August 7th was the launch date for the much-awaited new thoroughbred from the Hearts of Iron team, and as hoped it flew right off the starting-line. Well, for a moment there was concern that they wouldn't make LAUNCH DATE, but face was saved by a "Day 0" patch, that just reinforced Paradox's credentials for continuously improving their games, days, months and even years after their initial launch. I like that, they are proud of what they make and they stand by their games, at least that is the legacy from previous Hearts of Iron releases.
If you read my PREVIEW you will recall that I was very impressed with this game and keeping my fingers crossed for a final delivery that would live up to the promise of the early preview version. I'm happy to say that it does!....And they kept the "unconventional" tutorial featuring everyone's favourite Austrian paper-hanger. Honestly, the tutorial is really just a "This is where the buttons are" affair. A game this complex needs the PDF manual, a PDF fast start guide, a PDF strategy guide, and the amazing ParadoxPlaza forums where hundreds, nay, thousands of helpful, knowledgeable, and sometimes downright hilarious fans will post their sucesses and failures, tips and caveats.
This is not a game for everyone. If you can't live without flash-bang eye-candy, huge explosions, and seeing your target's head explode like a ruptured melon, Hearts of Iron will probably leave you cold. My teenage son was looking over my shoulder as my British Expeditionary Force was fighting for their lives in Danzig at the climax of a month-long campaign to help save Poland....and he said: "This is boring Dad, nothing is happening!" So I packed him back off to playing "Call of Duty".
My appetite whetted by the four-month-old preview build and the demo that was launched just days before the US launch, I was champing at the bit to dive into the full game on launch day.....after patching it up to 1.1 of course. My first attempt was one of my cherished "What if" scenarios, to try and save Poland with a British Expeditionary Force. Here is a link to my experiences if you feel like reading a brief AAR.
Having satisfied myself that the retail build was so much more stable and faster than the Preview and Demo builds I then ventured to explore the abilities of the AI. Let's face it, the best opponent for any wargame, any game at all come to that, is a human opponent. And some of you may well have buddies with similar interests to you who will hang in there for a full WWII-length pounding. Rarer than finding a good wife if they are not winning, and rarer still if you can co-ordinate 6-12 players just to control the main WWII nations. Co-ordinating 50 people to play all the nations available in Hearts of Iron III just isn't going to happen outside a major tournament. So the AI is vital to the successful playing of this game. And what an AI it is! Built from the ground up just for this game, it is the strong heart of what is a very ambitious game. Here are the developer's proud words on his new BABY.
The fact that the AI could hand me my cheeks on "Normal" difficulty when I tried to take my BEF to the aid of Poland wasn't conclusive proof that the AI knew it's job. After all I'm no Rommel! So I took the part of Germany in 1939, facing a tough row to hoe with war looming on two fronts. I set OB West to hold the French at the Maginot/Siegfried line on the river Rhine. Oberkommando Der Wehrmacht was set to "Blitz" in Poland with Heeresgruppe Sud acting as the hammer set to crush the Poles against the anvil of HG Nord. I took the precautions of setting some diplomatic, technology and production targets before handing control of all these functions to the AI. I appointed officers with the kind of traits I required (panzerleader, offensive or defensive doctrine and supply wizard) to command the various HQ's then "let loose the dogs of war" and basically went "hands off" until the AI gave me Poland and held the line in the west. The mechanics of it really only took a few mouse clicks after the setting of targets and promoting of leaders, and I did it very much as described HERE.
I'm convinced.... This is the best AI I've seen straight out of the box, and the game is a very complex jewel that I know will give hours, months, years of endless pleasure exploring all the "what if's" of WWII and from many different angles. Who but a Romanian ever really considered WWII from the point of view of the Carpathian Cross?.... But now you can! And that is without all the mods and changes that are bound to emerge for this landmark game if previous HOI incarnations are any yardsticks.