There is no arguing it: Hearts of Iron III is an incredibly deep real-time strategy game that requires some pretty high-level thinking. We recently got to play a preview build of the game, and we found that the game is incredibly deep to the point of being overwhelming. Thankfully, you can toe the waters and optionally let the AI handle some aspects of your war machine. Even still, when it comes to the RTS genre, there are few games that promise to be as deep as Hearts of Iron III is shaping up to be.
In the game, you have the ability to play as any recognized nation during World War II, from its earliest roots in 1938 right up to and past the eventual defeat of Japan in the Pacific Theatre of the war. Of course, this is assuming that you let events pan out as they did in real life; though you can choose to start at a few different and historically accurate "checkpoints" in the war, the ultimate outcome is up to you. To guide your country to ultimate victory, you must control many facets of it, including unit production, technological advances, political maneuvering, the art of diplomacy, and the use of intelligence.
Much of the depth of the game can be found here, for while the lifeblood of your country comes in many different forms of raw materials, its success is a direct result of how those materials are used. More often than not, you will have too many things going on at once to fully facilitate them all, which means you'll have some difficult decisions to make. Do you research upgrades for your units that may ultimately help turn the technological tide, or are your current units sufficiently advanced that mass production is the way to go? Are your spies to assist the local rebels in their operations, or perform counter-spying operations inside of your own borders? The available avenues are vast, and there is never just one way to proceed with them in your goals.
The topic of goals is another one where Hearts of Iron III stands somewhat uniquely in the genre, as your goals are generally set by … you. Your only way to truly fail is to lose your country either from getting militarily conquered or crumbling from within, while your successes are gauged by … you. Do you want to conquer the world with military might or simply subdue the Nazi regime and wipe communism off the map? Maybe you want to take the course of the war in completely new directions, in which the USSR lands troops on American soil? Your choices and goals are of your own creation.
The game world encompasses the entire world, with historically accurate countries and borders split up further into individually named sections. Units appear as color-coded boxes on the map, with small flags further denoting the country they fight for. Clicking on such boxes lets you view which individual units make it up, which is important given the wide array of units that are in the game. Individual units have their own stats, from your basics such as their unit strength and maximum movement speed to such granularities as their ability to fight at night or in the mountains. Sometimes you'll want to know if your infantry will be able to make it to the mountains before nightfall and how well their efforts will pan out when they get there.
With this level of depth, however, comes a massive learning curve, which is one thing that the preview build of Hearts of Iron III doesn't really help you with. Though the game features a built-in tutorial that helps you wade into the shallow end to test things out, it gives you just enough experience to judge the temperature of the water before shoving you fully into the deep end of the pool. Tooltips are plentiful and quite informative, but the real difficulty comes in tying it all together. For all of the information and avenues of approach that you can undertake at any given time, it is almost overwhelming, so it's a good thing that you have the ability to pause the game and give orders while you take a breather.
To help alleviate this and guide your hand, you can at any time let the AI handle individual aspects of your country. If you find yourself uncaring about the battles of politicians and the skullduggery of the spy community, let the AI handle your politics and intelligence functions. Of course, if you have a knack for those and lack a military mind, you might wish for the AI to control your armies and production lines while you wheel and deal with other countries using diplomacy. This helps make the game a lot more approachable and lets you tailor your experience to more closely match the aspects that you want to micromanage.To be frank, Hearts of Iron III is as deep as anything else the genre has to offer, and it provides a level of strategy and tactics that makes a standard real-time strategy game pale in comparison. The game doesn't come out until later this year, but the preview build had an absolutely massive amount of content. Being able to pick essentially any country you want and guide its every action through one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history is no small claim, and it's probably Hearts of Iron III's biggest strength. Ideally, the tutorial will get a bit more fleshed out before release to help ease the learning curve for series newcomers, but with as many options as the game has, fans of truly detailed strategy games have a lot to look forward to once the game is released later this year.
More articles about Hearts of Iron 3