Recently, I started playing HOI4 again. After lengthy absences, I often return to the game for some intensive play. I purchased the most recent DLC (No Step Back) for $20. This got me thinking. Was HOI4 worth it, considering the total price of the game with all the DLCs? That price, by the way, is $155!
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The short answer is yes. For the more extended version, read below.
No Step Back!
Let’s start with the most recent DLC/patch, No Step Back (NSB). NSB provides new focus trees for the Soviet Union the Baltic countries, and a Poland rework. However, many fans were upset that the game studio did not include Finland here. Along with the new focus trees, NSB introduced a new logistics system, a tank designer, changes to the width meta, and a reorganization of the tech tree.
The Logistics system is by far the most significant change to the base game. Players now have more control over the supply of their forces. Players need to construct railways, supply hubs, and ports. Even temporary floating ports like Mulberry Harbor can be built. They also need to ensure that there are enough trains and trucks to move supplies to the front where they are required.
Admittedly, the new logistics system is intimidating at first. There are many moving parts to consider, and the tooltips don’t provide much clarity. However, once you learn the basics, it is actually very straightforward.
Increased player agency, as long as it doesn’t introduce tedium, is always a win in my book.
The tank designer is also an excellent addition. Similar to the ship designer that was added in Man the Guns, the tank designer allows the player to create custom-designed tanks.
These can range from small under-gunned tankettes with cheap, riveted armor to massive cast-armored behemoths that would rival the Maus.
Once again, increased player agency and immersion without tedium is a bonus.
To accommodate for the addition of the tank designer, the tech tree has been changed.
Doctrines have been removed from the tech tree and are now unlocked via army, air, or naval experience. This is another welcome change as I always felt like I was falling behind in tech before. Now it seems more manageable.
It is also more realistic. When it comes to battlefield doctrine, countries at war should have a marked advantage over those at peace. There is no substitute for actual battle experience.
Players can now also tailor their armed forces even more to their liking with the addition of spirits and preferred tactics. These spirits also cost experience, but they allow you to choose various bonuses for your military. With these additions, I actually felt like the supreme commander of my forces.
Another massive change is combat width. Whereas before, combat width for any tile was always 80, it is now based on the terrain of the tile on which you are fighting. For example, mountains have the smallest width at 75, and urban tiles have the largest at 96. (This is to simulate narrow mountain passes that limit available fighting space and the verticality of cities that increase it). Having different frontages for different terrain types eliminates the old meta of 20 or 40-width divisions.
Now there is no meta. Players will have to analyze their situations based on their country, likely fighting terrain, and industrial potential. This adds to replayability and allows for experimentation.
Finally, more focus trees were added. The Soviet Union and Poland got reworks while the Baltic countries got new ones. These have the, by now standard, various alternate history political paths players should be familiar with.
With each passing DLC, these focus trees have become increasingly complex. Personally, I prefer a smaller ‘cleaner’ tree-like, say Germany’s, but many players enjoy the more giant, more convoluted trees.
There are a total of 7 major DLCs for Hearts of Iron 4. I have already covered the most recent NSB. Below is a list of the others in order of quality.
No Step Back (NSB)
By far the best DLC for previously mentioned reasons.
Man the Guns (MtG)
Man the Guns focuses on naval combat. It added the ship designer, which allows you to build custom-designed ships for your navy. This feature is very nice to have, and I can’t imagine going back to the vanilla game without it.
It also adds the ability to route your ocean-bound convoys manually. This is especially useful when playing as the Allies, as it allows you to ensure your convoys move through the safest possible sea zones where you have air cover.
MtG also adds focus trees to the USA, Mexico, and the Netherlands.
Waking the Tiger (WtT)
Waking the Tiger provides focus trees for Japan, Nationalist China, Communist China, and the Chinese warlord countries.
It also has a reworked tree for Germany, which includes alternate historical paths like the return of the Kaiser.
There are also some minor additions like adding field marshals to the chain of command and the ability to send air volunteers to other nations at war.
La Resistance (LaR)
The focus of this DLC is espionage. Espionage is a bit hit or miss in HoI4. Depending on the country you play, it could be central to your playthrough or not touched at all.
For example, a Free France player might have an excellent time building up and supporting resistance cells in occupied France waiting for D-Day, but for minor nations, there isn’t much use.
LaR adds focus trees for France, Spain, and Portugal. Spain has trees for all of the potential civil war factions, and France has its base tree plus two post-capitulation trees for Vichy and Free France.
Overall, it’s a valuable add-on, although probably not worth it for the regular price of $20.
Together for Victory (TfV)
TfV provides focus trees for the British Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the British Raj. Each of these trees gives an option to stay loyal to Britain or try to break away and become independent.
It also improves the lend-lease mechanic so that you can request specific equipment from your allies.
Finally, it added the autonomy system, which deepened gameplay interactions with puppet nations.
Death or Dishonor (DoD)
DoD gives a focus tree to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It also added trees for Yugoslavia and Romania, but those trees have been reworked again in subsequent DLCs.
DoD also added some more depth with production licenses. For me, at least, this was something I have not gotten much use out of.
Battle for the Bosphorus (BftB)
BftB added three new focus trees for Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The same standard multi-path political direction is here for each country, although it has to be said that these trees are some of the most ‘out there’ as far as alternate history is concerned.
The restoration of old empires like the Ottoman and even Byzantine just doesn’t make sense in a WW2 game, in my opinion.
Bulgaria also has the opportunity to not only create a massive empire but to have ‘cores’ on it as well. These trees really unbalance the game as minor powers such as these have no business creating these massive (and with cores apparently culturally homogenous) empires.
The game might as well give every country the ability to do so, which is just silly and defeats the whole purpose of the coring mechanic anyway.
That’s it. There are no other game mechanics added.
To put it short, if you don’t have a personal interest in playing as Greece, Turkey, or Bulgaria, there really is no need to buy this DLC.
Hearts of Iron 4 has a huge modding community. There are multiple high-quality mods that give the game even more replayability. Below I will highlight a few of the more popular ones. All of the mods listed here are easy to download and install via the steam workshop.
Kaiserreich is an alternate history mod that puts you in a world in which the Central Powers rather than the Entente prevailed in the First World War.
It is packed with new ideologies, a new political system, and more than 100 new focus trees. If you are someone who enjoys Hearts of Iron 4’s alternate history paths, this is definitely the mod for you.
Road to ‘56
Road to ’56 is a mod that extends the ending date of the game (usually 1948) and takes it to 1956. It includes new alternate history focus trees for many of the most popular countries in the game.
Extending the game past 1948 gives players more time to enjoy the building up of their chosen country and potentially allows for more of a ‘Cold War’ experience after the main clash and peace conference.
If alternate history is not your thing and you are a stickler for historical accuracy, then Black Ice is the mod for you. Black Ice is historically accurate and adds much greater detail than vanilla HOI4.
There are hundreds of techs to research, and production is much less abstracted. Perfect for those who enjoy the minute details of planning and organization.
Old World Blues
Finally, if you are tired of WW2 in any form, alternate history or not, there is Old World Blues. OWB completely changes the game set to that of the widespread Obsidian game Fallout: New Vegas. Battle for control of the Strip and Hoover Dam as different factions, including the NCR, Caesar’s Legion, Mr. House, the Great Khans, and many others.
Hearts of Iron 4 gameplay is set in New Vegas lore. What’s not to love?
So far, I have given a mostly rosy depiction of the game. With the exception of a few unspectacular and overpriced DLCs, I haven’t had much negative to say about the game.
In the interest of remaining objective, I admit that the game is not without flaws. I will list some of the more egregious ones here.
Would it be a Paradox game if people weren’t critical of the AI’s performance? No, it would not. Hearts of Iron 4 is, unfortunately, no different in this regard. While it must be admitted that the AI is better than it was in Hearts of Iron 3, it is still not quite up to snuff.
Part of the problem is that Paradox keeps designing these great systems but doesn’t or isn’t able to program the AI to use them. The AI will consistently create poor-quality divisions, tanks, and ships. I’m not entirely sure the AI knows how to use the logistics system either.
In my last campaign, Dozens of Allied British and French divisions swamped the Iraqi desert (The UK had gone down the aggressive part of its focus tree to seize the Middle Eastern oil fields) only to sit there out of supply and useless. Even worse, the French left the Maginot line completely undefended, and I, as Germany, literally just walked right in.
Things like this certainly don’t happen every game, but it’s enough to ruin a playthrough. (Imagine how disappointed I was to have spent hours designing and building the perfect Wehrmacht to crush the Allies, only to march straight to Paris unopposed).
The AI also sets up its chain of command in a bizarre and inefficient way. Italy will have maybe four divisions under its best commander Giovanni Messe while having around ten other ‘armies’ with 3 to 4 divisions, each commanded by low-skill generals or no one at all.
Hearts of Iron 4 has a division spamming problem. Due to how the game handles manpower, countries are able to man and equip enormously large armies. To put this in context, during the actual war, the USA only fielded around 90 divisions, not counting the Marine Corps. In HOI4, they can have 400+ by 1942.
When you multiply this by every country, you get a game with an insane amount of divisions running around. This absolutely wreaks havoc on PC performance. It is often so bad that players on mid-tier systems will quit games by 1941-42 because the game becomes too laggy to enjoy.
This is a problem that has plagued Hearts of Iron 4 since its release. Hackers entering multiplayer lobbies and kicking players, messing with the game files (giving Poland say 900 civ factories, for example), and just generally harassing players is something that still happens with alarming frequency.
This problem has been brought to Paradox’s attention many times, but they have yet to come up with a solution.
Hearts of Iron 4 is not a perfect game (An ideal game might not even exist).
Nevertheless, it is an excellent game. With around 42,000 players playing at any given time, it is hard to argue with the game’s popularity.
HOI4 is not a cheap game, also. $155 for the game and all of the significant content DLCs is quite steep. However, it is a game that still provides unrivaled value.
I, for example, have 868 hours logged on steam for HOI4. (This does not even count the countless hours I have spent “offline” pouring over the forums, crunching numbers for economic planning, and considering new strategies).
In cold financial terms, that comes to 18 cents per hour of entertainment. I think many people would be hard-pressed to find a better entertainment value than that. So is Hearts of Iron 4 worth it? Absolutely.