Hearts of Iron 3 Preview
Preview - posted by Jason on Sat 27 June 2009, 23:45:43
Hearts of Iron 3 – Preview
preview written by kris
Congratulations, you have found the only professional preview of Hearts of Iron 3. Although no one will pay me for it. This will be the third installment in the quite popular Second World War strategy series by Paradox Interactive. I will mostly in this preview talk about how the game plays, especially compared to the earlier titles. The game is huge in scope and with lots of detail. It isn’t for casual gamers. If thinking isn’t your thing, then you might as well stop reading now. Some things didn’t seem to be working or be implemented in my preview build and I will mention those below. What was also lacking with my preview copy was a readme explaining what was missing.
Special note: If you think this is too much reading, then just skip to my conclusions section.
What’s in the game?
Paradox brags that this is the grandest strategy game you could get hold of by far. I won’t say more than that it is grand in its scope. You can play as any nation of the world from 1936 to 1948 and have a lot of control over it. Politics, technology, intelligence (spies), production and warfare are the main things you handle for your country. With this installment there is also the possibility to let the computer AI take care of any matter that you don’t want to handle yourself. The game is mostly about war, though and the other activities are only there to support warfare. As for war, you take care of all the forces, land, sea and air. Again you can let the AI take care of your land forces. The game works with a province system and this time around the world looks bigger than ever with plenty of provinces to go around. Check out the warfare section of this preview to see why this is a good thing. Lastly let me mention that the game is a big processing resource hog, in the late game with a lot of divisions it won’t perform well, although you hardly notice that if playing on slow speeds. On the faster speeds it runs like a car on a rough gravel road.
This was what I played around with most early on. The system now works so that you have something called “leadership” that you get from your provinces just like manpower. That leadership you distribute to research, officers, diplomats and spies. I am hard pressed to believe anyone will not put most into research, especially since you need less of the other things. How much leadership you use will of course lead into how many research projects you can have at the same time. There is also one more factor and that is how you build up knowledge about things you research more. You build up theoretical experience that helps you focus your research. You can also research directly into this theoretical experience and practical war experience also builds up into it. Over time this theoretical knowledge will diminish, which means you have to keep on researching and waging war to be able to hold on to it.
I find the system nice and dynamic, but have some reservations. My biggest gripe is how this system has made the difference between the bigger and smaller nations larger than ever. If you play from 1936 then the big countries will be far before the smaller ones already by 1939, while in real life many smaller countries were partly on par or ahead in some things. Not so much because the bigger countries are far ahead as much as the smaller countries not being able to have come anywhere at all with a lot of things to research, but almost no ability to do it. This is spurred on by the theoretical knowledge as a small nation won’t accrue any theoretical knowledge whatsoever.
The most interesting thing is how you research part technologies which means you can research heavy tanks guns for the firepower, while your enemy researches heavy armour instead. Creates for some interesting dynamics and overall the research focus will differentiate the nations. Winning tech not included in this preview.
There is not really much to do with politics and from what I've seen you can’t even make much about the elections (Elections were a bit bugged for me). If you play along normally and don’t upset your people there will never be a change in your ruling cabinet from what I saw. You can still change around most of the ministers, though, to tailor it after your needs. The new feature is a group of policies, most of which are focused on the war build-up. Most of those policies you will use to get more production capacity and more leadership. They are a pretty good way to simulate build-up for war, though, with some policies only available once war has started.
Best new thing about politics though is the policies you can have for countries you occupy. With those policies you can affect what kind of benefits you get from occupied territory and how much partisan activity there will be. You can choose different policies for every country you occupy.
I have both good and bad things to say about the new intelligence system. As far as getting basic knowledge about your enemy it is a very good system. But as far as the actual policies you can implement for your spies it is incredibly non-transparent. I tried on many different policies with my spies in other countries and have not noticed any difference between them whatsoever. I have noticed some “foreign spies support opposing party” event for some country, but that is it. So for what I saw intelligence was mostly about lowering your own “neutrality” which is needed for declaring war, alliances and gearing production for war.
If you have played the earlier games then the production screen won’t look very different from before. The new big feature is how you can build your own divisions in any which way you like. So you can mix infantry and armour and engineers in pretty much any combination you like. Or you can just use the pre-built ones.
For the ones that have not played the games I can say that the production screen is where you distribute your production capabilities to production of supplies, army reinforcements, army upgrades and armed forces production.
I have one clear complaint though. The upgrade function is totally devoid of information. I don’t know what I upgrade and I have no idea how long it takes. New guns for my tanks? Winter clothes for my infantry? New aircraft? In my preview copy it says nothing, so it is just a “let’s put resources there because it sounds like a good thing to do”. I want to know what I upgrade, in detail. I did ask Paradox about it and they said the info was in the “ledger”. It wasn’t in my preview copy, but at least it seems they are intent on including this info.
Finally! After all those non-warfare things I talk about what the game is all about. Waging war. In the preview copy the naval combat is absent or specifically the AI for it is not in. There were also no beaches, so it wasn’t possible to make naval invasions.
I must say I was a bit surprised when I first got into battle in HOI3. While it looks and plays very much like the earlier editions, it feels much better. The battles are longer and with the increased number of provinces and different dynamics it felt quite different and in my opinion clearly better. No longer are battles over in two hours and no longer does it feels like casualties accrue too quickly or don’t happen at all. In the front it feels and looks like they actually fight it out with each other. You can now tie up three enemy divisions with one of yours without being instantly massacred. One clear change in land combat is how joining divisions don’t go straight into battle, they first come up as reserves before later joining the fight. If troops fill up in a battle it could now actually last for months.
Air combat has also seen some changes, although nothing drastic. Air squadrons in a bombing run now still bomb their target if they are intercepted. The air combat and bombing is done simultaneously. I like that change, with just the little problem that with this model it seems it is clearly advantageous to bomb over intercepting. But I have not done any deep testing to confirm that. You can also choose either region or just province to do your missions in, compared to HOI2 were you only could do missions in regions and hoping they would go for the target you wanted.
When it comes to warfare the AI is all important, but it is hard to judge at this point. It is especially hard to judge since the strategic AI is not in this copy which means the AI seems to be unable to hold several fronts well. Just holding a front is what the AI did best and a normal frontal war is now very satisfying. As for AI, I also tested out how the new system where the AI handles your armed forces worked. In my opinion, that system worked best to move around large forces from one place to the other as you can now give whole army groups an order to move to specified provinces. When it comes to battle the AI can handle itself decently, but not half as good as you could if you are competent. It could of course also be partly because I hadn’t yet got the hang of how to give the AI orders.
It should also be noted that the AI used headquarter units a bit too much in front line battle. I must say I am still unsure of the best way to use those units myself, though.
Interface – Info
The interface is really clean and very easy to navigate, a clear plus I would say. Going between the screens and overlooking things is easy. Overall info, though I have some complaints about and hope that those will be looked at before the game ships. It was sometimes just hard to find info, possibly partly because there is a lot of info to find.
The most irritating of all, though, was the trade offers. There is no reason to have 10-100 trade offers per month of which the majority is about microscopic amount of resources. Not to forget that if you have any form of surplus of supplies then everyone wants to buy them. Just do away with any offers for really small sums of resources and any offers for supplies, any human player have no reason whatsoever to accept them.
The map also looks really nice, although I think the very advanced weather system may even be a bit of an overkill since I suspect it contributes to the game being a huge hog on your system resources. Having hourly temperature for every province may even be a bit too much detail.
As this is a game about warfare I would say that the improved ways warfare works could be reason enough to get this one. But for myself and anyone else interested in this game I would also like to see how the naval part of the game works. The other parts of the game have mostly seen some polishing, but without taking away the deep detail within. Unfortunately, I believe that anyone that likes to play the smaller nations may be even more short-changed than before. The performance at this point seems to point toward “sluggish”, but not so much that it is unplayable or even very irritating. It seems to be shaping up to a quality production if it is not rushed out of the door.