Ever wondered what would happen if Nazi Germany won WW2? Or what would happen if the US opted to attack Mexico instead of joining the war in Europe? Well, wonder no more as Hearts of Iron IV has you covered. This game from Paradox Interactive might look like one of those daunting 4X games, but underneath it is a simple and well-oiled world domination sim that’ll keep you glued to the screen for hours on end.

World War 2 Electric Boogaloo

domination hearts of iron iv
US refused to join the war, precipitating the unrelenting advance of the Axis powers in Asia and Europe.

Hearts of Iron IV props you as one of the leaders of the major players in the Atomic Age. Another World War is brewing as Germany is hell-bent on avenging its defeat, and other world powers stand unprepared against the rising war machine. A campaign in Hearts of Iron IV can start in 1936, during the rise of Nazi Germany, or in 1939, the start of the Blitzkrieg onslaught. Choosing a country allows you to view what that country faced during those times, complete with historical choices and other ones that deviate from the books.

Strategy On A Grand Scale

No, Hearts of Iron IV is not a 4X game, in a stricter sense. While it does have trade, alliances and the likes, the game does not have the complex systems typical in more grand-scale games. Instead, Hearts of Iron IV concentrates on the warfare side of things. War Industry, troop mobilization, and tech research make up most of what you’ll do in this game, with a single victory condition present: conquer your enemies.

tech tree hearts of iron iv
Tech plays an important part as battles tend to be one-sided when fighting against a technologically superior foe.

Warfare is done in three areas: land, sea, and air. Although it is not required for you to cover all of those things, neglecting them means that you’ll be facing more enemy bombardment, capitulation, and severed sea trade routes. Battles are fought in regions for air and sea, and for land, you’ll see soldiers bumping onto each other with each one’s stats determining the victor.

resources hearts of iron iv
You can trade with other countries for resources. Doing so would require you to expend factories that can be used to build more weapons manufacturing facilities.

To make war, you need arms. War Industry mostly pertains to manufacturing weapons, and you need resources to do that. Most major factions in the game own a tremendous amount of resources that they can either trade to get materials that they don’t have. Or they could just invade and take them over instead.

In this game’ you also have to contend with managing the stability of you government. The higher it is, the more options you have in implementing decisions and political maneuvers. War Support is also one thing you should look out for as it also dictates how willing the civilian population is in handing over productivity to the war effort.

Choices

national focus hearts of iron iv
National Focuses steer your country to a certain goal. You can follow as what they did in this timeline. Or you can also follow a different path. (Picture is from Hearts of Iron IV: Death or Dishonor DLC)

Part of Hearts of Iron IV’s charm is that it can be used as an experiment to see what alternate history looks like. As a leader of a state, you can choose and enact various decisions and situations to steer your country into your own vision (whether it be good or not). Will you take the US out recession with Roosevelt’s New Deal? Or would you make the US a communist state? This game explores these concepts, also throwing in events that have certain randomness in them, resulting in different paths for every playthrough.

Mod Is Life

Even after the base game, you can opt to try one of the famous mods of the game. Hearts of Iron IV offers a hearty choice of mods in Steam Workshop, with the top mods composed of high-quality scenarios and overhauls. I personally found myself invested in the Fallout: Old World Blues with Enclave Reborn, a mod set in the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout with the player acting as the head of the Enclave. Well-crafted mods like this one and Kaiserreich further increases the value of the game, and adding them adds more variety, changing the world-spanning game into something more manageable, or setting it in another interesting timeline.

Verdict

Hearts of Iron IV may seem to be a difficult game with its world-spanning map and micro-management woes. But believe me, the game is simpler than what it looks. Once you’ve handled the basics and have gone through the horrors of managing your men and resources, you’ll certainly have fun playing with its mechanics. The kicker is that you can steer a country (or even your own country) during those times. The addition of choices and randomness make each playthrough different, continuously inviting you to start all-over despite having the same map.

hoi4 dlc list
Hearts of Iron IV is more enjoyable with DLCs. But buying all of them can seriously burn through your dough. Either be patient with the base game or enjoy mods while waiting for a sale.

My criticisms of the game is that you need to have DLCs to fully enjoy it. Despite playing the base game for more than 200+ hours, having the DLCs certainly did add more to what the vanilla has to offer. Unfortunately, most of what made it better in the DLCs are QOL improvements that could’ve been implemented in the base game. You even have to buy DLCs just to have fully-voiced units! Another one is that the game has a very weak tutorial. Some of the friends I invited to play the game quit as they can’t manage the campaign even after the tutorial. While I did learn a bit about the basics there, I learned mostly by watching Youtube videos.

hoi4 time
Started playing and never stopped. Sweet Jesus, give me back the hours!

All in all, while age and graphics might not be its strongest point, Hearts of Iron IV wins in what matters most to me: value and choice. You can splurge hundreds of hours in this game especially if you’re a WW2 nut or an avid alternate-historian. It gives you choices to branch out, adding variety everytime you play and click “Start”. I found it to be a comfort game, a title you can go back to everytime you don’t feel the newest games. A must-have for strategy fans and those that like to color maps. Hearts of Iron IV is only available for the PC and can be bought in Steam or in your favorite store.

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