Summary: Our favorite grand strategy game is back, this time as its own stand-alone expansion featuring a cataclysmic war between the Soviet Union and the Allies shortly after World War II. Oh, and best of all? It's $20! Read on, Macduff!
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.
Intelligence is apparently a major new feature of Doomsday, but in fact you may be hard-pressed to tell. It’s done subtly and doesn’t have a critical role in the game like research or production do. Rather, it fleshes out diplomacy more and gives more purpose to money. Each nation can send up to 10 spies to any other nation, including itself for counter-intelligence work, and use those spies in a variety of ways. Spies can actively collect intelligence on what your enemies are researching and the size of their army, they can go into sleep mode and give less intelligence (but be less prone to being detected), and they can also do some special tasks like attempt a coup, sabotage industrial projects or delaying research. There are a few more options, but none of these tasks are critical or game-winners, though they do let you spend some of that money that would otherwise be collecting in your bank account.
Of course, in a total war situation where every last industrial unit is being used to create supplies, arm reinforcements, or create new combat units, using industry to create money seems rather wasteful. It’s a fine balance that is, as often as not, dictated by the health of your manpower pool. Otherwise, considering the intensity of the war, spending money in intelligence doesn’t seem wise. On the bright side, smaller nations with less to contribute can at least make a somewhat meaningful impact this way.
We might be tempted to harp on the fact that Doomsday is really more the original game with an add-on expansion tacked on, rather than a true stand-alone like Homeworld: Cataclysm, but at its $20 MSRP, the game is being offered at expansion pack price anyway. What’s not to love?
USSR-USA conflict tedious