Hearts of Iron 4: Back To The Fuhrer

In their efforts to balance realism with playability, the game makers at Paradox have hit upon a novel system for affecting how tightly players can grip the reins of power in Hearts of Iron 4. As producer Dan Lind explained to us, this system is called ‘Political Power.’ Though the denizens of the notorious image board 4 chan call it something else: Fuhrer Mana.

“[Laughs]. Yeah, although we should probably not call it that [more laughter].” To give an example of how it works in-game, Dan recalled Hitler’s precarious political position in the early days of WWII.


“Germany is on the warpath. And France and the United Kingdom are extremely tired of war after World War I. And Germany is supposed to not have a military at this time. But they did build a military; nobody stopped them. They remilitarised the Rhineland, which is the border of France, where they weren’t allowed to actually have any troops. And nobody stopped them. And they started claiming land, which they managed to get politically, not actually through war. Until they pissed off the other countries enough to start the war. But during this time people thought Hitler was basically crazy, and people were just going to stop him.

“But nothing happened, so people actually started believing what he said. Because he could prove it. He’d say: ‘Oh, I’m going to say this, and they’re not going to stop me.’ In game terms, if you can pull this sort of thing off you get something called ‘Political Power’, and that means that you can control the cabinet, you can control industries, to do your bidding.” This translates into specific bonuses,
depending on which historical figures have faith in you.
The denizens of the notorious image board 4chan call it something else: Fuhrer Mana.
A major breakthrough being introduced with Hearts of Iron 4 is the new planning system. Rather than micro-managing the movement of every single unit, you can create invasion plans that manifest as big arrows on the map, just like the graphics in classic war documentaries.

“It’s a way of controlling a large amount of units easily, and being able to set up the plan before the actual battle takes place, so that when shit hits the fan you can just go: ‘Execute’ and worry about the little bits where you need to worry, and not the grand plan, at the same time.”

Strategic air warfare has also been completely re-worked; to the best of his knowledge, Dan is sure that no other strategy game has implemented air combat in this manner: a high level simulation system, where most of the input is through control of your industries, and trying to feed your air force war machine.

“The way it works is that we have the world divided into zones. Fairly large zones, so that there’s actually a hierarchy of zones. The smallest areas we call provinces, and they affect troop movements. Above those there’s something called ‘states,’ which is a group of provinces, where you can build buildings and stuff like that. And they have names, and such. And where you have cities. And then above that we have the strategic regions, which is where you’re going to be fighting your air battles. Poland contains three different air zones at the moment. And what you do is you assign the type and number of aircraft you want to be there, and give them different missions.”

Once these orders are in place, it all plays out as a simulation. While you’re doing other things you’ll see airplanes buzzing about, autonomously trying to fulfil their missions to shoot down enemy bombers and support aircraft.

“There’s three main types of planes you’ll be using in these zones. You have fighters that shoot down other planes, basically, and control the skies. Bombers; and there’s both smaller bombers for more tactical targeting and strategic bombers for laying waste to enemy factories and such. And then there’s support planes, which is close air support; airplanes that go directly in and help your guys on the ground in fights.”

There are limits to the granularity of this system, however; you’re not going to be able to play as the UK and re-enact the events of The Dambusters. “We have three different types of industry: military industry, civilian industry, and naval industry. If you have enough intel you’ll be able to see in a state what kind of stuff is being built there, and make sure that you target those areas. You can’t specifically say ‘target a factory building Tiger tanks.’ But you can target so that you’re going to be going for an area with a lot of military industries; you know that you’re going to be hurting their tank production.”

After fans complained about the naval combat in Hearts of Iron 3, Dan and his team did a major rethink on how to handle the war at sea. “What we have created is a system a little bit like what I explained with the aircraft, in that they work in zones. So when you have a fleet, you can decide how spread out it should be. Say you’re trying to hunt down submarines, you want to spread out your fleet, and try and hunt them, right? Or if you’re submarines, you want to spread out and try and find the convoys. And then, when you find the convoys, assuming you have the proper training and doctrines, you want to call in your other submarine friends and then you all group up and attack together so you can sink the maximum amount. The Germans call these ‘Wolf Packs.’

“So we wanted to let you do these, as well as do the stuff that Germany did early on, which is have, say, a couple of fairly fast, armoured ships just run around solo and cause a lot of havoc. Because, you know, the ocean is a big place, and it’s kind of hard to find someone. But if the danger is there, if they might find your convoys, you’re going to have to spread out your entire Royal Navy, as the UK, to guard against them.”

Thus the game engine is built so that players can recreate the naval antics as depicted in ‘Sink the Bismarck.’ “Germany might not have been much of a naval power in previous games. So people ended up not really bothering to build up navies. Whereas now you can build a little bit of a navy and that can still be quite efficient if you’re you’re teaming up with Italy. If you can hold off a lot of the Royal Navy with your shenanigans, that will keep them from putting pressure on Italy and screwing with them in the Mediterranean.”

The opaque supply system in Hearts of Iron 3 also attracted a lot of criticism, and has been completely reworked with a more transparent, user-friendly interface. The new system of Division Templates lets you allocate resources such as armour and anti-tank guns right down to the battalion level, leaving plenty of scope in the meta-game to out-think your opponents’ force mix choices; it also lets you change the mix in existing units. The tech trees, or ‘Doctrines’, now more closely model nations’ weaknesses, as well as their strengths. “Germany, for example, is very powerful early on, because a lot of the other nations are not really used to dealing with a fast-moving enemy. But it’s weak on the defence, and fairly expensive, because it relies on having a lot of armour.”

After talking to Dan for over half an hour, it felt like we’d barely scratched the surface. So out of all the myriad upgrades in the new Hearts of Iron, what new feature has he been enjoying the most? “I’m kind of liking at the moment using marines and naval invasions. We’ve got a new invasion system that runs through the planning systems, so that you can more easily prepare a large invasion. I’ve been having fun trying to invade the United Kingdom. With Italian marine soldiers. That’s pretty fun.

“Other than that, it’s always great dropping a nuke on someone!”

Hearts of Iron 4 is due to launch on Steam in Q2 of 2015.

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