Submitted by Eric Daniel
Well, Paradox Interactive has finally released their next installment of the HoI line, aptly titled Hearts of Iron 3. For those of you who are not familiar with the line, HoI3 is a real time based grand strategy game centered on the Second World War (1936 - 1948.) In HoI3 you can play one of more than 150 nations (be Finland, I double dog dare you) and you are personally responsible for all aspects of nation management, to include economic and industrial policy, military readiness, technology research and development, and politics and diplomacy.If you've never played a game like this, let me warn you up front - This is not a simple game. While not complex to understand (a market economy, after all is just buying and selling stuff, right?), nor difficult to play, this game put the grand in grand strategy, and spelled strategy with a capitol "S". The decisions you make in 1936 will determine your success or failure in 1943.Victory conditions are relatively simple and the same as the two previous games in the line; amass victory points. The world is divided into provinces, some of which have a numerical victory point value assigned to them. Political factions (there are three main ones in the game - The Axis, Allies, and the Comintern) accumulate VPs by occupying these provinces and at the end of the game, which ever faction has the most VPs wins. Of course, if you want to set your own victory conditions, like survive until 1945 as a free and independent Finland, you can do that too; the game does not require you to play by "its" rules.For the veteran HoI player, there have been a number of changes introduced, while some familiar item effects have been modified and function differently.First, and most notably, the world got bigger. In HoI2 there were about 2,600 land and sea provinces for you to maneuver your forces on. Now there are about 14,000. What paradox essentially did was take the existing provinces, and subdivide them into additional areas to give you more tactical flexibility in maneuvering your units.Second, diplomacy has been expanded, both in its scope and how it is enacted, and politics (internal diplomacy if you will) was added. Now, instead of a numbers based display of how various countries are aligned politically, you see nations on a triangular shaped graph (with each point on the triangle representing one of the three game factions), with each nation represented as a circular icon. The closer a country is to you politically, the closer its icon will be to yours on the graph. In addition, a new element had been added to diplomacy - espionage. Now, in HoI3, you can generate spies which will go out and perform any number of a dozen or so different functions, from stirring up trouble in opposing countries to realigning the political landscape in your own country to offing your opponent's researchers. Now, I have to admit, when I first opened up the diplomacy window and say the spies tag, I had Master of Orion 3 flashbacks. Fortunately, you can let the AI (or your "viceroy" for another MOO3 reference) handle the spy program while you get on with the business of taking over the world.Politics is new in HoI3 and is essentially an internal form of diplomacy. As events occur in your country, the relative popularity of the various political factions in your country change, which can make specific ministers available. As with diplomacy, you can take a direct hand in shaping your countries political landscape, in the form of modifying economic policy, education policy, military policy, and the like.Another aspect of diplomacy that has changed is the application of historically relevant events, such as the re-occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, and the Annexation of Czechoslovakia. Rather than occurring automatically, the event will appear in your diplomatic events queue, and once you meet all the requisite conditions, you can enable the event at any time.Thirdly, technology development has undergone a "something old, something new" transformation. Gone are the research teams of HoI2 (something which I sorely miss, as I felt they added a lot of historical flavor to the game.) In there place you now have a generic research capability (much like you did in HoI1) where the amount of research you can conduct is based on the number of "leaders" (think of leaders as a subset of the manpower pool; you use leaders to conduct R&D, diplomacy, espionage, and fill the officer and NCO ranks of your units) you have available and dedicated to conducting research. In addition, they have brought back a HoI1 style tech tree; rather than develop a single item, such as intermediate fighter, you now have the option of developing specific components, which allows you to customize the nature of the units you construct (which is something I'm glad they brought back.) In addition, HoI3 uses a "historical" year modifier in the tech tree to curb unrealistic development, by imposing a severe research time penalty on technologies researched more than 3 years "ahead" of schedule. What this means is that, while, as the German player for example, you might meet all the pre-requisites to begin early jet engine construction in 1938, since jet engine technology did not become available "historically" until 1943, you will be severely penalized if you begin research any earlier than 1940.Fourth, unit construction, especially ground unit construction, got a lot more dynamic. Before, in HoI2, you built ground units and had the option of attaching brigades to them. Now, in HoI3, ground units are made up exclusively from brigades (between 1 and 5, per division, with about 20 different brigade types (depending on tech level) available), you just decide how many each division has, and what they are (this allows you to make units as big (and as expensive) as you want.In addition, HQ units are now managed in a completely different way. As before, leaders assigned to units have leadership traits and a skill level, and their rank determines how many units they can effectively lead in combat, but now, HQ units are created from that generic "leadership" pool you have available to perform R&D, espionage, and diplomacy, rather than as a manufacturing product. Once formed, you can assign subordinate units to the HQ, following a "standard" military layout (divisions are assigned to corps, corps are assigned to armies, armies are assigned to army groups, army groups are assigned to theaters.) This organization provides a number of advantages. First, the leadership modifier applied by your HQ is applied to any subordinate unit engaged in combat that is within range (the range of your HQ units increases the further up the chain you go) and second, it makes it easy to grab specific units by simply selecting a HQ and highlighting it's subordinate commands (for example, if you wanted to grab every division in First Army Group, all you'd have to do is select the 1ST AG HQ, and then select the subordinate armies; all the armies, corps and divisions subordinate to 1st AG would get selected and highlighted.) This makes it very easy to manage broad front warfare like what you might find in Eurasia.Amateurs discuss tactics; professionals discuss logisticsWhile combat remains largely unchanged from HoI2 (the game still takes into account weather, temperature, visibility, terrain and time of day) one of the things that has seen a significant increase in accuracy is supply management; go to war with inadequate supplies or a substandard supply line, and you'd better hope your troops brought lots of books to read. Supply management is the most critical aspect of combat in HoI3. Units out of supply will not move and will fight at a grave penalty.Your ability to push supplies to the front is affected to some degree by technology, distance, and the weather, but the greatest influencing factor is the infrastructure of the provinces between your units and the supply depot. The higher the infrastructure rating, the faster, and more efficiently supplies move. This becomes especially relevant for those conducting seaborne invasions a la D-Day. Fail to secure a port in the first 30 days of landing and your offensive will officially grind to a halt. Moreover, gone are the days of building numerous port upgrades and keeping them in the production queue until you make landfall; HoI3 will only allow you to place one naval port upgrade in a province, provided the province doesn't already have an existing facility. Lastly, you can't front load a province with supplies using the convoy system either; the game won't allow you to ship more supplies to a port than the port can handle, so smaller ports means smaller convoys. What all this means is, before you invade, do your homework; research your potential landing sites, the near by ports, and what their rating or capacity is.In addition, I am told that Paradox also corrected a number of game play issues from HoI2. For example, for those of you who remember playing Germany in HoI2, commerce raiding simply did not work; you could reduce England to zero convoy vessels and still they would plug along, happy as could be. Well now, no convoys means no commerce, and now you really can starve England out. AI aircraft must also follow the same flight restrictions as player aircraft do, specifically, they must fly the most direct route to their target, and if the target is out of range, they must rebase. On a broader scale, Paradox basically leveled the playing field by making the AI adhere to the same gameplay rules and restrictions that the players must adhere to.While the game itself doesn't have any major faults, there are a number of things that are quirky and annoying about the UI.For starters, you can't "grab and drag" the map. Your only options for moving around on the map are either click on a point on the small "macro" map down in the lower right hand corner of the screen, or move your mouse cursor to the map edge and wait for the map to scroll. This will lead to lots and lots of overshoot as you scroll past the unit or province you're looking for.Another annoying effect is technology development. As you complete research on a specific level of technology (light tank engines rank 3, for example) the computer will immediately launch into rank 4 without telling you, whether you wanted to initiate the research or not. Now, on the flip side, research is never lost, so even if you do accidentally delve further into a piece of technology than you wanted too, you can shift the research to a different field without loosing the gains you made "accidentally." Perhaps the most annoying, however, and again this made me think of MOO3, is the lack of information provided to you in the production queue. In HoI2, you could look at the units you were building in the production queue to determine what "level" (Type VII, or Type IX submarines for example) they were, and decide if it was worth it to continue producing those units, and upgrade them with more modern technology once they were built, or shut down the line altogether and start a new line of more advanced equipment. In HoI3, unfortunately, all you see in the production queue is a line indicating that you are building a submarine of some type, the cost of that production, and how long till the next one is built. Moreover, you can't click on the item in the queue and get any sort of pop up window. The only way to work around this is to physically write down what it was you started building and when you started construction, and then refer back to your notes as new weapon systems become available.All in all though, I think the third version of Hearts of Iron is a definite improvement over the previous two. With the expansion of the map you achieve a greater degree of tactical flexibility, the importance of supply defiantly makes playing island nations like the U.S. or Japan a challenge, and ability to make customized units allows you to more easily tailor your forces to mission specific needs.