Hearts of Iron II

First published in 2005, Hearts of Iron II, with its accompanying expansions, is considered one of the flagship titles of Paradox Interactive and the title that launched the Hearts of Iron series, which at the time of this writing is on its fourth iteration. Following a design formula that would become Paradox’s standard, Hearts of Iron II, abbreviated Hoi2 by the fanbase, is one of the largest scale grand strategy games about WWII that has ever been produced.

Hoi2 takes the setting of WWII and puts the player in an almost godlike position of control over a country. The player must manage national resources, production, politics, and the command logistics and organization of their nation’s military. Many mechanical liberties are taken to showcase the level of removal that the player has from the day to day business in their nation, and to simplify complex processes like weapons research and industrial production. The smallest controllable unit is a division, air squadron, or naval flotilla, with brigades appearing as dependent attachments to divisions and ships. Industrial production involves simply ordering a unit to be produced with parallel and/or serial runs, while ensuring there is enough Industrial Capacity, or IC, to complete the process on time.

Yet the simplification of most of the specific processes in Hoi2 has resulted in many general processes being included, such as the management of specific territorial infrastructure, the direct diplomacy between over fifty potential nations, and the hidden nature of combat modifiers such as weather, terrain, and division overcrowding. This has all resulted in one of Hoi2’s biggest noted flaws: abrupt complexity. Beginner players see the exact same user interface as advanced players do, and must manage all of the same systems. The tutorial covers the basics of gameplay, particularly the movement and organization of divisions, as well as the basic controls for diplomatic and political interaction, but fails to accurately inform and test the player on the nuances of combat or the potential optimizations of even basic systems like industrial modifiers and chains of command.

All of that is to say that Hoi2 is very hard to learn; it’s not to say that Hoi2 is a bad or poorly designed game. Once a player has broken through the wall of ignorance that effectively locks all but the easiest playable nations, they are able to explore and enjoy a wide range of options and possibilities. Although the game is primarily a WWII simulator, with historical events coded in and most national AIs programmed to follow historic courses, the player can take their nation in any direction they please. Radical changes like turning the United States communist or Japan allying with the Soviet Union take time and skill, but more subtle actions such as successfully defending France can be accomplished with only a modest level of familiarity with the game.

An introduction to Hoi2 cannot be made easier for new players, but is absolutely worth the effort for anyone looking to take on the roll of a major world power in one of the most significant periods in human history. Obviously the major powers of the period are the ones with the most capacity for flexibility and outright conquest, but any nation that was present at the period can be played. Most importantly, the game proceeds in a sort of real time, with each hour of each day from the start point (as early as 1936) to the game’s end (as late as 1964) proceeding at a rate between 1 hr every five real seconds to 4 hrs per real second. The player can adjust that rate at will, and even pause the game to issue detailed orders and react to events and notifications at their leisure.

If any gamer every looked at a map, illustration, or diagram of a WWII front or operation and imagined moving those unit markers and shifting vector arrows, than Hoi2 is their dream game. It’s primary learning method is failure, but the player loses nothing but time by exploring different nations and strategies that might end in defeat in order to acquire essential familiarity with the game’s mechanics and nuances. Hoi2’s simple graphics and well designed processes ensure that it runs smoothly on old and new machines with minimal software requirements. The grand strategy genre will not appeal to all strategy gamers, but for those that enjoy the complexity of large scale command, Hearts of Iron 2 is a title worth mastering.

XCOM 2 | Game Review

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XCOM 2 is the successor to Firaxis Games’ reboot title of the famous XCOM series: XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  XCOM 2 was produced by 2K Games and released in February of 2016.  An expansion pack, XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, was released in August of 2017.  XCOM 2 follows right on the heels of Enemy Unkown’s premise and greatly expands on the story, gameplay, and experience of its predecessors.

XCOM 2 begins its campaign twenty years after Earth’s original attempt to fend off the invading aliens, the XCOM Initiative, suffered total defeat.  The aliens now occupy the Earth through their puppet government, the ADVENT administration, and maintain a benevolent facade while developing their secret Avatar Project.  XCOM has morphed into a resistance movement led by the Commander, the player’s avatar in the campaign.  XCOM’s forces are now based out of the Avenger, a retrofitted alien supply ship that keeps XCOM’s assets on the move and away from ADVENT retaliation.

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Galactic Civilizations III

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Galactic Civilizations III is the long-awaited sequel to Stardock’s enormously popular Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords and the third title in the Galactic Civilizations series.  It was published by Stardock in 2015 and has since then received two expansion packs, Mercenaries, and Crusades, and a third is to be released later in 2018.  Similar in nature to the Civilization series of 4x strategy games, Galactic Civilizations holds one of the premier positions among the space 4x titles of the 21st century.

At its core, GalCiv III follows a familiar pattern of 4x gameplay.  Individual planets take the place of cities or settlements, with each planet featuring a number of build slots where improvements can be added to increase planetary production of such resources as research, credits, and production.  Each planet contributes to a global fund for credits and research but utilizes production individually and production is further diversified into social production, which is used on other improvements, and military or ship production.  All planets that sponsor a shipyard can contribute their military production to the construction of space vessels.

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Total War: Warhammer II

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Total War: Warhammer II, is the sequel to Creative Assembly’s landmark title Total War: Warhammer and is published by Sega.  It is the second title in a trilogy of Total War: Warhammer games based off of Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Battle tabletop game.  Warhammer II was released in September of 2017 and brings with it an abundance of new features to add to CA’s developing Warhammer series including a new narrative campaign, four new races, and an overhaul to many of the campaign map mechanics.

One of Warhammer II’s primary features is its new single-player campaign called the Vortex Campaign.  Unlike previous DLC mini-campaigns in the first Warhammer, the Vortex Campaign covers an entirely new campaign map featuring the fictional New World continents of Lustria and Naggarond as well as the paradise island of Ulthuan and the Old World Southlands.  The campaign is also the primary delivery vehicle for Warhammer II’s new mechanics and campaign overhauls such as the introduction of settlement climates and treasure hunting.

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Cossacks: European Wars

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With the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation’s commencement fast approaching, it seemed appropriate to reminisce on the Renaissance period with a game that covers a large portion of that period.  Cossacks: European Wars was developed by GSC Gameworld and published CDV Software Entertainment in 2000.  Two expansions, The Art of War and Back to War, appeared in 2002 expanding game content with new nations, units, and missions.

European Wars is the first title in the Cossacks series and, like many of its contemporaries, features many of the standard mechanics and conventions that defined RTS titles of the era.  Factions appear as different historical nations from the 17th and 18th centuries and each brings a few unique units and/or buildings to differentiate their approaches to the battlefield.  Base building and resource collection are accomplished by peasant worker units that are trained from the central town hall.

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Supreme Commander 2

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At its core Supreme Commander held true to the overall conventions and mechanics of its series.  A centrally important command unit begins the construction of a base with static resource-generating

Supreme Commander 2, which was developed by Gas Powered Games and released in 2010 by Square Enix, follows in the footsteps of the highly successful real-time strategy game Supreme Commander as a spiritual sequel to the combined arms, free-range style of combat pioneered by Total Annihilation.  The single player campaign continues the story of the three competing human factions, the UEF, Aeon, and Cybrans, and is set several years after the events of Supreme Commander.  Unlike the first game, Supreme Commander 2 did not receive a full fledged expansion, but a large DLC featuring many new units titled the Infinite War Battle Pack was released later in 2010.

structures and unit-producing factories.  Naval, air, and land units could be produced and conduct operations in their respective terrain types across the battle map.  The super-powered experimental units return from the first game with a greatly expanded role and are now divided into two tiers based on their level of power and the effect they could have on the overall battle.  These experimental units are produced from dedicated factories instead of engineers in the field. Continue reading

Episodic Sequels

Recently I watched a gameplay exposition and review for the upcoming Total War: Warhammer II video game, the highly anticipated sequel to Creative Assembly’s landmark title, Total War: Warhammer, set to release on September 28th.  The review itself was straightforward and highly informative and I had no trouble with it.  However it brought up an interesting point that relates directly to the nature of episodic titles in video games.

An episodic series of video games is a run of at least two titles with a single, overarching plot that runs through each title, tying the series’ storyline, characters, and even mechanics and themes together across the series.  Normally the release dates, intended consoles, and even genre of the titles don’t define if a title is part of the episodic series; content is the only determining factor.  Yet perhaps the most important aspect of an episodic series versus a franchise or saga is the proximity of each title’s release to the releases of the other titles in the series.  It’s not enough to share the title, setting, and mechanics of prequels and sequels; an episodic title must be an indispensable part of a larger whole. Continue reading

Axis & Allies

Axis & Allies is a video game adaption of Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies strategy board game of the same name.  Both games simulate the broad strategic situation of World War II at the beginning of 1942.  Players take on the role of one of the five great powers: Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  The original board game focused on the strategic aspects of gameplay, while Axis & Allies the video game emphasizes real time strategy combat.

Axis & Allies features three single player modes.  These include the campaign, in which the player takes the role of various Allied or Axis factions in key battles throughout WWII, with fictional “what-fi” scenarios serving as the majority of the Axis missions.  Skirmish mode is a one-off match between the player and up to seven AIs played out on of the maps featured in the campaign or in WWII mode.  Since there is no resource harvesting in Axis & Allies the size of the map is the only limiting factor for the number of players.

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Command & Conquer Online: Westwood Classics

This December marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the landmark Real-Time Strategy game Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty by Westwood Studios.  Dune II was not the first RTS game to be developed but its release marked the beginning of RTS as a major genre in PC, and to a lesser degree console, gaming.  It introduced the mechanics and style that would be utilized in RTS games for the next decade, only being superseded by Blizzard’s variation of the genre after the release of Command & Conquer: Generals in 2003.

Since Dune II’s release Westwood Studios developed several RTS titles, with accompanying sequels, before its closure by Electronic Arts in early 2003.  These included the seminal Command & Conquer and its associate spinoff Command & Conquer: Red Alert, as well as a remake of Dune II titled Dune 2000 which featured enhanced graphics and improved gameplay taken from the development of Red Alert.  All of these titles stayed true to their original RTS format and nourished a thriving RTS community.

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Endless Space 2 – Prologue

Endless Space 2, developed by Amplitude Studios and published by Sega, is the direct sequel to Amplitude’s previous 4X title Endless Space and the latest release in the Endless series.  After a widely publicized and well-received early access period Endless Space 2 was released on May 19th, 2017 for PC and Mac.  As yet I have not had the pleasure of experiencing everything the new release has to offer so until there’s some real review material to present I’m going to put up some quick notes about the eager anticipation surrounding Endless Space 2.

Out of the numerous 4X titles released in the last decade few came close to matching the vaunted Civilization series’ quality and appeal as Amplitude’s last title, Endless Legend.  Endless Legend combined Civilization’s highly accessible user interface with the Endless series’ science-fantasy mythos and invigorating territorial control mechanics to make a 4X experience that was able to capture and hold a player’s attention across each game’s progression.  The enjoyment remained consistent across single player and multiplayer and a new take on 4X diplomacy, while not perfect, kept competitive and cooperative play intriguing. Continue reading