Hearts of Iron III

Cover

Hearts of Iron III is not just a strategy game, it is a strategy simulator. This game is the definitive World War 2 simulator. It takes all the aspects of World War 2 into a game where you plan the war by the hour as if you were the leader of a real nation. It is an interesting hybrid between being turn based strategy and real time strategy. On one hand it is a pausable RTS game, on the other hand, the game has the hour as the basic unit of time which means if you slow the game down, it plays like a turn based game. This is especially useful if you want to track the war step by step, in this case hour by hour. As the ruler of the nation, not the general, you only make the large scale strategic decisions, not the tactical decisions, which are all taken care of by your generals.

As the leader you also take care of diplomacy which is unlike other strategy games where you can “talk” however often you want, and about whatever you want. Again like in real life you spend intellectual manpower to send diplomats abroad on missions such as negotiating trade agreements including not just trade of goods, but debt related issues, and paying for a country to produce units for you. There is also the political aspect of diplomacy, where you can sign defensive pacts, non-aggression pacts, even alliances. Most importantly, if you are part of one of three “factions”, the Axis, Western Allies, or Communist Allies, you can use diplomacy to influence other countries to align with you over time. If you are playing as a neutral country, you can just align yourself with a nation, so if you want to be the axis leader of Sweden, this game is for you :D.

Let me pause for a moment and say that unlike other games, this game includes every country that existed during World War 2, and you have the choice of playing any one of them. You can even play as a commonwealth country independently of Britain.

You also get to control production and the distribution of the production to different industries, however I have no idea how this game works for capitalist countries as I’ve only played fascist and communist countries in this game. I have picked up hints that you have less of a degree of control over your country in weaker governments, which is not the most appealing gameplay to me, but to each his own.

There is the brainpower aspect of the war, mainly: politics, technology, and espionage. These elements of gameplay are separate but interdependent. One thing to notice is that under the technology tab in the game, you not only control which technology your country is researching but how brainpower is distributed among the other categories mentioned above. In politics, you really cannot change your government system, but you can change your different political policies from social to economic issues. This is the political playground for those of you who want to test out your political beliefs (just kidding, social and economic policies are already set for you by the government in power and its ideologies. However, you do have control over things like conscription laws, degree of freedom in your country, how much emphasis on education or industry or military mobilization etc.). Political support for parties can change slowly over time, meaning if you are a republican country, you must beware of not being re-elected.

Finally, regarding espionage, you can do classical spying, or get involved in sabotage and political mingling. The only weakness of this game is the espionage, where you don’t really have control over the numerical amount of spies you send per country, although you can set priorities for them on a scale of zero to three, and you can only have one spy mission per country even if you have multiple spies. Other than that this game makes absolute perfect historical sense, and you will feel as if you are making real decisions for your country if you are playing this game.

The only other detail that is inaccurate is the german flag. We all realize that the Nazis were responsible for the genocides of around 30-40 million civilians but that does not mean that one should sacrifice a historically accurate flag with a swastika on it to make the game “politically correct”. Simply displaying a flag in a game should not equal support for that regime, especially when it is displayed to identify people of that regime. That way of thinking is so erroneous, I can accuse paradox interactive of supporting communism because they displayed the historically correct soviet flag in the game for the soviet union. Instead, the game designers have identified Germany with the flag of the German monarchy, which is even more offensive to monarchists as that is saying that the Nazis who killed 30-40 million, and the king of Germany who only cared for the well being of his people above all, are the same people.

Hearts of Iron 3 Italy
Hearts of Iron 3 Italy

Ratings:

Historical Accuracy: 5 out of 5

I would go as far as calling this game a historical simulator. This doesn’t mean that the computer artificially make sure certain events happen, but it makes sure the game makes historical sense if the leader of the nation was you instead of *insert historical leader here*. Aside from the fact that the flag of Nazi Germany in this game is the flag of the German monarchy for some reason, this game follows historical detail to the finest details. It should be really appealing for people who are World War 2 buffs.

Realism: 5 out of 5

The game is truly epic in scale and you get to experience all aspects of being a leader. I cannot describe even the basic details in a few sentences.

Difficulty: 5 out of 5

If it isn’t obvious already, a game with fine detail like this game is harder to learn than most games out there. The task seems overwhelmingly impossible at first, however if you are willing to put the time and effort, if takes only a day or two to learn. I suggest starting by choosing “The Gathering Storm” historical start, then find Spain on the map and choose Nationalist Spain. This is happening at the end of the Spanish Civil War, when it is clear that the Nationalists who are just outside of Madrid, are winning. It is relatively small scale, and hard to mess up, so it is an ideal first game to learn the game mechanics.

Sellability: 2 out of 5

This is a somewhat important factor, but shouldn’t bother anyone picking up the game if they truly love deep strategy. What sellability means is how well this game is doing on the market. The big failure of capitalism is that smart people who should be playing games like this are prevented from finding this game because only the big companies can advertise the hell out of you, making most smart people waste their brains on dumbed-down games instead of brain stimulating games such as Hearts of Iron. If you are a person who has found this game, consider yourself one of the lucky few. Consider yourself one of the chosen.

Popularity: 5 out of 5

This is not based on how many people play this game, this is based on how well this game is liked by people who have tried it.  Pleased to say that if you have a circle of intellectual buddies, go ahead and present this game to them, and the chances are very high that they will like the game.

Affordability: 5 out of 5

For a game like this, I would expect it to cost $100-$150. However it costs a mere $10, or $45 if you are willing to buy all of the extensions to the game. In short, this is one of the best deals you can find in your lifetime, and the game costs a few dollars on sales on steam, or $10 with all the extensions if I remember correctly.

Final Verdict: 5 out of 5

Hearts of Iron 3 Research Screen
Hearts of Iron 3 Research Screen

Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War 2

Space Marines from Dawn of War 2
Space Marines from Dawn of War 2

Warhammer 40K – Dawn of War 2 Review by Honorabili

 

One Sentence Review:

“Challenging squad combat level based RTS based on the Warhammer 40K universe but based on the game style of Company of Heroes.”

Overall Score:
8 out of 10

If you want to read my review & strategy guide for the campaign of the expansion Chaos Rising, click here.

Overview:

This is the ambitious and different sequel to what is considered (by the computer game industry) the 2004 strategy game of the year. The first game was similar to Starcraft but this one chooses a different route. For the multiplayer aspect/connectivity the game decided to use Games For Windows Live as the backbone. If you have a microphone you will appreciate that the game has a built in voice chat that is used via Games For Windows Live. In general over some older RTS games and introduced in Company of Heroes, the game makes use of cover in the terrain to give defensive bonuses to units.

There are different game modes: single player and co-op storyline campaign, skirmish which you can set to PVE or play with a combination of other players together or against each other in the tradition of online pvp play that’s now commonplace, and the recently added mode of The Last Stand. The campaign consists of you or your gaming partner following a series of linear and also randomly generated conquer and defend missions with your squad of hero units which have leveling through combat/objectives (also a level cap) and the acquisition of relics (wargear) that modify the combat characteristics/tactics of each squad. You can only play as the human Space Marine faction in the campaign. The difficulty is variable. As far as fighting goes, the campaign mainly consists of completing objectives and taking optional ones. As far as skirmish goes, you can opt out to practice against the computer or either do traditional 1 vs 1 and up in groupings of players. For skirmish you can be human Space Marines, Eldar, Tyranids, or Orks. The game includes a ladder system for this mode. In the skirmish mode, this plays out more like a regular RTS with two resources available, power and requisition. You can set the objective to either wipe out the player or hold the most strategic points for x amount of time and so forth. This is a lot like Unreal Tournament 3/Company of Heroes. The newest game mode The Last Stand groups you up with two other human players in a series of levels, each in increasing difficulty, in a game of survival. You get a higher score multiplier for killing all enemies quicker than normal groups, not dying, holding the defense points capped, with all your multiplier being resetted to 1X if any team member dies. There is a high score/ladder system with this mode and the game also keeps track of your best scores for each of the characters you get, those being the Space Marine, Eldar, and Ork.

Fun Factor:

The campaign keeps you playing until you beat it and it’s worth replaying with another player, usually at the highest difficulty. It’s worth also playing alone in the max difficulty as having another player can (sometimes) make it easier. The skirmish mode can be a lot of fun as the game plays out more like a traditional RTS game rather than the storyline hero system that people will get used to playing if they play the campaign a lot. The Last Stand is probably the funnest game more as it creates a good feeling of teamwork, although it can be disappointing to get paired up with a bunch of noobs that will get you killed faster than you think. If you play the game with a good group of friends the game can be a lot funner as you can start to dominate the ladders and scoreboards. Overall the game will keep you entertained for days, maybe weeks and it’s good to go back to it and visit it once in a while especially if they released new maps for it or modified minor parts of the game. For fun factor I give DoW2 an 8 out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

As far as the campaign goes, I find it rather easy even at the highest difficulty setting. I’ve tested this and made people who never played the game play it at that difficulty right from the start and they found it easy to dominate, even with non-experienced RTS players. I started to play the game with non-favorite/favorable characters and it’s still easy. Still, it’s worth playing through at least once.

The skirmish mode is much more challenging as you are dealing with human players that most likely have been playing the game already in this mode kicking ass and will school you until you get the hang of it. Don’t be discouraged as this is often the case in RTS games online and if you are a good player and played the tutorial, I mean campaign, you will quickly get used to the units, although the campaign only lets one play Space Marines and skirmish allows more races, so one will need to learn all about them from scratch. If you put in the time and effort, you will find skirmish to be the most rewarding as far as a challenge goes. My advice is that you memorize all the cover points in all maps so optimize defense tactics/cover. Don’t worry most other players you will fight already have done this. 😀

The Last Stand is a lot of fun but make sure that you are grouped with great players that know what you are doing and you make a good team effort to make it to the last stages/top of the ladder. The difficulty can be impossible if you play with noobs but don’t feel bad as the game will soon be over. ;-] With my friends we played the hell out of this mode easily for 1-2 weeks nonstop so it can be exciting for a while. In the final stages of the mode when you are fighting the entire screen filled with enemies the difficulty is literally impossible but that’s the point of the mode. It’s really well done in that sense.

The tutorial (campaign) is a cakewalk so I will punish the game for that. Skirmish is great if you put in your time getting used to it so that’s flawless. The Last Stand is what it is and it works as advertised. Overall I give DoW 2 an 8 out of 10 for this category.

Value:

I bought the game when it first came out for $50 on Steam. The game is currently sold for about $40 on there as of the time of this writing and if you buy a bundle of THQ/Relic games you can get it for partially cheaper cost. It is also sometimes sold on sale via Steam as the game did not sell as well as they anticipated and they are trying to get more people to play it. Since the expansion pack is a few months away as of now it will probably be on sale again often as they might also bundle the game and expansion together when that’s available. Since the game is not that popular right now, I would say that they should sell it for $30 all the time as the base price to encourage more players to get it. Since the game provides many many hours/days of entertainment and it can become a permanent game to keep playing, I give it a 7 out of 10 in value.

UPDATE: (from my DoW2 Chaos Rising review)

On Steam, they sell DoW2 Gold which has the original game and expansion for $40. The link to the Steam sale is the following. If you were like me and already owned DoW2 then for $30 Steam sells the expansion here.

If you never played DoW2, for $40 both the original and expansion for that price is an amazing value because that’s like a month or more worth of gaming right there, easily. $30 for just the expansion is a bit more steep but if you’re a fan of DoW2 and/or Warhammer 40k then you will probably buy it anyways.

Replayability:

The campaign can be played a good 2-3 times before you never want to see it again. The Last Stand can be very entertaining especially if you have a great team going. Since you have 3 heroes which you level up and unlock special abilities/wargear for, you would have to play many (and I mean MANY) matches to unlock all their powers. You don’t necessarily have to do that to get ranked super high in the scoreboard so long as you are good and your team mates play like a well-coordinated military unit. The skirmish mode will have unlimited replayability depending on much much you liked the game already in general and how you approach ladder pvp RTS games in general. I give the replayability a score of 8 out of 10.

Sound:

Most of the voice actors from DoW 1 which are professionals are back and you will quickly recognize them. They are well picked, especially units like the Dreadnought (undead human Robocop ED209 unit of an almost dead human soldier stuck in a killing machine that will forever “live to serve”). The sound effects themselves are great especially hearing the explosions and sounds of machineguns letting loose and Eldar weapons flying through the air (shurikens, etc.). I give the sounds of DoW 2 an 8 out of 10.

Music:

The music for DoW 1 and its expansions are all epic and may be some of the best soundtracks for a war game in the RTS genre. Relic continues this tradition with DoW 2 and they are to be commended. The music of DoW 2 gets a 9 out of 10.

You can download the entire the Dawn of War 2 OST from this link.

Graphics:

This game looks simply wonderful even in Windows XP running DirectX 9. It improves on the graphics of the first game and you will enjoy the spectacular display of combat and gore of the units. One of my favorites is seeing how effective Assault Space Marines can be on a group of unsuspecting targets/victims. ;-] The graphics get an 8 out of 10. They are pretty enough for an RTS but they’re no Assassin’s Creed.

Stability/Reliability:

Overall the game runs pretty well although the netcode can sometimes be laggy. Some people will experience port/NAT errors because of the Games for Windows Live and I researched this and Relic is yet to provide a real fix for it. One might be able to fix this by finding all ports used by Games for Windows Live and forcing them open but I have yet to test this. I found this problem when trying to invite players to co-op campaign and The Last Stand and the game will give a generic NAT routing error message. The game itself is stable as a rock and I haven’t seen the game itself crash to desktop on my hardware. Because of how annoying the NAT error is, and the lag in the netcode, although the game itself is stable, I give this game a 4 out of 10.

Controls:

The controls are pretty standard for RTS games with abilities hotkeyed and CTRL + number to group/remap unit groupings. The camera control, panning, zooming is standard. Since Supreme Commander has much better zooming capabilities and Battle Forge has better, faster scrolling I give the controls a 6 out of 10. No real innovation there but no annoying attempts to try new control methods that are a failure.

Performance:

On a modern machine the game runs decently. My brother bought the game but he was not able to get it running on his old machine which uses an ATI X800 video card so make sure you have a video card that supports enough technology in shader models to even run the game. They recommend having at least an ATI X1600 or nVidia GeForce 6600 GT to just be able to run it. I’ve seen the game run kind of laggy on the machine of a friend of mine that had the latest video drivers, a faster CPU than mine and this was at 1600×1200. Even when I scaled it down to 1024×768 it still ran slower than my older machine so I guess the game is kind of a fickle beast. I give the performance of the game a 7 out of 10 for its lack of support of older machines and unpredictable performance (a faster machine should run the game better but in reality didn’t).

My history with this game:

My friends used to have LAN parties every weekend for 2 years nonstop playing mainly DoW 1 as out favorite RTS game and all its incarnations of expansion packs and patch updates. I bought this game when it first came out for 50 bucks hoping that we could continue playing and since the game had a better online client (Games for Windows Live vs GameSpy which was a pain in part 1 to play online because of port issues) but pretty much I was the only one of my friends that bought this game when it first came out since the game got mixed reviews when it came out and fanboys crying like bitches in forums about how they “ruined” the DoW legacy since they went away from the Starcraft roots. About 5-6 months later a few of my friends finally got the game and it’s been a lot of fun to finally be able to play with them again. 😀

Battleforge

Battleforge Logo
Battleforge Logo

Battleforge Review by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:

“The lovechild of Warcraft 2/3 on crack mixed with Magic the Gathering.”

Overall Score:

9 out of 10

Overview:

This is an RTS MMO by Phenomic and it is run by/published by Electronic Arts. The player takes the role of a Sky Lord, which is basically like a minor god mage that manifests units, buildings, and spells in the mortal realm. Every action in the game takes form of a card to represent the icon for the unit/building/spell which is played in real time whenever the player builds up enough power (mana) to cast/summon it. There are four disciplines of magic: Shadow, Fire, Frost, and Nature. You can make up your army of any mixture of disciplines. There are only two resources during battles, power wells which make power (mana) and monuments (orbs) which are your units/building/spell tier tech levels. Cards are bought using real money which buys one BFPs (battleforge points) either from EA or by buying the game. Trade in game is also possible so it’s not really necessary to buy the game at all if one wants to put in the time instead. The game is divided up into PVP and PVE. The PVP is divided up into unranked (practice), collection (any cards go) 1vs1 and 2vs2 (ranked), and tome (specific to cards bought that month in a random collection) 1vs1 and 2vs2 (ranked). The PVE takes the form of premade missions that are either single player, 2 player, 4 player, or 12 player. A new game mode has been added in Nov 2009 which adds random pve maps from 1-4 players and adds the reward system of the PVP system. As far as rewards go, missions give the player in game money (gold) and upgrades for unit/building/spell cards the player may or may not already own. The goal of the game is up to you, whether to own every card in the game, get all upgrades for them, or dominate the pvp ladders. The initial launch of the game in the US seems to have failed (as far as I know) and it’s relatively cheap to play it here vs the rest of the world. There is no monthly subscription fee and the game is “Play4Free.”

If you already know the game but would like my tips, click here to read my strategy guide on how to do battlegrounds properly.

Fun Factor:

It’s been 2 months since I started playing it and I am still lured back to the game. I hate MMOs in general but for what this is, the usual biweekly updates keep me coming back for more. It’s a lot of fun setting the difficulty higher each time to level up my real life micromanagement skills and I really enjoy sometimes being able to hold out 6-7 fronts throughout different parts of the battlefield all at once. I’ll give the fun factor score for Battleforge a 9 out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

There have been times that I have been doing a mission with a friend for an hour on the max difficulties only to fail for not paying attention for about a minute or two. The difficulties for the missions scale very fast as there are 3 difficulties (Standard, Advanced, Expert) at the time of this writing. Let’s just say you better be good to play Expert. 😀 For the Random PVE maps, they implemented a bar that slides from 1 to 10 so it’s a lot more customizable and the game earns a lot of points in this category for that. For PVP, people have researched the living crap out of the game by now so there are pvp guides out there for people who just want to stick to other people’s strategies. I have myself countered some of the instawin bullshit strategies so I think the game has a lot to offer. I give the difficulty versatility a 10 out of 10.

Value:

Since the game is free, the game has a great Value score. You can download the full game from the main Battleforge website. With the Play4Free account one gets a limited amount of cards but it’s still possible to pretty much do everything in the game with them, although it will very hard to do so if just using these free cards as many basic cards are missing from the free account. To solve that one can trade gold for cards (risky because of the nature of the trade system in game) or if one wanted to be really cheap one can spend the bare minimum real money and add $5 through the EA website to their Battleforge account. That basically translates to one cent is one BFP and with those assets one can either buy two booster packs in game (which I don’t recommend) or buy a lot of cheap 2 cent cards in the auction house and then build up one’s army slowly. Those 500 bfps can also be used to farm the auction house and slowly start earning bfps through one’s buying out of and reselling in the auction house. It’s up to you if you want to put in the time and this can be a game in itself. I myself are notorious for my AH buyouts. (evil grin) If you opt out and buy the full game for $20, you get almost every basic card in the game automatically and 3000 bfps which you can use to buy boosters/tomes/cards in AH, etc. In the long run this is the best value for the in game economy of your character. Since the game has no subscription fee and it’s only $7 or $20 for many, many days/weeks/months of entertainment the game gets a 10 out of 10 in this category from me.

You can get the game from Direct2Drive or Steam for $20 or for close to 7 dollars on Amazon since the game is not as popular as they anticipated. This is by far the best value way to get the game.

Replayability:

The number of missions is limited but since there are three difficulties for each and each difficulty is completely different, these missions will offer at least a whole month worth of entertainment until you grow tired of them. The random pve can be a lot of fun since you pick whatever custom difficulty you want and it’s a random map/enemy every time. They can be extremely challenging. For PVP you can spend endless hours trying to fight your way up the ladder system. It’s up to you what your goals will be and you can always invent new ones. 😀 I’ll give the replayability an 8 out of 10. I do hope that they keep adding more content for this game if not this score will drop.

Sound:

The sound of the explosions and swords rattling is great. The voice actors they picked do a nice job as every unit has their own sounds, some which are funny, some which are generic. Overall I give the sound category a 7 out of 10.

Music:

Each discipline of magic has its own music score which sounds great, except to me the nature music which is kind of annoying (reminds me of the Lion King). My favorites are the music for Shadow (sounds like something out of Gladiator mixed with music from the Dawn of War games) and Fire (sounds like a mix of Assassin’s Creed music). The music can get repetitive, well if you play the game like I do (100 missions in a row, etc). Overall I still think they put a great effort on the soundscore and I reward this game a 7 out of 10 for the music.

Graphics:

The graphics for this game are simply beautiful! To my knowledge this is one of the first games to embrace DX11 and it’s sponsored directly by AMD/ATI (even gets promoted directly on their website and I saw the add for it when updating to the latest ATI video drivers). Each card in the game has its own custom icon which is very pleasing considering this is an RTS game. Special versions of cards (promotion cards) have an even more custom avatar for the units with a special skin and/or better graphics. I think this is one of the better looking RTS games out there and the graphics remind me a lot of Guild Wars and Age of Wonders 2, which as far as graphics go are a great thing! Graphics gets a 9 out of 10.

Stability/Reliability:

Overall the game is stable but…there are drops in connection/desynch when you least expect it. This might be because of latency issues between people playing far away but I had been playing this game with my brother which lives in the same house as I do and one of my best friends which lives blocks from my house and the match ends because of a desynch issue. This doesn’t happen all the time but I do want to bring it up because for an online game this is a deal breaker. As far as server up time, the servers are up 99.9% of the time with the only times I saw them down being for an update to the game which took about 30-50 minutes and one time for general maintenance. Compared to WoW or Eve Online, EA really does a much better job for quality of service. I give Stability/Reliability a score of 6 out of 10.

Controls:

The game implements the WASD scroll which is great and now makes other RTS games controls seem clumsy. Most hotkeys for commands of units are the same key which simplies micromanagement even further. I give Controls a 10 out of 10.

Performance:

I don’t run the latest hardware and the game runs like a champ on an AMD Athlon X2 5400 CPU and an ATI Radeon 3870 512 PCI Express MB video card. My brother is running the game playable on an AMD Athlon 64 3000 CPU and an ATI X800 AGP video card. Most gamers will be able to run this games on any modern gaming PC. I give it a score of 9 out of 10 for performance.

My history with this game:

I downloaded the demo for this game and I wanted it so suck so much but instead it was enough fun that I stopped playing most other games for a good month or two. I got most of my friends addicted to playing it, even those who hardly ever buy new games bought multiple copies of the game and we got a lot of members added to out gaming clan because of this game. I’ve been playing for two months and I have still a way to go before completing my card/army collection. Probably by the time this will happen another expansion will come out (there has already been one made) so that will keep me even more interested.