|Hearts of Iron 2 appeals to a select audience - historic strategy purists, WWII aficionados, and pathologic world builders. They will enjoy the scope, historic backdrop, depth and 'real world' minutiae of the game. For them, the game's drawbacks will be easily overlooked. But for the casual gamer or strategist-in-moderation, Hearts of Iron 2 disappoints. |
HoI 2 features two modes of play. The first is scenario-based. Players re-fight famous WWII events such as Rommel's drive across North Africa. The action-oriented scenarios allow the player to pick a side but not run a country, assign production, or engage in diplomacy. The victory objectives are laid out and the cannon fodder is provided.
'Campaign' is the other way to play. In Campaign mode players select a homeland from 100+ countries and choose a start date ('36, '39, '41 or '44). Afterwards, they manage every aspect of their country including economics, production, diplomacy, research, and warfare.
Campaign mode consists of building a nation that can support warfare and then waging war with the tools at hand - armies, cash, espionage, and diplomacy. Nation building is complex. Players must balance resources, money, and production while achieving personal goals that don't clash with the country's ethos. Failure to do so can result in the loss of cabinet members and the people's support which will impact production and the economy. So waging 'unpopular' wars can be tricky. Players must also consider the relationships between other nations before starting a war. Countries may have: non-aggression treaties, alliances, trade agreements, puppet states, or state-assured independence. Some countries, ripe for a player-planned invasion, have protective and powerful allies.
Warfare is more straight-forward than nation building. Players must:
- Build a technologically competitive, if not superior, military force
- Assign unit leaders with skills that complement the mission
- Coordinate each unit's movements
- Launch an attack or series of attacks
The combat system has depth; each unit has several options. Aircraft missions include air superiority, strategic bombing, and bombing for tactical gains such as destroying runways. Infantry units can attack, defend, support another's attack, or hunt partisans. There are many military units and many combat options in HoI 2, so warfare is infinitely variable. This is HoI 2's strength.
Unfortunately for the average player, the strengths are offset by serious weaknesses. First, Hearts of Iron 2 is better named Asses of Iron because players need a steel butt to endure even the shortest of scenarios. Troop movements take forever. The historic Coral Sea engagement took a week ... replaying the battle shouldn't.
Second, the interface is more complicated than the game. Information is conveyed through a counter-intuitive set of folders, icons, and a string of distracting pop-up windows. Players will be tempted to check that their pop-up blocker is working even though HoI 2 isn't browser-based.
Third, while 100+ nations can be 'home,' few have the resources to wage war against any of the major powers or key alliances. Most players will shun a 'bit part' in the world's greatest struggle ... so, realistically, there are about ten countries that are worth playing. Also, the game ends in December 1947. The campaign can't be extended for any reason, even if you are besieging Berlin or about to take control of the western hemisphere. These may be 'realistic' parameters but they make the game less fun to play.
Fourth, complex games need solid documentation. HoI 2 doesn’t have it. The pop-up tool tips are vague, tutorials barely cover the basics, and the manual is terrible. It is 100 pages of wandering narrative in need of a readable font, an editor, and a useable table of contents. Paradox Interactive chose a fan instead of a writer to create the manual and it shows.
Finally, HoI 2 has audio-visual issues. The game's resolution is set at 1024x768. For PCs with a different native resolution, the interpolated text is chunky and squint-inducing. The graphics are equally bad; the units and map look like choppy animated .gifs on a Risk board. Sound effects are minimal - mostly stomping boots and gun-fire. The martial music soundtrack grates before the opening cinematic is finished. To play through a full scenario, you'll want a 'mute' button.
Overall, the game features complex and satisfying warfare and nation building elements but the design is outdated. Hardcore strategists will enjoy HoI 2 for the depth of gameplay. Franchise fans will appreciate the improvements in this latest version of the series. For less die-hard gamers, HoI 2 is probably too narrow in scope and flawed in execution to be worth the price.