This is part one of a three part Preview of HOI3 published in the AARlander, magazine, AARland's monthly publication. Part two will be posted on June 27th. The final part on July the first. Enjoy!

Early last Wednesday afternoon I was still a hard working employee, once in a while taking a peek at the Paradox forum to see how the HOI3 writing contest progressed. But then something caught my attention “HOI3 preview is ready in your Press-account”.
A long story short; I went home right away, too bad for my boss, installed HOI3 and drooled like a Paradox fan should. Having read about half of the dev-diaries and seen the screenshots I had the feeling this game was going to rock even more then its predecessor had. Hearts Of Iron III is my personal most anticipated game of 2009.

Back then I didn't decide to write a full-blown preview of the game. I would perhaps mention some of the new fancy options of interest to the After Action Report-writer (if any) in the coming AARlander but that should have been about it. I have never seen myself as a proper game (p)reviewer as I tend to miss a lot of important things and tend to play differently from the current gaming-youth. Yes, I use the 'pause' button a lot....getting old or something.

Over the weekend I saw a few early previews pop up. None of them were suitably comprehensive and it seemed like they were written by guys who must think; “What's this? Hearts of Iron....I have heard something about it, didn't these games have something to do with WWII?”, and write a concise preview about the feel of the game they have played for a feel hours.
Thus, I got the feeling I shouldn't keep it all to myself. After some contemplation and a brief discussion with myself I concurred, and thus decided I had to write a preview as well.

This preview will be different from the others however. I will aim for it to be more comprehensive at several important points and thus this will be fairly long read. It will be different as well as I am addressing another audience: Paradox/HOI fans (instead of a cross-section of gamers) and writing from the same perspective.

I have played HOI2 for hours on end, wrote several AAR's and did some simple modding as well. But please, keep in mind I am no preview writer like the others, next to that my memory is letting me down sometimes (I should have remembered to press ctrl for the combat menu). Lastly I will sometimes sound more critical then the average reviewer, more critical as I expect so much of it. In the end you will see I am also far more positive as HOI3 is turning out to be a damned good game.

Where to start ?

With a game as big as Hearts of Iron this is probably not a strange question to ask. Without a doubt, the most frequently played scenario will be the 1936 one as Germany, '39 being a close second. But for a challenge “June '44, Gotterdammerung”and “Feb '43, The Tide has Turned” are good options as well. I have to admit I dreamed of an EUIII style 'whenever you want campaign-start’ for a while but this would have been far to labour-intensive for Paradox to implement.
As you will probably do, I miss a 1940 'Fall Gelb' scenario. This should thus be high on the list of the modding community after August 4th.

For those new to HOI there is the tutorial, I say those new to the game but I think it is wise if anyone takes a look at each of the six short, and funny, tutorials. A ‘strange man’ will explain to you the different tasks ahead. Tasks, which can always be handed over to the AI either at the start or during the game.

After 'the strange man' has lead a newbie through his first glances at the complex system he is best off to start with one of the four quick-start scenario's. In each of which he only has to take care of a certain part of the labour.

But that is not what I did, to be honest I wasn't wise enough to head my own advice and go through the tutorial. I plunged into the 1936 scenario as Germany right away. Unfortunately I couldn't remember everything about the HOI2 game-mechanics and had to retrace my steps in order to refresh my memory with the tutorial.

Half an hour later I was back at the start. Building my first custom divisions, going through the countless screens of tech and the warnings I found in the top-left of the screen. Let's take a little survey of all I encountered.

The Map

The first thing you look at having started a scenario is the map. It looks very nice in my opinion. Zoomed out you only see the regions and borders, rivers and seas but when you zoom in the map changes smoothly. Regions break up into several provinces and the unit counters reveal additional information. The number of provinces is staggering as well, we are talking about as much as three times as many provinces as in the previous HOI. Let's dream away thinking of the vastness of operation Barbarossa this time around.

Ok, not all province names are spelt correctly. Some are positioned a bit too much to the north or south and some coastlines don't exactly match. And I would wish for a bit more difference between the different types of provinces on the map.

But the important thing is; the map is strategically sound in most areas. Let's take a closer look at Holland.

The main Dutch defence has always taken the advantage of water into account. The centre of Holland is defended by the rivers to the south and the artificial and obsolete 'Waterline' to the east, later bolstered by an additional line of defence on a series of hills more to the east; 'The Grebbe-line'. Now, if we take a look at the map we see the province of Amersfoort blocking up all roads into Holland. Defending this province and digging in your troops should stop a German advance. The riverline of Maas and Rhine (combined) constitute your southern defence (Rotterdam and Den Haag should be north of the river) and give an easy front to defend: Fortress Holland.

What I missed on the map were the Urban-areas. There are some in Western Europe and Great-Britain but they are lacking in such profound places as Leningrad, Stalingrad and Moscow. Even NYC isn't an urban area. I sure hope this will be mended before release.

As you expected the different layers are all there again. This way I found out about the lack of supply for my troops in Eastern Prussia. Not until I managed to build some convoys was this problem solved.

Customizing your divisions.

From the moment I read about the division designer I wanted to try this out. A little 'gadget' which adds only a little extra immersion perhaps, but is certainly a lot of fun. Now you can spend your well-earned Cuban IC's on that second division to defend your island. You can mix and match every type of unit you have researched or bought blueprints of. Customisation is the big word!

Will this 'gadget' be boring quickly? Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't. However you now get the option to either build a lot of 2 brigade units or less 4 or even 5 brigade divisions. Creating, for example, a heavy battering ram by including heavy and even super heavy armour will give your forces supreme shock value and hitting power. Keep in mind, however, super-heavies are terrible slow. Add some extra artillery and engineers for additional defensive staying power or build several garrison units composed of a single garrison regiment and a battalion of MP to keep the dissent down and the guerrillas at home.

In multiplayer game the division designer will be a good friend. Imitate a certain German dictator by fielding a great number of armoured units which aren't even worthy of bearing the title 'divisions'. Or trick your opponent into thinking two armoured divisions can be stopped quite easily. He doesn't have a clue you have composed them of five regiments each, three of which are heavies.

All of a sudden the division designer turns out to be a very interesting addition, if you ask me.

More on June 27th
- Combat systems and Combat AI
- Unit hierarchy
- Diplomacy, Politics and Intelligence
- Spanish Civil War and Poland, 1939
- AI aid
- Peace, annexation, exploitation
- etc.