9

Trying to write a review for a Hearts of Iron expansion is a little like trying to write a yearly round-up on what's new in the world of Large Hadron Colliders. First, you need to understand the basic fundamentals of this ineffable and esoteric jumble of complexity. Then you need to pick out what has actually recently changed from a mass of ever-changing data.

As you'll no doubt be well aware if you've ever had the magnificent pleasure of buying a Paradox game, you'll know that when new DLC add-ons are released, they're usually accompanied by sprawling free downloads, modestly called patches, that add a ton of fascinating and engrossing new content in their own right. In the past, I've worked hard to separate out the free bit from the paid content bit in order to only review the content they want you to pay for. But this time I'm just going to look at the whole kit and kaboodle and treat it as a kind of 'what's new in HOI4' update rather than a review of the kit with no reference to the kaboodle.

As you'd expect from the name, Man the Guns deals in large part with the naval side of things. In the older iteration of the game, the actual naval battle screen had ships jumping around all over the place as they engaged the screens, or the main battle line, or the subs. Not that it really mattered, because by that point there wasn't really anything you could do to affect the outcome. Still, the new screen that simply divides your fleet up into these different groupings is a little easier to read.

Naval commanders are now assigned like army generals, with similar upgradeable skills and the ability to control a number of different fleets. Also, your search and destroy missions tend to hang out in ports and only sally forth once an enemy has been detected to engage. All of this is new territory and can take a little getting used to. I couldn't work out why certain fleets were in certain places and not where I wanted to be for a good few hours before getting to grips with it. But it's Hearts of Iron! If a little complexity is enough to put you off, you may be barking up the wrong tree.

The tech tree has been liberally scattered with new ship upgrades (which I like to call SHIPGRADES). Thing is, the number of tech slots hasn't changed, so lots of these will really be the playthings of the major powers. Still, that's sort of the way with navies anyway. Ships are now modular, and you can add any of the new components to any of the hulls to make bigger, better ships bristling with enormous guns or a mass of cheapo destroyers as you see fit.

Fuel is a great addition to the game, extended away from the basic supply system. However, again it's a complicated beast that adds a lot of extra agony to the decisions you need to make. If you're Great Britain and you send your entire fleet to sea at the same time, you'll scream through your available fuel very fast. This doesn't seem to really cripple them too badly though, although this might be a level of sophistication that will take some time to really show itself.

It's not all ships, though! There are new tech trees for Netherlands and Mexico, as well as updated trees for the US and Great Britain that add a wealth of new options for alternate timelines. I know there has been some controversy about the 'Revive the Old Confederacy' focus choices for the US. In a game where you can merrily play as the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany - allowing you to be LITERALLY HITLER - this seems like a strange controversy to me. Maybe it's a little too close to home?

Back to the ships for a bit. There's a new system to place or clear minefields in strategically important areas. If you can get unrestricted access to a sea territory for a while, you can really spam these explosive little buggers far and wide, and cause merry hell to your enemy's nautical operations. But if you can get unrestricted access to a sea territory, maybe you don't actually need to lay mines. These work well either in preparation for an incoming invasion on a coastline you're unsure about or as a nasty surprise at a strategic chokepoint like the Strait of Gibraltar or the Malacca Strait. Basically anywhere called a Strait.

There are the usual ton of new events and political actions, including imposing (or sneakily defying) naval tonnage limits (good luck on keeping this in force for very long). Conquered countries can pop back up as governments in exile in their faction leader's territory, bringing with them a surprise boost in troops and generals, and these generals work best with these troops, so it's a good idea to keep them together.

What it comes down to is that Paradox is just amazing at listening to their community and developing their games long after release. Now that ships are done, I expect that the air force will follow not too far behind. Then, who knows? Of course, they could release a DLC of nothing but National Focii for everyone from Bulgaria to Tannu Tuva and many fans would be ecstatic. If more companies were like Paradox, the world would be a better place.