So until spring of 2021, I’d only put about eight hours in. Come about a month ago, I’d put about twelve hours in. In the past three weeks of starting this article, I’ve doubled that. Yeah, my crappy yearly average is still crappy, but damn that’s a pretty good increase.
To put things in perspective, Paradox is the company that produces games like Europa Universalis IV, Crusader Kings III, and the recently announced Victoria III (Vikki4 confirmed, btw). Those games all have something in common: they’re in the past. Okay, HoI4 takes place in the past as well, throughout the Second World War, but it’s a lot more recent than the others, even the Victorian Era one (take a guess at which). And, importantly, the technology is skyrocketing. No longer is it “here’s a slightly better gun”, it’s “here’s a way better gun and tanks and planes and also artillery”. Unlike other Paradox games, where you kinda just ask for military units and then smush them together into an army, in Hearts of Iron you set up lines of troops along borders for either offensive or defensive purposes. Not only that, but your guns don’t just appear with your soldiers, you have to build up your industry and take resources and make whatever it is you need. Needless to say, there are some major differences, and I was a bit confused, even after watching YouTube tutorials and playing the in-game tutorial multiple times (which I will say isn’t bad, Paradox tutorials were a bit mediocre until HoI4‘s release).
Anyway, I’d play the tutorial for a while, and then give up, leave it for months, repeat ad naseum. And on this most recent play/tutorial watch…hey, I’d finally mostly kinda got it! Or at least enough to play. And then comes the Second World War. The tutorial starts you off as Italy, since they’re a great power, and the only nation at the 1936 starting date that has any hope in hell of winning (sorry, Ethiopia). The tutorial ends once you’ve won the war against Ethiopia, and suggests that you no longer need as many troops in Africa, and you should bring some back home. Which I did…and which was kind of stupid. Or, at least, it was stupid to not send them back. WWII occurs when most of Africa is divided up between European nations, following the previous century’s Scramble For Africa. Which means all of Italy’s Savanna-encroaching lands…are surrounded by Great Britain. Oops, probably should have gotten some guys down there on the defensive. When I started losing all that, I’d planned on giving up once again, probably to take yet another crack at it in the future. But instead, I powered on. Yeah, I’ve lost all my African territory, and yeah, that long border with France was pretty scary until La France est allée kaput (especially since I about doubled its length by annexing Switzerland). But instead I just kept guys on my border, defending my own lands, until the German war machine started taking over Europe. Yeah, the Axis were evil fascist assholes, but playing as them in a video game has its advantages.
Right now I’m in December of 1940 and am going on the offensive, because all of the big, scary people who aren’t Great Britain have gone down to the German steam roller (not looking forward to when the States joins, hoooo boy). As in actual World War Two, you don’t win when you beat the war goal. The Allies after all, didn’t quit when Poland was annexed, even though that’s what started the war. Instead, you have to beat all of the major powers, who are the strongest nations in the game. Right now the only two major powers on the other side are Great Britain, and, for some reason, Greece, whom I’m fairly certain I can beat. The Brits…I dunno. They have a lot of colonial land that needs to be captured before they’ll capitulate (you don’t actually have to take colonial land a nation to surrender, it does make them stronger), and the Americans will be joining at some point. They’re a major power, unsurprisingly. Hopefully they’ll stay in Asia and not set their sights on Europe, but I can’t just defend against them, I have to beat them to win the war. And even though I’m on a lower difficulty (the tutorial plays one level below normal), the difficulty in the game, like most strategy games, simply changes the bonuses or penalties that the AI or player gets. Which means that I have to get in there, because two AI nations will be the same strength with respect to each other regardless of difficulty. I think the most likely outcome is that the war drags on until the end of the game, with probably a greater chance I’ll lose than that I’ll win.
Still, I’ll play until the end, or until I get bored. And then…I’ll play again. Maybe not immediately, but I will be coming back to Hearts of Iron IV, which is something I was never sure I’d be doing. I even have some plans to do democratic Germany which…I dunno, stay out of the Rhineland I guess? Tell Austria I don’t want them? I really have no idea beyond “choose democratic political advisors and play nice”, but I do know it’s possible. You can play pretty much any nation as any ideology, although I think you’d have to be pretty damn good to move the Soviets away from communism. After that (probably before, because it would be way easier) I’d like to play fascist Britain, which I think is pretty much game won. As long as you swap ideologies quickly, you’d be able to conquer all of Europe before before the US even thought of considering joining. And before all that…Mexico. Just Mexico. They have to deal with not one, but two civil wars, and I think fighting ally-less in those would let me get a better hold on the way the warfare works, without having to deal with a bunch of outside crap. I might even turn historical AI focus off (which is just what it sounds like, the AI takes mostly the path it took in real life) and see what happens in the far-off Europe. Although a non-democratic America would kind of suck…so maybe not that.
At any rate, that’s a lot of words to say one simple thing: if you’ve played a bit of a game and aren’t sure if you like it or not because you have no idea what you’re doing, play it a bit more. Maybe watch a tutorial or two. Maybe give it a few tries, unless you’re completely certain you don’t like it (to be perfectly honest, once Britain started taking all my African land in my current game, I was on the brink of deciding I didn’t like Hearts of Iron). Because, once you know what the hell you’re doing, you might like it. You might even love it. And finding a new game to love…well that’s never a bad thing.
Oh, and fuel sucks. I played so little before it was added that I have no memory of it not existing, but I wanted to add that it sucks. Probably necessary, definitely sucks.
Update – this isn’t really an update, since I haven’t published the article when I’m writing this, but I think my current Italy game is screwed. Or at least, I can’t beat Greece like I thought, and I don’t just want to hang around defending my land. A bit boring. So…I’m going to start yet again. Probably at the lowest difficulty, but once more as Italy, even though I think Mexico would help me more simply due to the civil wars and how much less it has going on (Italy has a lot of ships, and that’s one of the things I’m having trouble with). I started to figure out what I was doing partway through my current game, but it was probably too late by then. This time, I’ll try not to make the mistakes I did last time.