If I Had A Heart. Of Iron. Three Of ‘Em, In Fact.

Scotland? What Scotland? We ain't seen no Scotland around here.

“Grand strategy” is a sub-genre title that always amuses me. I can’t help but picture someone playing Command & Conquer whilst wearing a ceremonial robe and crown, or Dawn of War on a 300″ monitor. Slightly disappointingly, it’s a different kind of grandiose it refers to – playing as an entire nation, seeing only the big picture and rarely the individual soldiers. Total War’s strategy map is a good example. The Hearts of Iron series is all about that uber-bird-eye’s view, with the upcoming HoI III handing you the reigns of practically any nation during 1936-1948. Dates you may recognise as covering a period of modern history that there almost no videogames about. Perhaps even none.

Yes, it’s flippin’ Dubya Dubya Too, but a version of it in which you could take over the world with Costa Rica, or plot revenge against the Nazis as the Polish government in exile. While clearly it’s fatted with a frightnening amount of historical accuracy, it’s also a giant What If? sandbox.

It’s not a series us parochial gentlefolk of RPS have had much first-hand experience of, but there was a fair old buzz about it amongst PCdom upon its announcement at GC last year, while the recent beta testing drew over 10,000 applicants. It may not be out until September, but now seems as good a time as any to do a quick round-up of the what ’tis and that what’s new. Also, John Walker really, really loves it when we receive press releases about hardcore strategy games he doesn’t begin to understand, so hopefully posting about it will attract even more of them and make him the happiest lad in the land.

Majorly, it’s the first time the series has gone 3D. Which feels like the kind of sentence included in every single game preview circa 1997, not one often made in 2009. Given it’s mostly about looking at a map, it’s not the necessity it sounds like. Possibly more important in practice is a revised political system, which sounds as though it covers everything down to the various different political parties in each nation, and the elections and coups that bring them in and out of power. This sure is one heavily-researched game, and at this point I wish I could creep away from this post and tag Tim Stone in. Instead, I’ll point you at the currently 23 installment-strong developer diary series, plus a trailer and developer vid-chat below.

That dev talk, going into what’s new over HoI II:

And some fairly bewildering in-game footage, released just today:

Any HoI vets in the crowd tonight? And do they reckon number III is going to be incredi-awesome, more of the same, what?


  1. SlappyBag says:

    All I remember is that Battle of Britian had a similar mode to this, but being too young to actually enjoy playing it I am looking forward to this.

  2. Mister Adequate says:

    I’m rather excited! Especially about the far greater number of provinces. However the series definitely needs improvement, mostly in AI terms. If nothing else they need to make the AI capable of building and using nukes.

    I’d also like to see the ability to create countries more easily in-game, rather than having to edit them in outside of it. You should be able to partition a conquered nation according to your own choosing, or reward allies with territory, or things like that. Oh, and when negotiating province ownership I hope we see the map and not a list of province names.

    I’ll miss the tech teams, but yeah, hugely excited about this.

  3. Rich_P says:

    The HoI2 demo broke my mind; I had no idea what I was doing or where the hell to even start. Every HoI3 box should come with a coupon redeemable for a free war council and general who will help you manage the bloody game :D

    From the demo video, it seems that Paradox hasn’t botched the 3d graphics like they did with EUIII.

  4. meeper says:

    HoI introduced me to grand-scale wargames but required me to figure out that researching a MG42, first aid kits, advanced farming, and mass production were all prerequisites for gaining a better infantry unit. HoI removed that complexity and replaced the old school tech tree with something a mere human could comprehend. HoI:Doomsday added a few years and few new units.

    Really, really thrilled to hear that there’s a HoI3. I doubt my wife will share that sentiment.

  5. Kanamit says:

    I can’t wait to pwn some fascists as Republican Spain again, this time in 3D!

    No, but really, I’m looking forward to the gameplay enhancements/changes. Hopefully the German AI will do a better job of defending their Spanish border.

  6. meson says:

    most anticipated game of the year for me. All the changes from HoI2 look good, at least in theory.

  7. jordy says:

    I think grand means lot more micro-management instead of more complicated gameplay :(. Tho microing lots of stuff is complicated afcourse. But really if you wanna focus on the big picture why ten pretend to be big but let people drown in all the possibiliet most of wich wont really matter, and ther AI of there games can’t handle it anyway, I think there should be agame that is hugey streamlined yet very complicated because you have to think of how everything works together and you should e able to grasp the total picture of how everything works together.

  8. cowthief skank says:

    Definitely looking forward to this. Wonder if it will be easier to get into than number two? Like Rich_P, it blew my mind, but after some long hours I got to the point where i could do stuff. Not too successfully, but that seemed part of the fun. Conquering South America as Brazil was muito bom!

  9. Pijama says:

    The only “downside” I see is that there are no more tech teams, but considering the massive overhaul it is been receiving, I think it is pretty much a fair trade.

    That said, making Canada the prime fighting force of the Commonwealth or using über-self-sufficient Soviet Russia to create a super Comintern… ah, Paradox. :)

  10. Serondal says:

    Rich_P I think you could create a seriously funny and political web comic based on this idea of having a real general or military leader advise you in the game ;P Like having Donald Rumsfeld trying to convince a nameless player to invade a country because they’re hiding weapons of mass destruction to which the player replys “Look dude I’m not going to invade Sweden, leave me alone!”

  11. Andrew Dunn says:

    Hearts of Iron 2 is easily one of my favourite games, and kept me coming back for a good year or so between bouts of Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 and Company of Heroes and whatever other snazzy new games were about. Paradox are making all the right noises for HoI3, and I really need to read the developer diaries that have been done since I last read them (which was circa number seven, I think).

    This should be quite a game.

  12. Chiablo says:

    If Eve Online is compared to Microsoft Excel, then what is Heart of Iron equivalent to? The United States tax system?

  13. Troy Goodfellow says:

    I have a couple of concerns about where HoI 3 is going based on the Developers Diaries. I’ve outlined them in some detail on my own site. In summary: though Paradox is doing some smart streamlining in places, they are also making the map much larger and returning to a component research system. Will the AI be able to handle this? I do like what they have done with diplomacy and air power, though, so it may all even out. HoI has always been P’dox’s most successful franchise, so it should sell by the bucketload.

  14. Okami says:

    Looks like they totally dumbed it down for the console version,, I shake my head in disgust.

  15. Thranx says:

    My mind is just boggled by the number of territories in this one. Nuts.

  16. Rich_P says:

    This seems like a good place to ask: is there a WWII grand strategy game that’s not quite as intense as HoI, but still fun and engaging?

  17. Smileyfax says:

    I lurrve HoI2. I’ve put, mm, probably well over two hundred hours into it, and I’ve owned the game for a little over a year.

    I think the absolute best part about the game is how hilariously off-the-rails you can drive history. My first sucessful game involved playing Poland, and kicking Germany’s ass by 1940. As Japan, I’ve managed to conquer China, Indonesia, and the UNITED STATES before September ’39. I also defeated the United States as Mexico using nothing but cavalry (a strategy I dubbed horsekrieg). And you haven’t really lived until you’ve played Germany as a nuclear juggernaut raining hellfire down upon the United States.

    The game also has multiplayer (that you have to wrangle around a bit to get working, admittedly). While most people tend to play vs. games, I’ve had such great fun co-oping to curb-stomp the computer. (Though my playstyle is to passive-aggressively be a giant dick to my human ally, which creates hilarious fireworks of impotent rage. Like the time a few innocent suggestions resulted in him being at war with pretty much every single nation of any significance).

    Anyway, I think the only game that could unseat HoI2 as my favorite game ever would have to be its sequel. I’ve heard some very, very interesting things about HoI3, and I can’t wait to try it on for size!

  18. Andrew Dunn says:

    Best HoI2 thing was engineering a communist revolution in the USA in 1936 through massive dissent, then watching the Republics of Texas and California declare themselves independent. The bunch of fascists.

    Oh and a fascist USA with Charles Lindbergh as president was pretty awesome too.

    And making all of Eurasia a bunch of Comintern puppets as the Soviet Union.

    God it’s all so good.

  19. Serondal says:

    I find myself interested here. Rich_P I think Gary Gribsbey’s World at War is kind of a large scale WWI Grand strat game that is a bit more dumbed down, but it is more like a board game and less like a computer game. Look through the Matrix games website and only games published by the people who published HOL2, most of these publishers tend to veer towards war games of varying degrees of scope.

  20. Fumarole says:

    I was always tempted by the first two every time I saw them on the shelf, but I never bit. Perhaps this time I will. How do the first two compare to Grigsby’s World at War?

  21. Tally Ho says:

    HoI2 didnt really fly without mods, it needed GIP (to make pretty) and I preferred StonyRoad (more events, balanced, better sheparding for AI).

    HoI3 looks to be strongly influenced by Europa Universalis (which is a good game BTW, with mods) design but the good bits of HoI2 seem to remain.

    I am eagerly awaiting this. Missed out on the beta :*(.

  22. Serondal says:

    From what I’ve read, and anyone who has played the game can correct me, the first two are like taking World and War and combining it with Europa Universalis (probably spelled wrong again, sorry) According to the wikipedia page the smallest unit you could command was a divions though you could attach brigades of specialist units to those divions. (I’m guess a brigade is smaller than a division? I never really got the whole order of battle straight in my mind, I just know a platoon is bigger than a squad and a company is bigger than a platoon :P I THINK a brigade is made up of companies and a division is made up of brigades and then an ARMY is made up of divisions. REALLY not sure if that is right though) Any how it is like World at War with a lot more detail A LOT more. You can even decide if you’re country is left leaning or right leaning poltiically and that may decide whom your president is.

  23. Shadrach says:

    Cant really see that the “3D” does it any good, but I owned the first HoI, played it a bit and enjoyed it. Definitely getting HoI3 anyway, if only for the sheer amount of detail it looks like they have put into it.

    Maybe get some good PBEM going again, its been a while :)

  24. Krupo says:

    This sounds epic – I’m laughing just at the comments from HoI2…

  25. Serondal says:

    Yah I don’t even understand how it can be 3d unless it is going to show like the map on total war games, if that is the case they could probably do with leaving that all out. It’d be neat if when you zoomed out all the way it made it look like the map is on a table with people standing around it doing stuff in 3d :P But that would be a pure waste of processing power for eye candy . . . unless you could click on your advisors as they walk around the war room for advice and info , that’d be neat. An FPS / Epic War Game combo where you can walk around the war room and speak with the advisors and generals for reports and advice then go back over to the map and issue new orders ect.

  26. Pidesco says:

    I’m guessing it’s about time I got into HoI. It sounds just like my thing, but I just never got around to picking one up.

  27. Chris Evans says:

    These comments/stories about HoI2 are great, I can’t believe I haven’t given this series a proper play test. I may have to find a demo of HoI2 and see what it is really like, the idea of making Texas and California declare independence and defeating Germany as Poland sound fantastic :D

  28. Fenchurch says:

    The Co-Op multiplayer was fabulously time consuming. Me and an RL friend spent a whole Summer together with him as Germany and me wrangling America to become fascist. We had a slight argument in Real Life when he wouldn’t surrender some of the islands he’d conquered (Which he 100% did not need at all) to me so I could make naval bases, having surrended South Africa to him.

    So what did I do?

    I threw every resource into nuclear weapons and executed his spies. We were sitting 5 feet from each other, and I had a nuclear bomb being researched for hours, and he didn’t know.

    As a demonstration of my dissatisfaction I bombed Paraguay with my first proto-nuke. This creates a special warning message to all players. I had his attention after that, bwahahaha. =-P

    No nuclear capable subs so. Here’s hoping there’s a Doomsday tech extension for HOI3 as well! =-3

  29. Aftershock says:

    Squad < Platoon < Company/Brigade < Division/Regiment < Army


  30. Warren says:

    Good or No, I plan to play HOI3 as much as humanly possible, and in precisely the same way I did the previous titles in the series: starting a game, playing a week at a time, having to set it aside for a while, coming back to the saved game having no clue what I was doing when I left off. Rinse. Repeat.

  31. Serondal says:

    I see Aftershock. I’m guessing the difference in naming is between say America (using company) and maybe Germany using division? Is that right?

  32. Lykurgos says:

    Serondal and others seeking to understand the difference between squads, platoons & whatnot, go here: link to en.wikipedia.org

    There are differences between the terms used by different countries, at different times, but company and division are fairly universal and very different.

  33. Andrew Dunn says:

    Be warned that the demo of HoI2 throws you right in at the deep end with the Battle of the Bulge scenario, which is purely focused on the military side and has fighting from the very beginning. Also no tutorial in the demo.

    I’ve known some people who loved it from the demo (and I didn’t expect them to) but personally the demo put me right off the game, until years later when I actually got it off Gamersgate and loved it to death.

  34. Andrew Dunn says:

    Also for those who are confused about military organisation, I find that it helps to think of a battalion as the baseline, and then anything below that is a subdivision of the battalion while anything above that is a conglomeration of battalions. A brigade is several battalions, a division is several brigades. That sort of thing.

  35. Dizet Sma says:

    I have HoI I & II, along with a shedload of mods, Stony Road etc. which much improve the game. Has the AI and game engine improved so that when you have a DoW on the Allies you’re not suddenly swarmed by fighters from Oman within hours?

    As for the 3d aspect, HoI has had ‘sprites’ since day 1, but everyone I know always used ‘counter view’ like any decent god-fearing wargamer.

  36. Lack_26 says:

    I love HoI, but my brother plays it far more than I do. In his current campaign, the USSR joined the axis and together took over Europe (bar Britain and Scandinavia), most of Africa, Australia, Asia and is in the process of invading America. Soon his Commie-Nazi take over of the world will be complete.

  37. redpanda says:

    I was one of those 10.000 beta-tester-wannabes… they politely reject me, damn … I’ll avenge when the game comes out, I’ll conquer sweden and I’ll throw Johan Andersson’s grandparents to my salt mines, muhohohoho

  38. redpanda says:

    By the way, my better HO2 game was one, imported from Victoria (I hope they’ll keep the import tool), where me, the first comrade of Soviet Japan, manage to conquer russia, germany and wage war against a alliance of most of the rest of european countries and USA. Good times.

  39. Myros says:

    Always been a HOI addict, 3 looks to be a great advancement of the series. And yes Im a die hard wargamer who likes sprites and 3d … I used to use counters, but then you know people invented this thing called computers, wierd huh ;p

  40. Nakki says:

    I have to say everyone should take all Paradox games with a healthy doze of doubt.

    Nearly all of them since Europa Universalis II have been released as buggy, lacking features and in case of Europa Universalis III, so unoptimized that it was pretty much so slow that no-one could bear to play through 400 years at that speed.

    Sure, they fixed and even added a lot of things in patches (some of them being 5-10€ patches they call expansions), but I do have to say that while Victoria and Europa Universalis III are good games, having paid for the expansions they surely weren’t cheap games. The un-expansioned version weren’t too good.

    Then again, both Hearts of Irons before were far less awful at release than some of the other games, so maybe we’ll see a good game. The 3D doesn’t even look ugly anymore. Just look at Europa Universalis III, their first bigger 3D game. Makes you wish they had stayed in 2D since the new 3D engine made it look uglier and require far more computing power for graphics than it’s precessor.

  41. Chris Evans says:

    Ok so I played the HoI2 demo and I was a bit overblown, so much is happening and you aren’t really made aware of what any of it means =/

  42. Andrew Dunn says:

    Yep, it really does through you in at the deep end, that demo.

    When you start the game proper, even as the biggest factions, you’ve got plenty of time to look about your holdings and your armies and generally make sense of everything before any bad shit goes down.

  43. Fenchurch says:

    “When you start the game proper, even as the biggest factions, you’ve got plenty of time to look about your holdings and your armies and generally make sense of everything before any bad shit goes down.”

    Yes, that’s true, you can pick the earliest time period of 1936, which obviously gives you a lot of breathing space if you pick any power outside of Japans immediate warmongering. Brazil’s an interesting one to start with, you can pick on the other South American countries at your leisure. ;-P

  44. Andrew Dunn says:

    I still think Germany is the best HoI2 country to start with. In 1936, obviously. Loads of historical events which gradually expand your holdings, plenty of industrial capacity and tech teams with enough skill to make you very competitive, and your wars scale up nicely from Poland to France to Russia if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s got a very nice learning curve, playing as the Nazis! By contrast, starting a 1939 game as Britain really does make it a struggle to have any hope of defending France in 1940, as your army is so terribly inadequate when the game begins. Stalling the Germans along the Rhine and holding on to most of Belgium, grinding down the German manpower in a re-enactment of the Great War over the course of a year or two until their manpower collapsed, was one of my best HoI2 moments.

  45. Serondal says:

    Okay so I got HoI 2 Anthology. I’ve gone through some of the tutorial missions and find it very interesting. I was expecting something a bit diffrent where you had more direct control over the divisions locaiton (not just in Berlin or in this area or that)

    I looked over the US and found that Louisville is HUGE it takes up half of Kentucky , I love this idea as I live in Louisville lol.

    Just a question when I got HoI:A it came with the two expansions. Should I install this right away or will they make drastic changes do the game play that I won’t like ?

  46. Captain Awesome says:

    best damn stretegy game ever made. been playing HoI2 since release, and never gave up.

    @Serondal, Armageddon and Doomsday only add new scenarios (Cold War), it doesn’t modify the original game at all.

  47. Serondal says:

    Do they allow you to play through the origonal scenarios starting before the war and allow you to end after the cold war? Like a grand campagin where you experience the entire thing?

  48. Serondal says:

    Based on what I’ve read Doomsday is a stand along expansion that actually does add to the game and has all the origonal stuff in it just with the added things you mentioned as well as a scenario editor. Where as Armageddon is a booster back for Doomsday adding two new scenarios and some extra stuff for ships allowing you to attach stuff to them like you do normal divisions. According to the website you should now be able to start playing Europea Universalis through Vicotria up into Hearts of Iron to play a massive Fing game but says it may not work as expected considering history could change massivly in the course of the early games and some countries might not even exist. I’m not sure how all that is suposed to work. If it is actually linked up or they just mean you play until the end of the game then start a new scenario with the same country in the next game on the time line.

  49. cjlr says:

    Ah, HoI.

    Good times.

  50. Andrew Dunn says:

    Install both the expansions and patch them up right away. You don’t even need to have HoI2 vanilla installed, as Doomsday is standalone indeed.

    And contrary to what Captain Awesome says (belying his name, in fact), they do modify the campaign, with several improvements and suchlike.