Archives for June 2016

In My Hands

Actually, it’s a little too big to actually be in my hands, but yesterday I picked up a new Xbox One console and brought it home the only way that seemed fit:

Nice and safe in the front seat.

Nice and safe in the front seat.

Readers of the site will know that I recently picked up a Surface Pro 4. Not for gaming, per se, but gaming was going to (and has) happen with it. I’ve been extremely happy with the Surface Pro 4 for non-gaming tasks (it has worked nicely as a laptop, which I was worried about initially) but now I’m even more happy — the purchase of the surface has facilitated even more gaming in a very round-about way.

Recently, Microsoft announced a whale of a deal where you could get a Surface Pro 4 and pick up an Xbox One for a cool zero dollars.

So being with in the window of the return policy, I asked if I could return my Surface Pro 4 and take part in the deal, and the great folks at my local Microsoft Store were more than happy to help me walk out with a new Xbox One, an extra controller, a copy of Watch_Dogs and a cool 50 bucks to spend at the Microsoft Store in the future. (There’s a better than zero chance that it will go towards an Elite controller)

I had sort of decided that I was going to sit this console generation out, content with a screaming PC and the Wii-U. But this opportunity was too good to pass up, so I’m a next generation gamer I guess. Sure, I’m two and a half years late to the party, but that just means I have a nice big backlog to dig in to.

Any recommendations for what I should check out? I imagine Halo 5 will be my first foray into the Xbox One Universe.

Unsolicited Mental Objects – Fallout 4

(Unsolicited Mental Objects are a series of posts that we started as a sort of stream of consciousness to talk about whatever was on our mind, gaming-wise. I am currently making an effort to write everyday, so these should start popping up with regularity, along with other content.)

fallout_4After an extended break, Fallout 4 is back in heavy rotation. With the first two solid DLC packs having already dropped, I wanted to get through the main quest line before diving in to the DLC. That’s been my SOP for most games like this — finish the main game, then play the DLC the way the Lord intended (in the order it was released). I feel like there was a distinct order the developers had in mind and I want to stick with that.

Unfortunately for me, I put my playthrough on hold and the first two DLCs dropped before I finished the original storyline. No big deal, I’ll knock out the main quests and then work my way through the add-ons later.

So I’m working my way through a quest and it sends me to a randomly selected location to clear out some ghouls. I flip on my Pip-Boy and the quest marker is in the upper right corner of the map, a place I have never been.I dutifully head up there to find the “Eden Meadows” drive-thru. But I get up there and Eden Meadows is nowhere to be found.

It’s just a couple buildings, a dock and an older Asian couple looking for their run-away daughter.

Wait a second. This sounds like a quest that mysteriously appeared in my queue when I started playing regularly again. I talked to Detective Valentine about it and realized it was the Far Harbor DLC. I stashed that quest away to come back to later and now this randomly selected location was smack-dab in somewhere I had no intention of going until I finished the main story.

(I’ll reserve judgement on whether this was a good design choice or not for another post. Fallout 4 is massive and a marvel of development and programming. I’m not going to accuse Bethesda of not squashing a potential bug. I was helping out some Synths and Far Harbor fits that description anyway)

But this presented a dilemma, one that I have grappled with before. Do I sully my experience with the DLC, something I had been saving, to continue on with this quest? I have to further the story of Far Harbor just so I can make progress in infiltrating The Institute. I like to think my way of playing through content is the right way and now I’m forced to do something against the grain.

So I went to Far Harbor, ignored anything that might trigger another quest line, made my way to Eden Meadows, handled my business and got back to The Commonwealth. But in doing so, I still had to further the Far Harbor story a little and now it will wait, fallow, as I continue my quest to get answers from the Institute.

Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Nakano, your daughter’s disappearance will have to wait. I have some revenge to exact for my dead wife and lost son.

Steam Summer Sale 2016: A New Approach to Buying

It can neither be confirmed or denied – but we are all as sure as shineola – that the Steam summer sale will begin on Thursday of this week.

Steam has altered the way it handles these sales over the past two years, opting for a more straight-forward approach to providing discounts without all those ‘micro deals’ ala, daily deals, bundle deals, flash deals; the discount that is assigned to a game on the first day is the discount that shall remain for the duration of the sale.

This approach is definitely not as dynamic or, perhaps, as exciting as the hustle-and-bustle sales, and this trend seems to show that discounts aren’t generally as steep, either. I pooh-pooh’d this at first having found favor in the excitement of waking in the morning and checking what flash deal popped up while I fitfully slept and dreamed dreams of backstroking in all pool filled with all those green discount tags. Likewise, I relished in the opportunity to snatch up the deep, deep discounts, regardless of whether or not I really, truly wanted the game. And let us not forget the ‘encore’ sale when it was that last day scramble to scoop up everything on your wishlist now that the possibility for flash deals and daily deals are gone. Indeed. Steam sales were a time of a weird kind of methodological indulgence.

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I have since reversed my opinion of this new, more temperate Steam sale setup because it coincides so nicely with a personal decision I’ve made concerning acquiring new games. The rule I’ve made for myself is thus: I shall buy a game when, and only when, I am prepared to immediately devote the time and attention to striving to complete it or have my ‘fill’ of it.

It is a simple rule and one that I hope will be effective in preventing me from making impulsive, money-dumping, backlog-bloating purchases. And now that Steam sales are more streamlined, I can adopt a different kind of methodology when it comes to buying, one where the games are in charge, not the discount tags.

Steam sales, however the setup, are traditionally about two weeks long. Two weeks is quite the chunk of time, especially when it comes to playing video games – there is the potential of significant turn-around. I foresee my gametime during the two weeks of this summer sale to be akin to a sort of 3-part stage production, and the players – the dramatis personae, if you will – are a select few items from my Steam wishlist whose purchase will be methodically timed based on what type of game it is. This way I can still take advantage of the succulent discounted prices but still hold true to the golden rule that I have set for myself.

ACT I – Nuclear Throne

Day one of the sale will begin with a BANG as Nuclear Throne blasts its way into my Steam library. I am in need of a new game with some gritty crunch. For a while there I was embittered in the Nuclear Throne vs. Enter the Gungeon debate. The former is more appealing because it places precedence in firepower over exploration, which the latter handles inversely. Nuclear Throne sounds like equal parts fun and enraging, but a game where player skill waxes strong with every failed run – signs of a true roguelike. And, like a roguelike, there is the possibility that the game will consume me, or the very real possibility that I will throw my hands up in exasperation, never to return. What better way to kick off the Steam summer sale by playing a wild card?

ACT II – Renowned Explorers

Whatever modicum of exploration sidestepped by choosing Nuclear Throne in the first act will be more than made up for with Renowned Explorers. This looks like one charming little exploration game, one whose obstacles are fun to overcome. I find much appeal in how many variables there are in just about every aspect of the game – from party composition to enemy encounters. Decisions need to be made on the fly. The historical setting is also a personal plus. The whole game looks upbeat and colorful. It might be one that I play with my 8-year old son. Depending on how well I recieve Nuclear Throne, Renowned Explorers may likely take up the bulk time of the Steam sale.

ACT III – Offworld Trading Company

Offworld Trading Company sounds fascinating. Certain games in the grand strategy or 4x genre may have various victory conditions, ways to win other than painting the map your color. But, let’s be honest: These other ways aren’t nearly as much fun. OTC grabs hold of these ‘other’ ways and runs with it, making non-military your only way of winning. Indeed. Victory comes by buying and selling, sabotaging and dominating the central goods market. And from the sound of it, matches have the potential of being fierce, intense and brief. I like this idea. The game sounds like it requires practice and intuition, especially in multiplayer. This is the perfect type of the game to carry me onwards after the summer Steam sale has ended.

There is also the very real possibility that I will pick up a handful of DLCs during this sale. This is an exception to the golden rule stated above since I have already put the time into the base games required for the DLCs. Most notably I will pick up a few for Dishonored and the “Shifters” expansion for Endless Legend. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch up on some Crusader Kings 2 expansions, but I’m honestly just a little burnt out from Paradox games – we’ll see… Steam sales do strange things to otherwise lucid and logical people.

Weekend Gaming – Grim Fandango

I need a break of Paradox games. It feels like these past three months have been exclusive to either Victoria 2 or Hearts of Iron IV. I am a weary of clicking through menus and moving sprites around from province to province.

… and don’t even get me started on diplomacy. I have always bristled at diplomacy in strategy games, just in a general sort of way. Sometimes this bristling is more severe than others. In my most recent HoI4 campaign as Germany, I became full-on aggro porcupine.

In what I called the West vs. East campaign, I had the idea of starting as fascist Germany then going democratic, joining the allies and facing off against the Soviet bear. I needed some diplomatic savvy to accomplish this, and Germany, out of any other country on the map, has the political power to do so. But, instead of diplomacy being another avenue of strategy, In HoI4 it often feels like hurdles, obstacles that we need to work around. My plan to reform Germany and join the good guys was stopped cold by every ally nation having an unpurgeable ‘Base Reluctance’ towards me, healthy positive opinion towards me be damned – do you not see that I have dethroned Hitler and given power to the people, UK? Do you not see my firm stance against the wall of communism just east of my borders, USA? Do you not hear me barking these rhetorical questions at you, game? C’maaaawnnn!

This very specific and contextual situation was enough to prompt me to take a gigantic step back and, seeing how much Paradox-ing I’ve been doing, realize that I need to shift my focus to something entirely different… and praise be to an industry with the options and flavor and history to accommodate such a decision!

The last time I played Grim Fandango I had to put the compact disc into a plastic casing and then insert that into the CD-ROM. So, that was, what, a million years ago?

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So much time has passed since then that I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what makes Double Fine’s remaster a remaster – certainly not the cut scenes! Despite this, the game has aged well due mostly to its unique (mesoamerican meets film-noir) setting and the strong story and voice acting. Grim Fandango has a singular charm that makes it both fun and engaging. The key to this game, from what I can remember, is to talk to everyone about everything, to parse those dialog branches down to their very barebones – to get to the point where initiating a conversation with another character immediately and automatically leads to leave-taking.

Luckily, like I said, the story is fantastic and the voice acting is superb. So the process of developing a conception of its afterlife world is never dull and is critical to cluing you in to what exactly you’re supposed to do with all those items your skeletal protagonist has stashed in his suit jacket. Grim Fandango is one of the very, very rare games where I kind of, sort of, care about the story and setting in equal parts to mechanics and gameplay. And I kind of have a thing for art deco. Neato.

What are you playing this weekend, Menso?

In my Hands (Gaming on a Surface Pro 4)

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So I didn’t pick this up for the express purpose of gaming (I built a new PC for that last year (I should probably write a post about that)) but I do expect to do some gaming-on-the-go when the opportunity arises. I don’t expect to pump out the eff pee esses at an alarming rate, but I do plan on putting this Surface Pro 4 through its paces.

So far, I’ve installed Steam on it and I’ve installed Dota 2 (Because of course that’s what I’d do).

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I spectated some of the Manila Major and it did just fine. I was running it at its native resolution (2736×1824) and it looked great. (Seriously though, the screen on the Surface Pro 4 is FANTASTIC. I can’t stop raving about it). I haven’t tried playing Dota 2 on the Surface Pro 4 yet, so I can’t comment on in-game performance yet, but I anticipate having to back down the resolution and tone down the settings. That remains to be seen.

The other test I was able to try so far was using Steam In Home Streaming. This harnesses the power of my gaming PC (Seriously, I need to write about that) and play anything in my Steam library on the Surface Pro 4.

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For this test, I hooked up an Xbox 360 controller to the Surface Pro 4 and streamed some Fallout 4. Aside from a slight (but noticeable) input lag, the game ran fine and looked pretty good on the little screen. I’m not sure what resolution the game was playing at but it looked fine. This will probably prompt me to buy a new wireless Xbox One controller, as this can be synced directly with the Surface Pro 4 (and I could eventually stream Xbox One games to it (if I ever breakdown and pick up and Xbox One)).

So my initial impressions are that it’s not going to replace my PC anytime soon but for gaming, the Surface Pro 4 seems like it’s going to be a competent little machine.

(And yes, this post was written using a Surface Pro 4)

Weekend Gaming – Hearts of Iron IV

Hearts of Iron IV is the first Paradox game that I plan on following from the get-go. Historically, with most other PDX releases, I show up late to the party and then decide which group to mingle with. I delay my arrival just enough so that the party can establish itself, reach a sort of self-sufficiency, and attract other interesting elements. That way, when I get there, the awkward part has long since faded, the munchies are out and the beverages are frosty.

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In other words, I waited to buy, for example, Crusader Kings 2 until 1) It was on sale, and 2) there were a few expansions and patches to smooth things out and add variety. I’ve done the same thing for EU4, Victoria 2, and EU3.

… but not with Hearts of Iron IV. Something about this game pricks me more than any other PDX game – and I am pretty smitten with Vicky2. It is the only matter in recent memory that I allowed myself to get hyped about (My cynicism can become rather crippling sometimes). Months before release I made the conscious decision to be apart of this game, to go along for the ride, and so far the price of admission has been well worth it. Following the message boards has been an absolute ride. I anticipate fantastic improvements and additions, aka, a little more depth in certain areas of the game, aka, stronger and more real numbers. Plus, any reason to not immediately rush fascism would be pretty not stupid as well.

For this weekend I plan on building my East Vs. West campaign, to see how many nations I can get away with annexing as fascist Germany before turning coat, going democratic, joining the allies and bulldozing the Soviets and Chinese into the Pacific. At this point I’m unsure about what to do with Italy. If they remain Axis, perhaps just let the UK sink the entire peninsula. We could turn them into Allies as well but I don’t think we would have the timeframe for that. Or maybe we’d just let them be an additional front that the commies would have to deal with. Decisions. Decisions.

What are you plaything this weekend? Decisions. Decisions.

Hearts of Iron IV, review of.

Hearts of Iron IV is like a phoenix rising into a new era. As cliche and perhaps cringe-worthy as the analogy can be bear with me as I declare that it is an appropriate and evocative representation of what the game is and where it is coming from. It is a whole new entity, billowing fresh ideas and approaches into a strategy game setting that so desperately needs it. It is rising from the ashes of its predecessors who are obtuse, demand hard numbers and are sticklers for historical accuracy… and they still seem to have an influence, which in and of itself is not a bad thing.

The game provides the opportunity to be an active participant in the largest war known to man. And, dadgum, is it exciting to be apart of. Despite running its course during the relatively small time frame of 1936-1948, it is likewise surprising just how involved preparing for war can be.

Built from the ground up, Hearts of Iron IV implements some interesting design elements using mechanics that are already familiar in war strategy games. Some work elegantly to give the player some elbow room to work. Others are a little harder to conceptualize or even seem to work against the player. This type of conflict in the mechanics, this uneven approach to numbers, seems to thread itself throughout all of the game as it tries to define itself, trying to decide whether it is a WW2 simulation like its forebearers or a sandbox grand strategy based in the WW2 era.

The research trees provide advancement in highly effective military doctrine, upgrades to units, and increased industrial efficiency. The time needed to complete research varies and can be shortened in many ways. Conversely, penalties to completion time are applied whenever you strive to research beyond the yearly timeframe. All of this is nothing new to strategy games.

Hearts of Iron 4 provides an additional research-like function that aims to orient the grand designs for your nation: National Focus. Constructed similarly to the research trees, though far more elegant and involved, National Focus is a central step-by-step plan to easing your nation’s progress to color history.

It is what makes your nation, and every other nation on the map, one massive variable to the writ of history. While there is a ‘generic’ National Focus tree for most of the nations, which is admittedly quite underwhelming, the eight major powers have their own specific trees, particular to their place and status in 1936. The possibilities here can be quite compelling:

Germany sets out to reclaim what of theirs was lost… and then some. The Soviet Union is playing catchup, exactly how this is accomplished and who this exploits is a giant question mark. Italy is striving to extend beyond the center of the earth, which direction they go is uncertain. France is the wild card possessing the weight needed to sway global ideology. USA is isolated and recovering from an economic depression and must decided which cause to put its abundance of resources. The UK has much to consider with its global empire, which, if not handled properly, may very well be the nation’s downfall. Finally, Japan may turn its focus inward to find a spiritual center and decide which military aspect to preemptively thrust forth.

Example of the Italy national focus tree.

Example of the Italy national focus tree.

Progressing through the National Focus tree is not required. But each focus is a tremendous asset to your campaign; omitting them from your strategy will only do you harm.

At this point I would be remiss if I do not declare the following: The National Focus trees do not railroad your campaign. They are constructed in a way that is flexible but still involve careful consideration and outlook. Becoming familiar with the layout of these trees, especially for the major nations, is critical in your approach to each and every history-smearing campaign you play.

Hearts of Iron 4 certainly provides the outlook and opportunity with the national foci. The real work comes with logistically making these crazy plans a reality. Sure, you have armed forces to do the talking for you. But getting boots onto the field and planes into the sky is half the challenge. In part because of some of the game’s rather particular and, if anything, shaky design choices when it comes to infrastructure.

You have no national treasury, there are no tax sliders to futz with. Your currency does not come in yen, pounds or dollars. Your nation’s war machine is funded by natural resources, supplies made from these resources, military experience, and political power used to boost your own infrastructure through very effective advisors or to exert your influence on other nations.

Concerning industry and production, there a few conceptual hurdles that a new player will have to overcome – Strange blips of logic that, in a sim-like game, either overlook hard, real numbers or deprive you of strategic opportunities.

The first example is how the game handles trading. Chances are well enough that your nation will not have sufficient of the game’s six natural resources in order for your production lines to run optimally. To overcome this shortage you can set up a trade with a nation that produces the desired resource. For the cost of one factory/8 units of a resource, you can then acquire what you need. This ratio cannot be adjusted.

The problem comes from the fact that the quantity of these resources are not logically assigned. In a game where divisions of troops are numbered in the tens-of-thousands, naval units have a water displacement rating, and defensive bunkers take two weeks and three days to build, it is curious that, for example, Denmark has ten aluminum. Ten… tons? Ten… extraction points? Ten… of what exactly? What is the quantifier here? Ten, let’s just stick with ‘units’, I suppose. This is a figure that is just kind of assigned to your nation…

And this is not some asinine, nitpicky observation. Because these numbers are so finite, they are that much more precious. But short of a ‘closed economy’ trade law, which no nation I have played begins with, there is nothing stopping any other nation from brokering a trade deal with you. Making matters worse, you have zero say in how much of what goes to whom. To say this is a setback would be an understatement.

Currently, the trading system is a type of automation that, playing as a major nation or not, simply doesn’t fly with me. A nation’s factories are critical and should not be flung around all willy-nilly like. Likewise, trade deals could be much more engaging if diplomacy were more directly involved. And if the quantities of resources were more ‘real’ you could broker bulk deals or trade resources for equipment and armaments.

The design for production lines is logical and rather elegant. Each production line uses the natural resources on hand to manufacture its assigned product. The longer one line produces, say, tactical bombers the more efficient that that line becomes at producing them. When you complete the research for an upgrade to that particular tactical bomber you can assign it to that production line at a fraction of an efficiency stab. If you begin that upgraded model in a new line or swap it out with another production line the efficiency stab will be far greater when compared to the aforementioned production line. The process is streamlined and intuitive. This is another successful design example that Paradox uses to encourage thoughtful, deliberate planning – planning which can include creating variants of gear that has already been researched! Waste not. Want not.

Example of starting USA production lines

Example of starting USA production lines

On the other hand, there is a massive design oversight concerning what happens with the products after they roll off the production lines: Your national storage.

Firstly, let it be known that you do not stockpile natural resources. Any excess resource not plugged into your production lines are essentially wasted.

Stockpiling occurs when products, such as infantry equipment, roll off of your production lines. If your fielded troops are already armed, the infantry equipment are then stashed into your national stockpile. Unlike natural resources, the stockpile deals in much bigger and more realistic numbers. Stockpiles can be in the green by so much as tens-of-thousands in supplies, planes, tanks, et al.

The next logical line of inquiry can be as such: Where is the stockpile? What physical location on the map houses all this precious surplus gear? Where are my enemy’s stockpiles? The answer: It doesn’t exist.

Any surplus gear is magically stored in the aether, it only exists as a number – much in the same as the natural resources. A surplus in stockpile will materialize only when upgrades are needed in the production lines or reinforcements are called upon. This almost seems like an exploit, a gross oversight. In a game where you can assign planes to bomb factories and dockyards – hampering your enemy’s war machine – what logic is there in not being able to scout out your enemy’s cache and target it?

This strange intermingling of elegance in design with plodding automation and gratuitous oversights seems to be the result of Paradox continuing in the effort to ease micromanagement involved in a grand campaign. It is a work in progress.

Luckily, once we move past the infrastructure and begin composing and commanding martial forces, we see what makes Hearts of Iron 4 really shine.

In order to realise any of the plans you make, any radical, world-inverting idea you may have, your nation needs a military. Comprised of Air, Naval and Land units your military is the muscle of your nation. Each branch has its own distinct units with their own uses as well as an experience counter whose function we’ll get to in a moment. Paradox is not looking to reinvent the wheel with these units: Infantry is your meat shield; Engineers entrench; Tanks blow up tanks; Bombers drop bombs on stuff… except national armament caches.

Unlike training and deploying individual land units in other strategy games, HoI4 provides you with its Division Designer. The idea here is to eliminate another element of micromanagement that so often plagues strategy games. Indeed. Instead of training a single battalion and having them appear on the map, you instead spend accrued army experience and assign them into a division template along with other battalions. The compositions created in the Division Designer are saved and are then ready for training and supplying whenever you deem necessary. You can have any number of Division templates saved.

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The Division Designer is a pretty great idea, and one that is implemented very well. The game does a great job of breaking down the makeup and equipment cost of each division, making it easier to spot deficiencies, which is a boon because there are a lot of stats associated with a even a single division. From here you can also manage which divisions have dibs on upgraded gear. The grid also helps in visualizing the composition of each division – admittedly making it easier overstuff the divisions and therefore overtaxing the supplies needed to equip them. Due to its connectivity with your production lines, the division designer is an effective central location to manage the deployment of your land forces.

Once on the map, you can select any number of divisions and assign them as an army. You then give these respective armies a leader who possesses attributes that, ideally, complement the divisions’ composition. It is possible to manually control each division within an army, to place them at the front line or advance them into enemy territory. Or, you can use Hearts of Iron 4’s built-in Battleplan system.

Another mechanic built from the ground up, The Battleplan is a plan of engagement (or tactical retreat!) that you literally draw onto the map. Each army comes equipped with a toolbox for drawing such plans. As a simple example, let’s say that as Germany you plan on storming into Poland in six months and are waiting for supplies to reach your troops.

Now would be a good time to draw up your battleplan. With an army selected you create a front line, most commonly on national borders. Looking deep into enemy territory you draw an offensive line that the divisions will push their way to. Automatically, the divisions will toe the line and await your signal to advance. The longer a battleplan is in place before initiation, the greater the attack bonus the army receives. And when you make the call the AI will then make the best effort in slogging its way to the offensive line.

Your battleplan toolbox

Your battleplan toolbox

… And it works. The AI actually does an admirable job of handling your divisions on the fly. Even in a nation with varied terrain, it will for example, keep your infantry out of the mountains and your mountaineers out of the plains. During heavily-contested advances the AI will keep divisions behind in claimed territory to act as a temporary garrison, since the game has no ‘besieging phase’. Divisions will retreat automatically. They will rejoin the fray when rested and resupplied.

Sometimes you need to make manual tweaks to division positioning, especially because drawing a battleplan in tight spaces can get a little cumbersome and, frankly, kind of messy. My battleplan into Greece when playing as Bulgaria looked like a jumbled mish mash. However, in a grand campaign as a major power, with multiple fronts to handle, multiple swaths of territory to manage, the Battleplan system is a wonderful easement to your command, especially during the peak of the War, which is truly a sight to behold and thrill to be apart of.

Overall, before your severe knee-jerk reaction to AI-handled military shatters your incisors, know that the success of an offensive battleplan is largely dependant on the makeup of the participating divisions. The AI has no part in your Division Designer. Sending an army of ill-equipped puissants into your battleplan will certainly turn them into gore soup. Plan ahead. Plan accordingly.

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As it stands currently, land forces have an elegant and involved method of creation and management. Navy and Air forces conversely, have a kind of set-it-and-forget it feel.

After aircraft roll off the production line, you assign them to pre-set air zones. Within the air zone you assign certain missions based on the planes’ capabilities, i.e. Fight other planes, bomb boats, provide ground support. After that, they just kind of hang out in the air base or naval carrier until war begins when they can fulfill these missions. The player has zero (0) control over the planes other than stationing them, though you can automate at which period during the game’s day/night cycle that the missions should be carried out. I’d like to see more opportunities to use aircraft outside of war. Recon, primarily would be pretty awesome.

Naval forces are likewise just a list of ships broken down into player-assigned fleets that sit in port or naval zones until war breaks out. Fleets are given orders the same way air wings do: Select a mission such as trade disruption, convoy escort, search and destroy. Then pick a naval zone. Then wait… I guess. Unlike air wings, you can directly control fleets and engage them in naval battles. Oftentimes Naval and Air units will clash on the high seas, which is an awesome spectacle to consider and visualize in your mind’s eye.

I had higher expectations for the naval game. Similar to aircraft, I’d like to see more from my naval units outside of war. They especially can be a way of accomplishing aggressive, opportunistic goals while subverting the world tension mechanic.

Yes. Let us speak of World Tension.

Closely tied to the game’s factions and their ideologies, world tension is the barometer of war. I like this idea and believe that it can be utilized and exploited to a greater degree. At 0% world tension, the world is pretty quiet, ideologies pricking at the hearts of nations. At 100% world tension, factions have been created, sides have been picked, stakes have been pulled – the world is on fire. How the world gets from 0% to 100%, and how quickly, depends primarily on the interactions between nations.

A breakdown of the jerks responsible for Armageddon.

A breakdown of the jerks responsible for Armageddon.

Costing accrued political power, certain diplomatic actions bump up the tension in varying degrees. Rushing to become fascist will eke it up by a fraction of a percent. Declaring war on a minor nation will have a greater effect; Joining the Axis faction even more so. Declaring war on a major nation as the Axis coalition causes a spike in tension and will freak out the Allies which in turn will trigger a retaliation which kicks up the tension even further and onto the point of no return.

… And this is just one international scenario out of countless others. This is an effort that Paradox seems to be taking in making Hearts of Iron 4 less of a WW2 sim and more of a sandbox based on the WW2 era.

The game provides opportunities for all nations, even the majors, to shift out of their historical ideologies. USA can go communist. France can go fascist. At this point, though, being in the allies doesn’t seem nearly as fun – something that I hope will be addressed in later DLC, perhaps? Picking a faction is just as important as designing the correct type of division. It largely determines your involvement in the war.

Nations do not ally nations; Factions ally factions. I do not bemoan this. Ideology is a legitimate determiner of world war in either initiating it or striving to prevent or end it. Ideology is what hardens a people, unifying them, making them more difficult to defeat – one of the reasons atomic weapons are available for research!

This is where I think a little more effort could have gone into deepening the diplomacy game. Because my mind keeps going to the small nations. The ones with the generic focus tree. The ones who begin the 1936 campaign most likely unaffiliated in ideology and, therefore, faction. The ones with only two or three templates in the division designer. The ones with a completely inadequate navy. If the diplomacy game were stronger, if the game were more willing to go off the beaten path, these nations too would have a fighting chance in coloring history.

The blue piece of the ideological pie means that a democratic Germany is all too possible!

The blue piece of the ideological pie means that a democratic Germany is all too possible!

HoI4 does in fact give you the opportunity to create your own faction. This is made available even to the non-major nations. But this course of action does very little in the grand-scheme of things. Sure, you created the legionaries fascists of Guatemala. Unless you’ve managed to seed this ideology anywhere else in the world or even just in your region, by 1939 nobody will want to join and your nation will be just a pimple on the geopolitical map.

Indeed. You may fly off the rails of history but chances are the AI won’t, which then severely inhibits your own national exploits all the more. Not without more diplomatic, or even duplicitous, options for the player, or an earlier start date – even if it is just a single year – will we see anything resembling the sandbox Hearts of Iron 4 feels like it wants to be.

At the foundation, the game seems to be conflicted with itself as if in a state of flux. And that confusion translates into how it works for the player.

There are two starting dates available: 1936 and 1939. Choosing 1939 places you closer to the throes of war. Choosing 1936 gives you more time to make your preparations, to contemplate your grand history-smearing designs. The problem with the earlier start date is that there seems to be quite a bit of faffing about, when there really shouldn’t be – as I hope I’ve been able to express thus far in this review. There really only seems to be two modes in Hearts of Iron 4: Wait for war; Fight the war.

Despite some of the underdeveloped and confusing aspects of preparing your nation for war, the thrill of thrusting your nation into the international fray is still worthy of critical praise.

There is an undeniable sense of anticipation and/or anxiety as the world tension cranks upwards, often snowballing to 100% – Even more satisfying if you are the one causing it to spike, catching your enemies totally unprepared for world war. There is a rush of excitement when you witness the realization of your battle plans as the AI-run armies push your meticulously designed divisions forward to their objectives on their respective fronts; and just as horrifying when you witness them fallback and get chewed to bits after a successful counter-attack. The relief you feel when friendly faction reinforcements arrive… the trail of icons denoting victorious naval battles… notifications of destroyed ports… the roar of airwings battling for superiority punctuated by the rata-tat-tat of automatic fire… It is all happening right there on the map. The battle plans, the animations, the sounds – for the first time a Paradox map truly feels alive! And I’m glad to be apart of it.

June Releases

June brings with it warmer weather, school breaks and some decent video games. On to this month’s releases:

Microsoft Xbox One

Week of June 7th
Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Week of June 14th
Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

Week of June 21st
The Technomancer
MXGP2
Mighty No. 9

Week of June 28th
7 Days to Die
Prison Architect


Nintendo Wii-U

Week of June 14th
Minecraft: Wii U Edition

Week of June 21st
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
Mighty No. 9

Week of June 28th
TerrariaTony The young buttonmashers in our household will be excited by the idea of Terraria on the Wii-U. It fits great with the gamepad but Terraria is five years old at this point. It might have been better to wait and release the new Terraria game when it’s ready.
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Nintendo 3DS

Week of June 7th
Kirby: Planet Robobot

Week of June 28th
Zero Time Dilemma
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens


PC

Week of June 7th
XCavalypseTony Zombies and excavating equipment! Repeat: Zombies and excavating equipment!
Stranger of Sword City
UFO Online: Invasion
Ghost 1.0
SteamWorld HeistNick A PC release for this title is much-welcomed. I enjoyed Steamworld Dig more than I probably should have. Steamworld Heist looks to be a fun new concept within the same universe.
Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

Week of June 14th
Dead by Daylight

Week of June 21st
Mighty No. 9

Week of June 28th
LEGO STAR WARS: The Force Awakens
The Technomancer


Sony Playstation 4

Week of June 7th
Atelier Sophie: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Book
Paragon – Essentials Edition
Toki Tori 2 Plus

Week of June 21st
Grand Kingdom
Umbrella Corps

Week of June 28th
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Ocean: Integrity and FaithlessnessTony I’ll take Non-Sequiturs for 600, Alex.


Sony Playstation Vita

Week of June 7th
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir

Week of June 21st
Grand Kingdom

Week of June 28th
Zero Time Dilemma
LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What are you picking up this month?
(Note: As always, all Amazon.com links have our affiliate code embedded in them. If you purchase something through our link, we get a little commission. It’s appreciated.)