70th anniversary of World War Two is good time to share few impressions about Hearts of Iron III, the latest installment of war game series by Paradox.
Basics of the game didn't change much compared to Hearts of Iron II. The major blocs - Axis, Allies and Comintern - are same, as well as the time span (1936 - 1948). Unlike Doomsday expansion for HOI 2, HOI 3 doesn't appear to allow player to continue playing until 1955. On the other hand, some improvements are more than obvious - graphic is impressive, and the number of provinces wars are going to be fought over - 14000 - is mind-numbing.
Even better is the lower level of land forces organisation - brigades instead of divisions in HOI 2. Player is, on the other hand, given opportunity to create divisions out of those brigades, which looks quite neat.
Introduction of leadership as new concept could also give more depth and detail to the game. Difficult decisions about research are now separated from "guns and butter" considerations in production menu. Politics menu, on the other hand, has many details - political parties and their organisation - that aren't likely to have obvious impact for the game.
The best thing about HOI 3 appears to be AI option for various menus. Player now can allow computer to handle diplomacy, production, technology (leadership), politics and intelligence. Player can also let particular HQs to be handled by AI,. The only problem appears to be AI behaviour, which leaves much to be desired. In all games I played so far, AI had nasty tendency to request strong air force, which often led to AI-controlled production menu directing all ICs (industrial capacity) to production of tactical bombers, while not allowing any updates of tragically antiquated infantry equipment. One example is South Africa whose army - made out of 9 garrison brigades - had 19th Century Henry-Martini rifle as its standard infantry weapon.
AI looks even worse when handling other nations. While the events in some cases follow historical pattern and look plausible (Ethiopia falls to Mussolini, Nationalists win in Spain, Hitler gets Anschluss etc.), at other times history look quite different. For example, Japanese forces almost always are being creamed by Nationalist Chinese, and Germans at times happen to successfully invade Karachi and Hong Kong. This looks quite implausible.
Another, even more annoying, problem is slow tempo of the game which makes Road To War campaign boring - especially when small and neutral nations are played.
HOI 3 is in many aspects disappointing, but novelty of some features will please hard-core grognard fans. Few good patches should, in most likelihood, solve some of the more annoying problems and make playing HOI 3 as good as playing HOI 2 and HOI 1.