Crispy Gamer

E3 2009: The Five: Hearts of Iron III

What's this about? The Hearts of Iron games are the top-selling titles in the Paradox grand historical strategy collection. Everybody knows what World War II is, and no other games give you that Führer feeling quite so well.

1. It's back to basics in Hearts of Iron III, after the disappointing sales and community response to the more newbie-friendly Europa Universalis: Rome. But Paradox's basics are not the same as everyone else's. Hearts of Iron III has 14,000 provinces, a tech system built on researching particular components, and lots and lots of numbers. If your most successful games are among your deepest, why go shallow?

E3 2009: The Five: Hearts of Iron III

2. With all the stuff you have to manage in HoI3, you may naturally be a little overwhelmed. You may want to follow the words of the divine Homer and ask, can't somebody else do it? In fact, somebody can. There are now many more options for artificial-intelligence control of those fronts and systems in which you really have no interest. You can select groups of units and give them a general target -- say, Warsaw -- and they will attack or defend it. You can even give these groups a general movement order, as if to say, "take this route there." The AI is usually the weakest part of the Paradox games, though, so it remains to be seen how well this works.

3. As deep and forbidding as the system is, new interface improvements make HoI3 remarkably user-friendly. From the wonderful new map mode that lets you know at a glance where troops are concentrated, to the tiny numerical indicator of how well an attack is progressing, there is less chance of getting confused by all the detail. For people who can't quite judge their rearmament needs, for example, generals in the field will make suggestions about what they need to make things run more smoothly on the front.

E3 2009: The Five: Hearts of Iron III

4. A new espionage system is probably the highlight of the redesign. Investing in radio technology and spies will let you track the movements of large enemy forces. There are countermeasures, too, so a lot more of the game is about detecting and preparing against enemy movements. Hearts of Iron III gives you new ways to pierce the fog of war, and better ways to use the information you've got.

5. More historical fidelity is in place, but only up to a point. There are still no death camps, forced labor or mass population movements, of course. But it will be nearly impossible to perform the legendary feats of previous versions, like making Chile into an intercontinental empire or introducing fascism to America. Paradox is moving Hearts of Iron deeper into simulation territory, while still giving you more than enough ways to rewrite history.

The Crispy Forecast: Hearts of Iron III is bound to be a commercial success. Can it be a critical success as well? Every user-interface improvement seems to be met with another level of information. Paradox is gambling that its large and loyal international audience will figure it all out.

This preview is based on a developer-driven demo and hands-on time with a beta build.