Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Paradox Interactive
System requirements: Windows 2000/XP/Vista; Intel Pentium IV 2.4 GHz or AMD 3500+ (quad core) CPU; 2 GB RAM; 2 GB hard-drive space; NVIDIA GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon X1900 graphics card; DirectX-compatible sound card; DirectX 9
Release date: Available now
Several months ago, I reviewed Hearts of Iron III and found it to be a worthy WWII game in spite of a few flaws. Capitalizing on the continued financial success of the franchise, Paradox Interactive has released Hearts of Iron 3: Semper Fi, an expansion to what is already a complicated and in-depth war game. Rather than just layer on random features or correct obvious errors, Paradox has kept the game true to its complex roots, while selecting a few important additions that fundamentally alter vital aspects of the gameplay.
The most obvious change is the new war goal system. The leaders of each ideological faction (Allies, Axis, Comintern) now get to set their goals for the upcoming war. Many of these war goals are obvious historical goals, such as “Occupy Stalingrad” for the Axis, or “USA Must Be a Member of the Allies” for the Allies, but a number of them are tantalizing alternative history options, such as Operation Tannenbaum for an Axis conquest of Switzerland, or Operation Zeppelin for an Allied conquest of the Balkans. Each faction leader must select exactly 15 goals, and the first faction to achieve 12 of them wins the game. The most immediate impact on gameplay is that players are no longer obligated to completely wipe out the other two factions in order to make their ideology dominant and win the game. The Soviets don’t have to invade the US and Great Britain after the Axis surrenders, nor do the Axis powers have to completely annex the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the US in order to even have a hope of winning the game. The secondary impact of this is that, in multiplayer, the Allies and the Comintern cannot simply agree to crush the Axis powers and then declare themselves the winners. How the world looks after the war is over, and whether it is aligned closer to your ideology than your opponents’, is just as important as destroying enemy units. As the war progresses, circumstances may even make you consider something as drastic as Operation Unthinkable in order to ensure victory, not unlike your historical counterparts.
In terms of the interface, there is a small but very welcome addition to the game: the Order of Battle (OOB) tab. As part of the game’s attention to detail, HOI3 has detailed game mechanics surrounding how headquarters function, what higher level HQs do as opposed to lower level HQs, and what effect different leaders have in different command positions. The system is great for simulating the period’s command and control complexities, but the original game had a clunky method for assigning units to various HQs. Now, the entire OOB for your country can be examined in the interface, and you can drag and drop everything from individual brigades to entire army groups into their proper places in the command hierarchy. Players who have spent 30 minutes or more reorganizing Japan’s command and control mess in the 1936 scenario will almost think this single addition is worth the price of purchase. This feature is combined with a new system for defining theaters. You are no longer stuck with whatever theaters the game thinks you need; you can define your own theaters, name them whatever you want, and set up the exact provinces they cover. Combined with some improvements in how the game’s AI responds to your instructions on how to handle fronts, players will find that they have no one to blame but themselves if they end up having insanely set up theaters that make no sense to their current strategic situation.
Borrowing from the Europa Universalis franchise, Paradox has included new Strategic Effects. Like Triggered Modifiers from Europa Universalis 3, these are special bonuses and penalties that trigger and stay in effect when you meet the conditions. These usually signify some important strategic issue, such as control of the Gulf of Finland or a blockade of the Taiwan Straits. Others represent historical conditions, such as Neutrality, which affects every country not aligned with a faction. While most of them are not completely game altering, the interface tells you which ones are available to your country, and you can help base your tactical strategies around either acquiring these effects for your own country, or making sure your enemies do not gain these advantages.
Semper Fi has a number of smaller tweaks to its gameplay, but before complaining about the few problems I had with the expansion, I have to make clear what I do NOT think is problematic about the game. I am sure I will get some hate mail for the following statements, but unlike some gamers, I found HOI3’s original AI and supply system to be just fine. Message boards abound with players complaining about how the AI and the supply system is broken, but I have found that they are also the players who think that any realistic supply system should let them invade Indochina with 30 armored divisions with no supply problems, or that if the AI controls the Soviets, it should somehow perform better against a human player than the historical Soviets did against the historical Nazis. With that being said, the fact that Paradox did not completely gut and overhaul the AI or supply system for this expansion is fine with me. They were just fine before, but with the new tweaks, they are even better. However, there are a few bizarre issues I did run into which are peculiar to Semper Fi. The first of these are the new historical battle events. In an attempt to give players more immersion, whenever a battle in the game coincides with some historical battle (i.e. you attack Leningrad or bomb southern England), when the outcome is decided, you get a little historical event that pops up, telling you about the historical battle and giving you a small boost or penalty based on your success or failure. This is great, except for one glaring problem. As Germany, I tend to use V1 and V2 rockets to bomb the British; considering their naval superiority, and the fact that the AI can be very tenacious when using the RAF to fight against the Luftwaffe’s bombers, I feel it is a smart use of my resources. Of course, being rockets, V1s and V2s are eliminated from play after they are used. This is no big deal, but the historical events trigger that as a “high casualty loss.” What this means is that, even though I was winning the air war, the game kept giving me historical events relevant to my “defeats.” In one month, I must have lost the “Brighton Blitz” about three or four times, never mind that London, Birmingham, Plymouth, and Dover had all been leveled completely to the ground during my rocket attacks without a single German casualty. It was so bad that at one point German support for the Nazi Party dipped below 30% as a result of these terrible losses! Even with the recent patch, this is still a problem, and I can’t figure out how such an obvious problem was not caught before release. Then there are some odd issues with designating a ship as Pride of the Fleet. This mechanic allows a country to have a kind of flagship, whose purpose is to instill pride in the country’s navy. This is a great way to get some extra crew experience, and thus fighting capability, in an important ship for free, at the cost of dissent among your population if the ship is ever sunk. The problem with this mechanic is that only battleships and battlecruisers can be designated as Pride of the Fleet. While designating some wimpy destroyers or cruisers as Pride of the Fleet would obviously be stupid, aircraft carriers are also disallowed, which mystifies me. But the worst part of this mechanic is that the extremely expensive, very large, and absolutely frightening super-heavy battleships also cannot be designated as Pride of the Fleet, nevermind that Japan’s Yamato class battleships perfectly fit this role. This was rather annoying to find out only after I had built one and then had to keep some twenty year old cruiser as my Pride of the Fleet even as my shiny new super battleship was wandering around sinking things and generally intimidating neighboring countries.
The issues above, however, do nothing to really overshadow what is a good expansion. Anyone who enjoyed HOI3 should go ahead and purchase Semper Fi. It’s worth every penny of its $19.95.