Hearts of Iron II
was one of the biggest and sweetest surprises of last year, giving a real-time grand strategy view of World War II. As with most Paradox Interactive games, the player could play the mighty (USA, USSR, Germany, Britain) or the middling (Poland, Spain, Sweden, or even Bolivia) in the most epic conflict the world has ever known. With campaign beginnings in 1936, 1939, 1941 and 1944, or various smaller scenarios, just about every aspect and point of the war was represented. Do you think Germany should have invaded Britain before attacking the Soviets? You can try. Do you think America should have intervened sooner? That’s also a possibility, if you’re willing to accept the consequences. It isn’t a perfect game, but it is by far the best in its genre and despite AI shortcomings, a few bugs and balance issues, it earned an Editor’s Choice award here.
Hearts of Iron II Doomsday is apparently a stand-alone expansion but it feels more like an update. It is not as comprehensive an expansion as Homeworld: Cataclysm was, and in fact it’s more like the base Hearts of Iron II with a major content patch added. There are some major new features – extended gameplay into the early 1950s, a moderately expanded research tree, the ability to run your intelligence network, and that’s about it as far as “new” goes. Doomsday also features updates to the events and triggers that let you follow or alter history, and some fairly significant AI improvements. We’re not sure if the game has been re-balanced or if it’s an AI issue, but the Soviet Union, for example, is somewhat more balanced now than before, even if you start in 1936.
The heart of Doomsday’s expansion is into the hypothetical war between the USSR and the Allies after the fall of Germany. Oddly enough, it feels rather anti-climactic, despite being more epic and terrifying in scope than the war against the Axis powers. While there are more divisions, armies, air fleets and naval vessels involved, the conflict is almost too epic. Nuclear weapons are being dropped left, right and center; every few months a Soviet city gets hit by a nuke, as American production of the ultimate weapon ramps up. Despite that, the Red Army advances in an inexorable tide West across the continent, taking the fight through Germany into France and even Britain. Will Soviet resources collapse from the nuclear attacks before they can finish Europe? Will the stream of American troops across the Atlantic save Britain from invasion and thus preserve a staging ground for the re-liberation of Europe? That’s up to the player, of course.