Summary: Paradox Entertainment re-enters the World War arena with Hearts of Iron 2. The first was a gem in the rough, the second? Well, let's just say that for once we *like* the interface in a Paradox game. Read on to find out about more improvements!
Hearts of Iron 2 seeks to remedy much of this. We've spent about a week with a preview build of the game and while scripted events do exist, they're not the all-powerful determinants they were in Hearts of Iron. Thus, while Germany can get the Sudetenland and Austria, events are much more open-ended than before.
Paradox has also fixed just about everything else that was a problem in Hearts of Iron. The gigantic, unwieldly armies? Gone. An obtuse and unwieldly upgrade/reinforcement interface? That's been replaced as well. Normally, "Paradox" and "user friendly" aren't two terms we use in the same sentence but the development team has really made the game a whole lot easier to work with.
Many other issues have been fixed as well. Aircraft no longer simply keep flying missions over and over until told to stop by a player. They have a timer now - the player can tell them when to begin, when to stop, whether to fly night or day missions (or both) and at what strength level to stop at. Thus, you can tell your bomber squadron to run interdiction attacks against an enemy armored division for a week, but only at night and only as long as they have at least 20% combat strength.
Other changes have been made to the combat system. Armies no longer engage only once they've crossed provinces. From the moment an order is given to attack an adjacent enemy provinces, combat ensues. There are several stages to combat, with percentage chances to do various special effects like Encirclement, Ambush and Breakthrough. These chances, and of course the unit's overall statistics, are enhanced by research.
The research tree has been streamlined a great deal. There are nine categories to research and these overlap each other far less than in the original Hearts of Iron. A player simply researches "Advanced Light Tanks", rather than having to research first a prototype tank, then armament like a 40mm gun, and finally the tank itself. This has less detail and may turn off the grognards, but it also makes the game easier to deal with.
Another thing to know when researching is that there are now dedicated research teams. Germany, for example, has Krupp, Rheinmetall, Mauser Work, General Guderian, and Dr. von Braun among others, doing this work. All these researchers have specialties they can apply to various aspects of a project. Thus, it's better to keep Focke-Wulfe Flugzeugbau working on aircraft while Heinz Guderian researches your military doctrines. Only up to five teams can be operational at a time, though this is the maximum in-game - some nations have less than this.
Reinforcement and upgrades are now abstracted. Instead of having to individually reinforce units and queue them for upgrading, the player simply allocates ICs (industrial credits) to the reinforcement and upgrade sliders. Units are then upgraded in relatively random order, though the player can choose which are prioritized.
The wars are also initially more limited. Germany is highly aggressive but it won't necessarily take Austria and the Czechs first. Often, it chooses to go after Denmark, Belgium or Holland. The Allied nations are surprisingly tolerant of this behavior initially, but this is all part of the Belligerence system. Democratic nations are loathe to declare war unless they absolutely must, thus Germany has to acquire a very high belligerence rating in order to be attacked, but it will be sooner or later.
Diplomacy, trade and politics are far less rigid now as well. Poland is free to join the Axis and the United States can join the Comintern. Neither of these events is likely, but surprise events do happen. In one game, Germany was doing particularly badly against the Allies and, as Poland, I swept in along the East, captured many key provinces including Berlin and Germany was partitioned by all three states.
Given that this was only 1940 by the time the war ended and Italy and Japan were both behaving, I decided to see what a war of the Allies against the Soviet Union would look like. Things progressed surprisingly well considering how under-powered Poland is, especially taking on the main brunt of the Soviet attack. In fact, by late 1941 the Soviets had lost several large armies in encirclements by the British and French to the North and South, respectively, and the country looked like it would collapse as soon as hostilities re-started in the spring.
Imagine my surprise when the Czechs, of all people, joined the war on the Soviet side and quickly rolled up unopposed into French Munich, Polish Berlin and Warsaw itself! Perhaps they felt threatened by all the garrison divisions needed to keep the German populace in line, because their internal politics did not show a shift to a Stalinist doctrine. Whatever the reason for dirty Czech treachery, it quickly ended that particular game. Next time, I'll remember to grind Prague into dust first, before moving on to the Soviets. As you can see, this freedom of action can produce bizarre results but overall it does improve the game.
Paradox has included a variety of set scenarios, in addition to various campaign start years. These generally restrict the map and don't deal with issues like production, technology and unit building. Units usually come as pre-scripted reinforcements. There is a rather bewildering array of scenarios available, like the Ardennes Offensive, North Africa, and some more obscure scenarios like the Winter War between Finland and the USSR or the Spanish Civil War. Several "what if" scenarios also appear, such as Fall Grün - the planned invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938 if it didn't comply with the terms of the Munich Accord.
The number of provinces has increased dramatically, as is evidenced by the map, splitting the player's forces even further but making encirclements a little more likely to carry out, especially in the wide open steppes of of Russia.
Paradox has also limited the mobility of air fleets. They can now only reside are pre-built air bases. The player can always build new ones, but this of course takes time.
All in all, Hearts of Iron 2 looks to be about the most approachable strategy game from Paradox that still has hardcore appeal. Given enough time for balance and polish, it could be a real winner.
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