I've been a fan of Paradox Plaza's games like Europa Universalis and Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun, but this hasn't blinded me to their shortcomings. In fact, Paradox has been so consistent in delivering a good game after the fifth patch that it's become the modus operandi among fans of their games to reserve final judgment until then. This then leaves me rather confused with Hearts of Iron 2. It is currently at version 1.00 - and it's good
. Hearts of Iron 2 isn't perfect of course, but I'd hardly be surprised if pastors and priests start preaching to the sinners in their flock to dress warmly for their trip to hell.
Hearts of Iron 2, like its predecessor, covers World War II as well as the years leading up to it, and tacks on two more just in case you need extra time to finish your global conquest. The longest campaign begins on January 1, 1936 and ends December 30, 1947. This gives the player considerable time to change the events leading up to the war. The campaign can be started at critical junctures in the struggle, such as 1939, 1941 and 1944.
Paradox has also included shorter, tighter scenarios that give the player a fixed goal and time limit. Some of these aim to simply improve on the historical outcome - like war in the western Sahara as/against the Afrika Korps, or resisting combined German-Soviet aggression as Poland for as long as possible. Others are hypothetical situations, such as Fall Grün, the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia that was to occur if the Czechs hadn't given up the Sudetenland.
So far, it all sounds like the original game. The real changes between Hearts of Iron and its sequel lie much deeper and in more meaningful areas, such as the interface, combat system and research tree. These have been streamlined and made easier to use, though it'd be a mistake to call it simplified. The only area of the game that is clearly less complex than it was before is the research tree, though R&D in general is more involved.
The graphics have been improved though it'd be a stretch to say it's a major overhaul. They look clearly better than Hearts of Iron, but they're still the same old 2D sprites. Fortunately, the map and units, as well as the interface, are done more in the elegant Victoria style than the rather stark colors and contrasts of the Europa Universalis games. Sound effects are simple and not impressive but do provide clear audible feedback as you click off menus and orders. More impressive is the sweet musical score, the best ever in a Paradox game.