Available :Q1 2005

Hearts of Iron 2 Preview © Paradox Entertainment
By: Anthony Zayas

Hearts of Iron is a game that is not made for everybody. It has a steep learning curve, is pretty challenging, and took a long time to complete. I am not saying that it’s a bad game, instead I am saying that it catered to the more hardcore strategy gamer that would rather play as a desktop general for hours than your casual gamer. That, being said, there was enough of these desktop generals who bought and enjoyed Hearts of Iron to warrant the release of this sequel, which will be released in a few short months. Paradox Entertainment has decided to give it’s fans more of what they liked in the original, as well as make it easier for the newbie to learn the controls. If this beta build is any indication of their intentions, than Paradox is right on target.

In Hearts of Iron 2, you play as one of the many, many nations in the world during the years between 1936-1948. You can play as one of the major powers, like Great Brittan and Germany, or play as a lesser power like Portugal. During this time, anything can happen. This is an open-ended game that allows you to build your country up as you see fit. Want to be Russia and kick off WWII by attacking the U.S.? Go ahead, that’s your choice. Feel like playing as Italy and try to take over Australia? Knock yourself out. The amount of options presented before you is only limited to your imagination. There are few scripted events, mainly to play out some things like the Revolution in Spain, but no two games are ever the same due to the non-linear campaign.

One thing that has changed and is a welcome improvement is the way the information that you need to handle is presented to you. You still have your game map where you will spend most of your time, but now each tab that houses specifics (like production) gives you a lot more information than the original did and is broken up pretty easily. From these screens, you have a clear view of what is going on behind the scenes, what is being built, your diplomatic options, and what you want to research. All of this information changes frequently, and you need to monitor all of them to ensure that your country will run smoothly.

Of course, all of this information leads up to one thing, combat. While you still control divisions of troops at a time, the way they do combat has changed. Instead of invading a province and then attacking, they engage immediately from the country they are in (if the enemy is in a boarder province). Your troops will only move into an enemy province only when the opposition has routed out. This makes co-coordinating attacks between multiple divisions a little easier. You also will have options to have units auto support a defense or attack in other provinces. This neat little feature can be utilized by having an intentional weak link in your front to draw the enemy. That province can have multiple other divisions set to automatically defend that province if under attack, yet be back enough so that your enemy won’t see them. This is absolutely great for ambushes.
To top this all off, Paradox is including 15 goal-centered scenarios that are a lot shorter than the original 4 sandbox campaigns. These scenarios provide a much more focused gameplay with specific objectives that need to be accomplished. Each scenario covers a specific period during the war. D-Day and Operation Husky are some examples. This is a great way to be introduced into the game and it’s mechanics as opposed to giving you the torch and letting you run with it as you see fit.

You know, I could write a book about the changes made so far, and rant and rave all day about all of the changes made to the combat system alone. Everything has been changed in some way; from the way you research technology to the manual itself. I’ll leave all of that for the review when Hearts of Iron 2 is released. Keep in mind that Paradox didn’t decide to break the mold with Hearts of Iron 2. Instead, they chose to refine it so it will be more fun with less micromanagement and an easier learning curve. Like I said earlier, Paradox is right on the money in these areas. I have no doubt that Hearts of Iron 2 will be just as good as it’s predecessor, if not more so.