Hearts of Iron 4: Their finest Review

Hearts of Iron IV - Grand Strategy 1936-1948

TLDR: Hearts of Iron IV is a fantastic grand strategy game but not a very good Hearts of Iron game. That being said HoI4 brings some things to the table that were criticized as lacking in previous HoI titles. Overall though the amount that this game differs from previous HoI titles makes it less fun. I have more fun playing Darkest Hour(DH) than I do HoI4, and gaming is all about fun...right?

I will make a list of Pros and Cons to try and get my point across.


The first Con is how badly things have been made abstract regarding combat.

I will begin with air combat.

The map has been divided into air regions in which your planes can operate. The problem here is that the air regions are large and sparse. Spain and Portugal, for instance,  together encompass the 'Iberian Region'. One air region for two countries? France is divided into two regions, Benelux one, so on and so forth. What is my point you ask? (First of all if you are asking this that means you have never played a HoI game, and that is totally ok. In fact you should know that if you have never played a HoI game then by all means go and buy this game it is an excellent grand strategy pertaining to mankind's bloodiest period of history. If you get into it and decide you like it then I would highly suggest you try anterior HoI titles as well. My personal favorite is Darkest Hour, a total overhaul of HOI2...but I digress). The severe penalties your planes incur because of lack of range to effectively cover the entire air region is the issue. 'Can't I just target a single province or something? What if I want to send most of my Stukas on one position to try and help dislodge the enemy stubbornly resisting the panzers???' NO!! HoI4 does not let you do this. Once your planes are operating in the air region they simply affect ground combat as a modifier... How boring is that? And so therefore air combat is reduced to a giant algorithm for a relatively large portion of the map. You simply assign planes to an Air region and wait and see. How much AA you have in the provinces of that region and radar installations will affect efficiency in your favour. You will never see air combat as its own windows anymore, you will never strategically place your AA and radar installations anymore since all that matters is that they are somewhere in the air region. So a radar installation in Berlin can help interceptors in a fight against bombers attacking Kiel? Or a radar installation in Lisbon can help detect planes in Catalonia? Yes. The only way to see how well your flyboys are doing is by clicking a miniscule icon at the top left of the air region panel which gives a small graph with stats; fighters killed/lost bombers killed/lost factories bombed, etc etc. Every now and then an Ace pilot appears but he is simply a positive variable in the air combat formula. They have also reduced types of available missions to about three in total for air forces; air superiority, ground support, strategic bombardment. Bland.

EDIT: The upcoming 1.4 patch will rework the Air interface somewhat and make it more intuitive to control your planes. The developers are also talking about how "these will be the first of many changes" regarding Air including a remapping of the Air zones making them smaller. In short I believe once they will be done tweaking and patching in one or two years they will have brought back Air combat to what it was before, perhaps acknowledging how badly they erred in this respect.


Land Combat.

To be honest I don't understand Paradox's approach here. They have almost completely taken away the fun of force composition and giving orders to your Divisions/Corps/Armies because they have forced you to hand over that prerogative to the AI. You apparently are not smart enough anymore, before as in every other HoI game yes you were smart enough, but not anymore apparently. You create armies, you assign them a theatre, and you create a front for them. For instance a front (as Germany) on the Belgian border.  You draw this line and watch as the divisions march into place. You can give this army an offensive order to attack whereupon you will be asked to draw a line up to where you want your army to progress (assuming it will). Then you wait as you watch the divisions get into position all by their big boy selves and you think to yourself 'Damn! Wait until I unleash Von Rundsted and his 24 division strong army with top of the line equipment on your Belgian butt!'. The divisions have a prep time before being ready to carry out the operation, which I honestly find totally cool, and then you see it! The little green checkmark at the bottom of your screen just above Von Rundsted's picture. Ready to execute plan. So war is declared and you click the little green checkmark while Ride of the Valkiryes plays in the background, and as you watch you think 'seems like this should be going better'. Then you notice it...The AI is god-awful at its own game. Luckily this is not your first time playing and you have some of your panzers under your direct control (to keep forces under your direct control you need to basically never assign them any orders thereby not letting the Ai control its movements to carry out said order) to send where you want when you want. France capitulates with MY offensive of all of twelve divisions (six panzer and six motorized) while Von Rundsted struggles to push back the stalwart Belgian defenders. True Story.

To sum it all up again; combat has become too abstract. You basically have no direct control over your forces because you can no longer create small corps sized three division units or even just lone divisions. This is because, and I will tap into this further on briefly, there is a lack of military leaders. Case in point, Italy has TWO military commanders at the beginning of 1936 from which to choose. Other than the fact that is just bush-league for a major power this means if you try and create more than two military forces they will simply not have leaders, and no bonuses that go with it when in combat thus pushing you to use the system whereby you create the largest armies possible and assign them a front with a commander. You will no longer be telling two or three divisions where to go like before and try to exploit possible breaches in the line the AI army commander will do that for you. All you do is draw lines and see what happens. BORING, and the AI is really really bad. Sometimes I have to just not look at what's going on because I know I will get mad! You can also give garrison orders to commanders and with patches this has become the only order the AI seems ready to deal with, though the commander always request overwhelming force asking you for more divisions than you would need to do the job on your own. One last thing that irritates me about land combat is how the game has a battlefront width mechanic whereby only so many divisions can fight at once against each other and the rest of the divisions are in reserves. Let me point out thta I find this to smart and realistic and a step up from previous HoI titles, however... Reserves as in not being used. So therefore I should be able to give orders to those divisions NOT in battle and tell them to move into an adjacent province right? WRONG! Though not all divisions can fight at once (smart) the unused divisions cannot be given orders as they are magically tied down until the battle in the province is over (stupid). You cannot re-create a Dunkirk style situation where the few are covering the retreat of the many. The many cannot retreat they are sitting in their tents a couple of miles back from the front and waiting to be called up if need be. Or you know they could be given orders to perhaps try and flank the enemy and attack from a side province in three days...but no. Frustrating HoI4

Lastly regarding combat is sea combat.

Sea combat operates much the same way as air combat does whereby oceans and seas are divided into sea regions into which your ships can operate. I found Sea combat somewhat inefficient and lacking substance. Since planes are simply passive factors in regions there will never again be the thrill of spotting enemy carriers or battleships close to airbases where you have Naval bombers and rushing to get those in the air and into the fray as fast as possible. HoI4 calculates that they're already there and are already affecting combat with their passive stats. BOOORING. Naval combat has its own window as land combat and you can easily see which ships are firing at what and who is being fired upon and by whom. This is well done in my opinion. I have however encountered a near game breaking event at one point where in a game as Italy most of my ships and my most powerful fleet was tied up in battle with one French Battleship at the western edge of the Mediterranean Sea near Gibraltar. This ship had better speed than all of mine (I think it was Dunkerque) and so my ships could not ever come into range and sink him. Just naval bomb his ass right? Wrong! The sea region, being as large as it was gave my naval bombers such severe penalties as to render them totally useless, even if they were launching from Italian held Algeria and basically right next to the fight. As they say 'nuff said'. Oh if you're wondering how that BB managed to sail for all that time (we are talking months and months) without an actual base of operations in the Med just keep on reading this review.

I wish there were Pros for combat as a whole but alas I find none. As the player/User you have been stripped of the initiative and forced to sit back and watch armies chasing arrows. There is no thrill in managing a major air force either. Sea Combat seems to be not too different from previous HoI games with simply the addition of the battle window I spoke about, and fewer sea regions. Remember when the Baltic had multiple "provinces"? It's one big ass sea now.


I will make this a reverse proverbial poo-sandwich and give a Pro.

Pro - The quantifying of equipment (way better than DH) and the way industry is handled

This is very well done. Gone is the almighty IC number that rules all and this greatly affects resources and the way they are consumed. That latter part is, in my humble opinion, not so well done but more on that later. First of all your factories are divided in two categories, Military and Civilian. Your military factories are used to build equipment for your divisions, notice the subtle difference here. I said build equipment for divisions not build divisions. Every division template has different equipment needs. If your shock infantry division template you invented requires many field guns then you better be darn sure you have allotted military factories to build said field guns. If you created an armoured division template with motorized infantry attached but aren't building trucks then you will have a hard time fielding that said division. In this way HoI4 truly shines. You have to assign factories to build equipment, everything from guns and bullets to tanks, to half-tracks to planes of all sorts, and this feels more real than in any other HoI. I'm not just wondering if I have enough IC to build 3 MECH divisions at once which will magically appear in x days. I am building the infantry equipment, I am building the halftracks, and I am building the self-propelled guns I researched to form the said divisions. As I am doing this I can see the men's training progress, and if they are past a certain percentage and they have all of their gear I can field them before their training is 100% complete, though they appear with a 'green' status which is a level under the standard 'recruit'. A neat trick if you find yourself in a bind and need troops fast. The more factories you have producing a certain line of equipment for undisturbed lengths of time the more of that you will build. There are gearing bonuses that go up every day a production line is left undisturbed.  This can affect how you choose to build your divisions since it may be to your advantage to continue building an "obsolete" piece of equipment at full production efficiency rather than to change the line and start all over again waiting for efficiency to go up. This leads to interesting industrial strategies and is a good and realistic improvement on former HoI titles.

Upon conquering a nation you gain the spoils of war and a certain volume of equipment of the conquered will become captured booty for you. Thus I equipped my lowly and unimportant garrison divisions with captured Polish materiel keeping my production lines free for my more important units. A byproduct of this fantastic system is Lend-Lease. Lead-Lease has become so much more real now with the quantifying of equipment. You can select exactly what type of plane/tank/truck etc. you want to send and how many. You can choose whether to send it all at once or in monthly installments. This is pretty cool in my opinion and I will often give my allies my obsolete equipment rather than let it sit in storage, which you can do. This means that with a country with a large pool of manpower if you would have kept all your old infantry equipment you can easily recruit and call up new divisions and equip them with old guns (ahem USSR ahem China). Ships work much the same way except they are not dependent on factories of any kind and have their own tab. They rely on Drydocks instead of military factories. The more drydocks assigned to a ship the faster construction goes. The production and the way industry is handled in this game is better than in any other HoI title to date and I salute them for it. There are 'minor' exceptions to this however...

Con. Resource management/Trade

I like the added resources and found we were actually going back to our roots here with a more diverse resource pool across the map. HoI4 unfortunately falls flat on its face here, in my humble opinion. Units on the map do not consume resources. Resources are needed to build equipment but once the division is formed of its diverse equipment and fielded it no longer consumes anything. This is how that French Battleship in the Med was able to survive for so long without any base to operated from, which totally destroyed the realism there for me. Feel the need to get to Baku ASAP as the Germans because your oil reserves are too low to continue the war for another three months? No. This situation will never again exist. There are no more stockpiles of resources, which is not a bad thing considering how "gamey" stockpiling could get in former HoI titles (though this was addressed and very well handled by DH with the over cap production loss), but in fact resources exists solely for construction. Every military factory/drydock uses different resources for different pieces of equipment. So for instance a fighter plane needs (making this up here) one aluminum, one oil, and one rubber. Two factories will need two of each, Three will need three of each, and so on.

Want to trade some surplus steel for some badly needed chromium? Can't. Won't let you. That's not how that goes anymore. Trade will affect your civilian factories in that you are actually trading away civilian factories (needed for building projects like AA or infrastructure and of course the ever-important consumer products) for units of a resource. This is clumsy at best as it renders all trade equal across the game and renders trade useless as a tactic or strategy to use against or for another country because you have zero control over exports, and you can never initiate an export deal. You are reduced to simply trading away one civilian factory for eight units of rubber or oil or anything else. On the construction panel you can see how many factories you have gained from trade, but again there is no way to really directly affect that because you cannot initiate export deals. Clumsy at best. Want to give an ally much oil for free? Can't...why??? Frustrating HoI4...


Another major con, though this could be subjective, is a lack of flavour in this game. I mean really? Italy has two commanders in 1936? I seem to be hammering this one point in particular but just extrapolate. If Italy has two how many do you think Romania has? More lack of flavour, no more named divisions like "big red one" or "Liebstandarte". You can change the name but every single division will have the same one unless you change it every time a division is about to be fielded. The AI no longer generates division names like before rendering all of your divisions tasteless and adding to the bore of just integrating them into a giant mass of other blandly named divisions commanded by one of your two available field commanders... Get it?

Oh and Nationalist Spain is yellow. The yellow comes from the Nationalist flag. Spain has always been yellow. Never ever have I ever seen Spain drawn in orange on any map anywhere (OK that is a big statement), but seriously Paradox why? I can't help but feel like it is some sort of veiled attempt to throw an aura of illegitimacy to the Franco era, and to be completely honest it takes away from the game. I can't really describe it but every time Nationalist Spain wins the civil war I simply feel bizarre seeing it in orange. Just doesn't feel right. Is this because I am too used to  playing previous HoI titles where it was always the opposite? perhaps. Or maybe it's just because the Nationalist flag is yellow and the Republican flag is orange...


One of the major mechanics in the game of which I am still on the fence about and cannot give Pros or Cons to is the National Focus Tree system. Older HoI games were event driven meaning events "fired" at certain points in the game given the right circumstances and the right amount of probability. Perhaps the most famous of all of these is the iconic "Bitter Peace" where the USSR has the option of suing for peace or continuing the fight against Germany. Things in general happened in a certain way, and yet still randomly, and whether or not they went the way you wanted didn't really matter it was fun anyways. Now HoI4 has given you direct control over these events and it is now 100% easier to guide your country. Look at pictures of focus trees for HOI4 and you will see what I mean. A focus is sort of like a research where in x days an event happens, and then x days later whichever focus you chose next will happen. I can't help but feel like another edge has been dulled here and flavour taken away. Some people might, and perhaps rightly, argue that it is the opposite as now it is way easier to guide your nation exactly where you want it to go. On the one hand you knew when certain events were bound to fire and you could prepare for them in advance and that was perhaps "gamey". On the other there is no longer any surprise factor and you are definitely preparing for the events in advance, heck if you don't you're an idiot. Unfortunately the people at Paradox are so incredibly busy that they can only, upon release, make focus trees for the major powers plus Poland (and maybe China though I am not sure) at game start. All the other countries in the world have the same generic one. There are mods that fix this for specific countries and there is also DLC. As of the date of writing this there is a commonwealth DLC that adds focus trees for those countries and there is an upcoming one for the Axis minors called death or dishonor. I will not be buying either of these it is my personal opinion that this major mechanic of the game should be available to every country, and that we shouldn't have to pay extra for something which should already be there. I will not go further into Paradox's DLC policy/strategy.


I feel like I could go on and write a book here but I will begin to wrap it up. I will list some more issues which, if you have been reading multiple reviews you will surely have already read, but hopefully re-reading them here will emphasize their points.

Good graphics but terrible lighting and colour effects.

No more info-feed

Hungary can, in less than two years, influence and eventually successfully align the USA to Fascism. Imagine the possibilities.

No more Intelligence. I will let that one sink in. I feel a DLC in the makings here too I mean how can you call this game Hearts of Iron and not have an intelligence tab?

Terrible peace offers and management of peace settlements in general. Just read online I am sure you will find horror stories regarding peace settlements. I've been frustrated by this mechanic more than once.

Only two campaign scenarios and zero battle scenarios. You can choose to start your game in 1936 or in 1939. Did you ever have fun playing the Gotterdamerung scenario? You can probably wait for an eventual DLC on this one too.

As I conclude this I want to make a statement concerning my review. Hearts of Iron is a game and as such it is built to try and simulate things. Perhaps the reason they made the Air regions so large was to intentionally give penalties to planes to simulate the fact that in 1939 military airpower was still somewhat an unknown domain. I mean in the US at the war's start the Air Force wasn't its own distinct service arm. Perhaps bombing missions were not entirely effective. As I get better plane designs and their range increase their penalties decrease and they become more efficient. This is the way HoI4 has decided to simulate that truth within the game. This is just one example but the point I want to make is that though in any other game this would be completely ok it would be so because I am not expecting anything else. However this is Hearts of Iron and that is not at all the way things have been done in Hearts of Iron.

If you have never played any other HOI than buy this game you will probably have fun, and if you do please give games like Darkest Hour or Arsenal of Democracy a try. HOI3 was a little heavy but still a great game and perhaps the most rewarding considering the steeper-ish learning curve of that particular installment. Beware though that if you truly like this sort of game you may find yourself leaving HoI4 aside.

Thumbs up for a grand strategy game covering 1936-1948

Thumbs down for a Hearts of Iron sequel.

Thank you for reading.