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Before I can even begin this review, I must preface it by saying that Hearts of Iron III is not for 75% of gamers out there (maybe more). It is for the hardest of the hardcore strategy gamers. Thanks to a ridiculous learning curve and poor tutorial system, new comers to the HoI series should expect to put in a few days of learning before playing the game.

That being said, let me add that Hearts of Iron III is one of the most in depth strategy games ever made. If you are willing to sit down and try to figure out whats going on, you will  have a very rewarding experience.

Players are thrust into the role of the President (or dictator depending on the country) of a nation of your choice. You’re are able to choose from almost every nation that existed during WWII, from Germany to Costa Rica. The whole goal of Hearts of Iron III is to manage your country from 1935 to 1947 and hopefully win WWII. This is accomplished by cleverly maneuvering your armies, managing your economy, researching apt technologies, developing good alliances, and utilizing espionage. Each of these aspects is controlled by its respective pop-up menu, which shows all the information in gory detail.

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Gamers can expect to spend anywhere from 40 to 80 hours per game. This may seem a little extreme considering Hearts of Iron III is an RTS, but a majority of this time is spent with the game paused while you micromanage your building/supply/reinforcement/research/espionage queues.  Time passes in one hour increments, with the player being able to increase and decrease the rate at which time speeds by. One cool thing about time in Hearts of Iron III is that it is given to you in GMT. You need to manually calculate time zones according to your preemptive attack plans, which actually impacts the outcome. If you decide to strike at night, your attack efficiency will be lowered.

In terms of visuals, Hearts of Iron III is nothing to write home about. The main map screen only shows a political outline. There are no geographic features like mountains or deserts, and units are represented by both sprites and markers. When controlling troops from high up on the map, they are represented by little boxes containing all the necessary information. If you zoom in close enough, the boxes will turn into little models showing what types of units you have. While this is a neat feature, it doesn’t add anything to the game, and to be honest, the models are nowhere detailed enough to warrant their addition.

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Gamers who already have experience with the Hearts of Iron series will be able to jump in and start conquering. These veterans will be pleasantly surprised at how Paradox was able to keep the same gameplay and game mechanics while adding new features such as new units, a more detailed map, a more streamlined user interface,  improved espionage control, and a new “Threat” feature. This feature makes near by countries more cautious when dealing with you. For example, if you play as Germany, don’t expect to be best friends with France.

What makes Hearts of Iron III so hard to learn is partially due to the poor tutorial system. Consisting of six chapters, each lesson focuses on one aspect of managing a country. While this doesn’t sound too bad on paper, I can guarantee you they are anything but helpful. Each chapter consists of text boxes popping up over the basic map interface letting you know what each thing does.

The problem with this is that the tutorial skips over some of the most important information. I was never told how battles are won or even what the terms of victory are. To make matters worse, there isn’t even a voice over to read the text to you. Some of you will just argue that I’m being lazy, but when you find yourself spending the better part of an hour re-reading the chapter about managing your economy, you’ll understand.

Another issue that adds to Hearts of Iron III’s ridiculous learning curve is the interface. It is impossible to start a new game without any prior experience with the HoI series and not be overwhelmed. Right from the start players can expect to be bombarded with pop-ups letting you know what’s going wrong with your country as well as your armies. The game offers no suggestion as to how you are suppose to fix these problems. It’s like having an annoying little brother who points out all your flaws without offering any ways to fix them.

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Despite it’s shortcomings, the main aspect of Hearts of Iron III that really shines is the obscene attention to historical accuracy. As you would expect, all the weapons, vehicles, and available technologies are faithfully recreated. Each country’s political parties are populated with actual historical figures who were involved with them. If you play as Germany, you can expect to see Hitler as Head of State, Himmler as Minister of Security, and so on.

These political figures grant your country certain pros and cons. For example, if Wilhelm Canaris is your Head of Intelligence, you receive a 10% bonus to land and naval intelligence.  If you don’t like Canaris, or don’t want those particular bonuses, you can replace him with a historically accurate contemporary.  This intense adherence to historical accuracies play to Hearts of Iron III’s biggest success: realism.

Everything about Hearts of Iron 3 is realistic to boot. Your armies will move at an accurate speed; researching new technologies takes years to accomplish; there are accurate pros and cons to having certain political parties in power and even the cumbersome interface realistically portrays how difficult it is to manage a country and its military.

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Another cool feature in Hearts of Iron III is the co-op. You and your friends are able to play as one country, with each person managing a specific aspect. For example, I can just  focus on the economy and politics of my nation, while a friend takes over troop movement and espionage. This dividing of power also helps make Hearts of Iron III more realistic by making each player feel like a member of the presidential cabinet.

Hearts of Iron 3 is by far the most complicated and in-depth strategy game I’ve ever played. My big issue with it is that I didn’t have much fun with the game after delving through hours of menus: it wasn’t until I actually experienced some combat that the game stopped feeling stale. As a new comer to the series, I expected some kind of reward for spending hours upon hours learning how to play the game: all I got instead was a presidential simulator, which is great, if that is your cup of tea.

Rating Category
6.5 Presentation
The graphics aren't going to wow you, and the in-game tutorial is lacking.
How does our scoring system work?
7.5 Gameplay
While it may not be everybody's cup of tea, hardcore military strategy fans will be in heaven.
7.0 Sound
The sound effects and music are functional, but they're nothing spectacular.
9.0 Longevity
With the option to play as any country in the world at the time, Hearts of Iron III provides plenty of replayablility.
7.5 Overall
If your idea of an RTS is Command & Conquer or WarCraft, you're better off skipping Hearts of Iron III. If you enjoy Axis & Allies, you'll have a bast.

  1. Where’s the “Spawn Zergling” button?

  2. Great review, man. I used to love in-depth strategies games in high school. I’m definitely going to have to get this soon.

  3. Although I tremble at the thought of an overly complicated RTS, this was an awesome review. Keep up the good work.

  4. avatar Steven Jones

    As a veteran of the HoI series, it’s always interesting to read the opinions of new comers to it. However, I feel that your review was based solely on being a new comer and you didn’t seem to get to in depth with the game. It has an incredibly steep learning curve, but once you figure it out it a very deep, rich, and rewarding game. And your complaint about delving through hours of menus is a bit pointless since almost everything in those menus can be controlled by the AI.

  5. Steven – But if you let the AI manage all your menus, aren’t you missing out on a majority of the game.

  6. avatar Patton

    Well said Steven Jones!

  7. avatar Erik

    I have played prior HoI releases. I just got my copy. I am expecting HoI to be like the review said — incredibly hard and rewarding. Sucky tutorial.

    That said, the HoI 3 Wiki is not rolling yet. If I was new, I would wait until that got some traction.

    For new players: If you want to learn the economy and politics first, start in ’38. If you want to learn the combat interface first, start in a war year where your country is already active. Personally, I like learning the economy first. But if what you are raring for is combat, starting in ’38 will have you wondering “do I get into combat this week?” because of the slowness of starting and the high learning curve.

  8. avatar Steven Jones

    @chadbrochill, it depends what you want out of the game. If you want to micromanage every little aspect of your nation, then you are missing out on a large part of the game. But if you want to focus on your military, or your production, or diplomacy, or any combination thereof you can. All the while you can safely ignore other aspects that are less interesting (or annoying, as in my case with intelligence).

  9. @ Steven

    We took into account that many players would be hard and fast loyalists to the HOI series, although none of us on staff had played either HOI 1 or 2, which made it difficult to approach the game from another angle.

    Like any review, it’s based on that particular player’s experience with the title and how it accommodated them. Alex mentioned to myself that the learning curve was astronomically high, but he was able to see the aspects of the title which would make it so appealing to returning players and made a note of that.

    The poor tutorial and interface issues Alex mentioned ARE significant issues, whether veteran players would admit that or not, and would impact the score. Alex is a strategy gamer and found things he both loved and loathed about HOI3.

    As well, there would be lots of new players seeing the game on Steam or GamersGate who would want to know how accessible the game is, and we felt that the review offered a balance in that respect.

    That said, thanks for your perspective, I was wondering how any veterans may take the review on board.

  10. avatar Steven Jones

    @James

    Thanks for the reply. Don’t get me wrong, I like his review, and don’t have any problem with the score he gave it. I completely agree with many of the criticisms Alex made review, and properly stated the, sometimes, ridiculous learning curve the game has. My point was that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that if a player, who likes these types of games, can get there, it’s a great experience, which Alex does state, however it is more than just a “presidential simulator”.

  11. @Steven

    I’d agree with you there :) Games with a lot of buried treasure like this one are more rewarding as you put more time into them. I just wish I had more time to play!

  12. avatar Ching Meiers

    It should be mentioned that the current version (1.1) has some serious performance issues (laggy UI, slow AI even on high end machines) and bugs. I would wait a couple of patches before buying it.

  13. avatar Moep

    Well ai is fine for a game of this complexity and the release version ( its better as i thought).
    And lag is mostly a problem OF high end machines, seems strange but it runs fine on the most standard pcs. its just laggy as hell on the high ends, dunno why.

  14. avatar Michael Mc

    I would like to say that a special warning should be printed on the front of the box, to wave off those who think that this “game” can be mastered in a short number of hours in ANY respect. Sure, the tutorial sucks. I’d say that anybody who wants to play this game should start with HOI2, that would be my best tutorial (and cheaper, too, in terms of time, which is the real cost here) suggestion. As a veteran (non-multi) player, I’m starting off slow, letting the AI take charge of everything except for actual unit movement. Sure, I turned off AI for a few things to get my licks in (give me some more destroyers, dangit! and to give a little more love to the intel guys in some important spots), but for now I will approach this game in pieces. I’ve already found things that will drive me BACK to the instructions and forums to get some clarification. All in good time.

  15. avatar Aldezhar

    As a semi-veteran of HOI2 (played trough three 36-47 campaigns without being really good) I still learn new stuff.

    I liked the review and the score seems fair. I like how they have kept the essence of the game and added features that enhances it without making it a light version.
    I like games that are not dumbed down for everyone to enjoy, but gives a challenge.
    I totally agree that this game should come with a ‘pedia of some sort (like the CIV games) to explain how the various parts really work. Right now I do like Michael Mc and use the AI to manage stuff while I get my grip on how some of the new stuff works.

    Bottom line: Good review but perhaps in need of a re-review when it has been played some more.

  16. avatar Anonymous

    I liked HOI 1 better then 2 and the community and multiplayer seemed better on HOI 2. I hope 3 brings back that same feeling. I also think some of the automation will bring in a larger % of gamers to the game.

  17. avatar Gabrek

    They made huge improvements from 1 to 2, and it looks like they’ve done the same for 3- that being said, I’ve spent many hundreds of hours on 1 and 2 each and love the series. The level of manipulation it allows for the polital and espionage sectors, not to mention an improvement to the tech system (5 techs at a time in 2 was horrible, with some countries having their hands tied with tech team choices) are really making the game for me. The problem? I’m 8 hours into a game and have reached Febuary 1937- that’s on a 2.6 quad core processor, 8 gigs DDR2 800mghz, and a 285, 2gig, 512 bit gforce GPU. Yeaaaaaah. They need to patch this thing to run at about 3 times as fast on the “fast” setting. The speed restriction (or inability to run on a high end machine?) ALONE makes me rate this a 7.5 so far, though the rest looks beautiful.

  18. avatar MrMeN

    Interesting review.
    I would never have called myself a veteran but I guess that I am (not something Ive ever considered). I started with Hearts of Iron 2 and I found the learning curve incredibly short and the game easy to get my head around. Atleast to understand the mechanics. I found the same with Hearts of Iron 3. I’ve never found it particulary complicated so its interesting to see others perspective. I also like the “presidential simulator” aspect. I’m possibly part of the 25% who live for games like this.
    For me this is possibly the finest computer game Ive ever played (atleast when patched with fixes and improvements).

  19. avatar Geezuz

    I wasn’t surprised that the biggest improvement to the gameplay has not been mentioned at all since the tutorial does not explain combat at all, but I think it is worth mentioning as it is changing the way you have to attack an enemy quite significantly. I will not go into detail here (that’s a reviewers job :) ), but in a nutshell it means that you can’t just build a lot of units and rush the enemy (frontage and stacking penalties chiefly among other things) and that you have to use the more detailed map (that the reviewer does mention) to gain an advantage on the enemy, have reserves etc.

    Also for HoI2 veterans looking into this game, you should check out information on the new HQ system/army organization. Personally I love it, but I could see how it could turn some people off.

    btw, I am actually happy there is a rather decent manual (not just 10 pages) instead of a lengthy tutorial here. I don’t mind reading manuals (yeah, I am that old…34), and tbh a tutorial explaining every major function sufficiently would take a LOOOONG time. no way around it – a game this complex just is hard to get into.

    of course both would have been best, but I’m thinking HoI3 is not meant for beginners anyway. I couldnt imagine looking at it without having played the previous two alot.

  20. avatar Daniel

    I’ve been playing war strategy computer games for nearly 20 years now- and the HOI series is by far the best I’ve gotten into. I played GG’s World at War for a bit and found it too simple and gamey- HOI2 and EUIII are my strat staples with a bit of Total War thrown in for fun.

    I look forward to HOI III with keen interest and have already pre ordered my copy. The limited frontage for attacks and command structure sound good- and I’m glad they’ve automated espionage. Also looking forward to the more detailed tech researching- it was a shame that disappeared between HOI I and II- although some of the mods (Stoney Road and the like) did something to return some of that complexity to II.

    The HOI series is insanely complex but you will get a rewarding game if you’re prepared to put the effort into it. Yes it’s a “RTS” – but think of it more like a RTS with the length of play and development of a dungeon bashing RPG- with the added advantage of having a different game every time by choosing any one of the hundreds of countries present.

  21. avatar croat

    this game is GREAT i dont have it jet but from what i can hear its great im buying that

    WW2 ROOLS

  22. avatar Hubert

    This game is so ahistorical it’s not funny. I will never buy another Paradox game again.

  23. avatar jason parker

    I have been playing HOI games since the begining, and HOI 3 is by far the worst. They talked about how great the AI is, in my experiance it sucks by 1938 England, france, finland,mexico, sweden, turkey and several other nations were allied against me before I even annexed austria. The one way this game is historically accurate is that it moves so slow it will take 5 years to finish it.

  24. avatar Joe

    Wow what version did you guys get? One with a secret patch. This game is unplayable for most if not all people (if there honest). Its SO SLOW, its buggy, its hard to control etc.

  25. avatar troy

    As a person who loved the last HoI game, I have to say there are some problems with the new game. First, scrolling on the map is nightmare. Just about every time I try to scroll over a few provinces I end up on the other side of the world. Second, I can’t get any of my ships to go back into harbor. Third, the tutorials are a joke. You would think when introducing something as major as the neutrality and threat concepts (which prevent you from declaring war) you would explain it in detail. I had Poland surrounded for over a year without being able to invade. By the time I figured out what I had to do, Poland had joined the Allies. How the heck am I going to invade Paris with the Poles on my butt.

  26. avatar Matt

    Wow, loved Paradox Games until now, the game was fine in the pre-war years, as soon as I entered into WW2 it slowed down terribly. Slow as in it takes 10-15 minutes to play one day. I like games that require a bit of patience and detail, but this is too much for me.

  27. avatar Aaron

    I’ve been playing the HOI 3 demo for about a week and this game kicks ass. I have never played a HOI game or anything this detailed and I got hooked right away (also because I like to read and watch about WW2, can’t forget Axis & Allies board game). Yes, it took me about 10 hours to figure about half to 3/4ths of it, the tutorial did help SOME. Now as I look through reviews from different site, half of them praise it while the other half complain alot about how slow it runs on high end computers (which is bad, got a new vista in 2007, plays games extremely well). So I’m going to err on the side of caution and wait a month or two to get it for patches to come out to fix it BUT I WILL GET IT! I WANT TO TURN SWITZERLAND INTO A WORLD POWER!!! >:-(

  28. avatar max

    hoi junkie here,but hoi3 is a total flop,and the nazi mods on forum are worse,ill play hoi2 forever,but im done with paradox,lol at releasing an alpha game for money.

  29. HOI 1 and 2 were both amazing games. My favorite country was Brazil as you could take over almost all of south america while everyone else was off fighting ww2. I even managed to take greece, turkey, and romania once playing at Brazil before the germans got pissed :P

    It sucks that they would release this game with so many bugs, Its going to have to sit on my shelf until they come out with a few more patches :(

  30. avatar Stefano

    Il gioco è fantastico! E per chi non ha trascorso anni con hoi2 sarà complicato giocarci ma garantisco che ne varrà la pena…

  31. avatar Stinky50

    A default will have additional adverse consequences as described below. ,

  32. avatar No_limits28

    Apple pie, home made with a really larded up pie crust and crushed up cinammon graham crackers covering the top of the bottom crust with the apple filling on top dotted with butter and sprinkled with cinammon and then the top crust. ,

  33. avatar Shawn

    I like this game. I have been a loyal HOI 2 player and have been really looking forward to this. I agree with the comments on tutorial: not much help. I would recommend to the developers creating more limited scenarios like in HOI 2 so you could jump right into the action. Trudging through this game trying to figure it out is not much fun. I had the same experience with HOI 2 and really loved it after a few campaings when I had a firm grasp of its construct.

  34. avatar junkware

    the games is great except it’s extremely SLOW!

  35. avatar Woopers

    I loved HoI 1 so I was excited to get the next addition to the series. I was surprised that it was actually more complicated than the first HoI. However I must say that I have no idea what people are talking about with performance issues. I’m running it on a vista from 2007 that was mid-range when it was bought, but this game runs fine with only minimal slowdown during war. I just kicked Poland’s butt a year early, now its time to destroy the French ;)

  36. avatar Gringo

    Patch 1.3 tidys up a ton of bugs and now makes the game alot faster on most pc’s. A guy called Vadim has put together 9 10min tutorials that get any newbie; and returning veteran, up to speed.
    Grand daddy of real wartime strategy!
    - JUST BE SURE YOUR PATCHED TO 1.3!

  37. avatar Gringo

    Tutorials can be found on youtube..

  38. avatar Eric

    I started out with hearts of iron, and then moved to hoi 3. I really love these types of games, but this one is like the review says not for the majority of people-not me either. Its extremely complex and there are way too many things going on at once that no one person (in game or reality) could manage on their own. Too much multitasking and you get pissed off fast. Good intentions made but they went way overboard and need to cut out lots of minute details that just dont flipping matter to anybody.

  39. avatar Josh

    Can’t say I enjoyed this at all. Its slow (I’ve patched to 1.3) and its so ridiculously un-fun and hard to use I find myself being disappointed in my failure to thoroughly research this game before shelling out $20 for it. This isn’t a presidential simulator in that a president (as I understand it) just gives very broad goals, and doesn’t have to micromanage to such a ridiculous extent. The tutorial is a bad joke and this is all the least fun aspects of warfare simulation rolled into one.

  40. avatar Robert

    I’m a long time strategy gamer, long before computer games (look up War in the East by SSI for an example – played with paper counters and a giant map). There are many aspects of this game that I love! I have played HOI II and it was great in many respects as well, but I expected HOI III to finally get all aspects of the game together. HOWEVER, the criticism regarding the poor (or complete lack of) decent tutorials is right on the money. You are left to fend for your self in an incredibly complex environment. It’s as though the play testing and tutorial staff bolted bright before the game release and no provision was made to provide proper guidance….a few tutorial games to demonstrate key concepts is asking too much? It’s really a terrible shame, because in many respects, this game is without peer. I do love this game and hope that there will be comprehensive and smart tutorials forthcoming – otherwise this game is doomed to the very few who are willing tyo navigate a totally non-intuitive experience. – Again – This from a huge fan of the game….PLEASE listen to you users and get a great tutorial system in place….Thanks!

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