Mount & Blade: War Band (PC) Review

Developer: TaleWorlds Entertainment / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 9.0/10

Mount & Blade: War Band is a medieval combat strategy RPG developed by TaleWorlds Entertainment.  War Band is a unique blend of strategy, adventure, and mounted combat that makes it a wonderfully pleasant game play experience.  However, there are a few issues that plague the game, namely with its presentational and user interface, which can put a damper on its enjoyability.

War Band takes place on a medieval continent named Calradia.  On Calradia, there are six different factions, whose leaders all claim they are the rightful rulers of the whole of Calradia.  Who you choose to begin the game with has less to do than where they actually are on the continent.  Every new game starts you off being attacked by assassins in the trade district of the major city of the faction you select.  After you win or lose this fight, a tradesman comes and saves you.  He pleads with you to help him save his brother that has been kidnapped by the group of people who attacked you.  If you choose to save him, you aim to gain a small sum of money.  If you don’t, you’re able to do whatever you like in the game as you please.

War Band takes it upon itself to let you roam around the sandbox it has created as soon as it can.  In fact, most of the game itself is free form and there is basically no real story or stringent quest structure to be had.  Events such as tracking down bandits and recruiting new members to your party become the story itself, as you fight battles and run around Calradia doing the biddings of Kings and their vassals, if you choose to do so.  If you progress far enough in gaining the respect of a King, you will eventually be asked to become a King’s vassal, and be awarded pieces of land acquired from your enemies.  You can also be asked to fight alongside the King in raids on castles, or come to the assistance of your allies against mountain bandits or enemy armies.

Another way to play War Band is by going against the current political structure in a certain area, and supporting a suitor that claims ownership of a throne.  By supporting these suitors, you are able to work to overthrow a King and make the person you are supporting become King or Queen in their stead, along with all the benefits and consequences that go along with that.  You are also able to establish yourself as a King or Queen and attack castles, acquiring fiefs for your own purposes.

The basis of the game itself is very interesting for gamers who have played games such as the Elder Scrolls and Civilization.  However, the game play itself has a couple of issues.  There is not a lot of explanation as to how to do certain things in the game, such as establishing yourself as a King or Queen. It is hard to find much information on it.

A lot of quests are unnecessarily vague.  It may take Internet research to figure out what to do or how to do a quest.  For example, you are told to bring some cows to a small town that has had their herd stolen by local bandits.  The only way to get cows is by stealing or buying cows from another town and bringing them to the first.  However, when you get this quest, that isn’t mentioned at all.  They tell you to “get some cows” and are left to your own laurels to figure out how to do it.  Unless you somehow happen upon the prompt to buy cows, it can be frustrating to figure out how to do this the first time.  Another instance where the game can be unnecessarily harsh is when a local Guild Master gives you a quest to find a Bandit’s Lair and expunge the threat.  The Bandit’s Lair itself does not show on your map until you are directly above it.  Considering the map of Calradia is huge and your unit is very small, it can take a certain amount of luck to happen upon the lair.  Quests like these do not lend themselves to making the game user friendly.

Combat itself is quite fun, and the large battles that can be had are quite enthralling.  Most of the time you will be fighting in first-person, but third-person is another option, and depending on the situation it is easy to switch back and forth.  Your character is able to use any weapon in the game, so it comes down to personal preference. One handed, two handed, and throwing weapons are available, in addition to shields, bows, crossbows, polearms, and maces.  There are four weapon slots for your character, allowing you to have a variety of weapons for the different situations you might be in.

Combat can take place in a variety of places, but most happen in the open field.  The open field combat stages take place on a map that closely reflects the type of area you are in, such as a mountainous area or in the woods.  Smaller stages take place on the beach, a mountain pass, or in a town.  In all of these situations, you are able to bring allies along with you, and as you grow your party larger and they become more powerful, you will begin to trump your enemies with ease — until you eye larger and more powerful enemies.  Simply put, the combat is the shining star of War Band and is what keeps you coming back for more.

When in combat, you use your mouse to change the direction you are attacking from.  To hit someone from above, you bring your mouse back towards you.  To hit them from the right, you move your mouse to the right.  You move using the WASD buttons, but there is no sidestepping with Q and E.  Q will bring up your quest log and E will kick in front of you.  If you are used to sidestepping, this can be annoying.  The objective of combat is to basically kill or knock unconscious all of your enemies.  Once that is accomplished you win.  If your army is quashed in the same manner, then you lose.  If you are knocked out before the battle ends, your army will fight at a lesser capability, and become more susceptible to losing.  It is very important to not only keep yourself alive through the whole battle, but to also help your army in the fight.  This brings a delicate balance between risk-taking and being careless and running into a group of enemies with spears.  You are also able to give your army orders to follow you, to charge, or to flank your enemy, among other commands.  These commands allow for strategy to be built around the situation at hand.

Graphics can take a big part in whether or not someone can be interested in the game without knowing anything about its game play.  With that being said, the game is downright ugly, and is about ten years behind.  The character models aren’t animated very well, many textures are smudgy, and just about everything has sharp edges.  While good graphics and animations aren’t required to have a fun game, it definitely makes it less painful to look at.  The unequivocally worst characteristic of this game is its graphics.  The second is the user interface.

The user interface is sorely in need of improvement.  When selecting from a long list of responses, it can be hard to figure out or remember which option you had last selected, so if you had to talk to the person again to get something done you may be confused as to which you had selected previously.  When looking through the in-game reference manual, it can be hard to find what you are looking for, stumbling across many pages and guessing what you might be looking for at times – this ties into finding out what to do for quests.

While navigating the map, it can take a very long time to travel and to even find where you’re trying to go.  There are no user-friendly options for accelerating travel speed, and sometimes you’ll be travelling for ten minutes straight before getting to your destination.  Over time, this adds up, and less time is actually spent playing the more interesting parts of the game.  Towns are also designed in a confusing manner, making them hard to navigate as well.  Each town has one leader that you are able to acquire quests from, but they are very hard to distinguish from other random town members at times.  The absence of a mini-map with markers while in towns would make this an easier exploit – otherwise, you are left to run around towns and talking to random people in hopes that they are the Guild Master or Town Elder.

Another user-friendly improvement that is needed would be with party management.  As you gain heroes to tag along with you, they bring their own blank slate for you to skill them up as they level.  The point of your party heroes is to fill in the gaps as far as your party skills go.  While this makes sense in theory, the execution doesn’t lend itself to helping the player figure out which skills are actually going to benefit the party or which ones another hero already covers.  Some sort of interface that tells you which party skills you are missing or have covered already as you are deciding which skills to level your characters with would make it a much more pleasant experience.  Otherwise, you have to resort to creating a small spreadsheet to figure it all out.

Party management is also irritating when it comes to managing your heroes’ equipment.  Instead of having one simple interface to tab through each party member’s equipment screen, you have to talk to him or her individually and ask to see his or her armor.  If you came into a number of upgrades to compare to what your party members have already, it is very tiresome to click three times to see one equipment screen, and then escape out of it, and then do it again for the next party member.  Most party-based RPGs have solved this problem by making it easy to switch to the next party member’s equipment/skill screen without having to exit back to the party screen, and War Band should have had something like that implemented.  Wasting time on obstacles like these can detract from the game’s enjoyment.

The inventory system also suffers from user interface issues.  You have a certain number of slots for inventory that can increase via skills.  Once you get to a large inventory capability, it can be easy to overlook what you may or may not have in your inventory.  A sorting option is desperately needed to re-sort your items and fill in slots from top to bottom.  This would prevent having to manually move each item, one at a time, from the bottom of the list to the top.  Another missing feature is a “take all items” option after defeating an enemy.  Instead of stuffing everything you can into your bags, you must click each item, one at a time, to loot them.  This, again, wastes time and energy going through and clicking everything you may want without automatically looting everything you can fit into your inventory.  In addition, inventory squares are fairly huge and could have sized down a little bit to accommodate being able to look at what you have in an easier fashion.

There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, but the most common are deathmatch or castle sieges.  The multiplayer modes are more akin to Counterstrike or other objective-based multiplayer games. Some sort of a co-op mode for the single-player game would be nice, but would have unique challenges to overcome, considering much of the game itself is traveling and quest-taking, and that wouldn’t exactly be very fun to experience alongside a friend for very long.

War Band also allows for modding.  If you find an interesting mod available, you are able to import it into the game and run it.  While War Band doesn’t have as many interesting mods as the original Mount & Blade does, there are a couple available that may be worth a try.  These mods change the single-player game in ways that the overall objective changes, or new armor/weapons are added.  Like many other PC games that allow modding, it creates a community that is involved with making these mods and keeps people interested in the game itself, as its game play could radically change with a new mod.

As a cohesive whole, Mount & Blade: War Band has many interesting and fun features. But if one thing of the game needs to be said, it’s that it mainly suffers from user interface design.  An overhaul in its user interface would severely be recommended in any future game in the series, and would lend itself to making the experience much more pleasing.  War Band is an activity that you can sink many hours into, and not realize where the time has gone. At first glance, the game can give the wrong impression, but War Band is definitely a title to experience.

 

Rush for Berlin (PC) Review

Developer: Stormregion / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 7.0/10

It’s not often we see a World War II game that is something other than a first person shooter. Rush for Berlin, developed by Stormregion, is a real-time-strategy game that strives to be a historically accurate and realistic rendition of World War II. Unfortunately for Rush for Berlin, it falls short of being totally enjoyable. Rush for Berlin will not be a game that makes waves through the genre; the game fails to be worthwhile, not only because of the extremely weak gameplay in the single player mode, but the absolutely non-existent multiplayer community. It’s incredibly important for a real-time-strategy game to have these basic values in place, even before any kind of innovation is attempted.

The thoroughly unimpressive single player mode in Rush for Berlin struggles to prove any kind of worth whatsoever. Unfortunately for the actual real-time-strategy elements of the game, they are not utilized properly to show the strengths of what the gameplay actually has to offer. The single player mode is based on World War II, obviously, but there is absolutely no revolving story to connect any of the missions you go on. After a cheesy cutscene to set up a certain scenario, you’ll begin your mission with a set amount of units and go on your way doing what needs to be done. What needs to be done usually consists of killing your enemies until there are none left, or capturing certain points of interest. Each mission is like a snapshot of history, and you jump around from time period to time period.

What brings down the experience of the single player mode the most is that there is little to no traditional base vs. base gameplay. Most of the missions are what I like to call “limited force” missions – you’re given a set amount of units and you’re on your way. Occasionally you are able to capture a factory to create more units, but you’re not going to be building factories or barracks like in traditional RTS games. Any and all buildings or structures you own have to be captured and can be recaptured by the enemy if you let your guard down.

The multiplayer mode is by far the biggest disappointment in Rush for Berlin. I was disenchanted when I found absolutely no one on the servers. Since the game used Gamespy, it was very easy to log in, but that was where the pleasant experience stopped. To give you an idea of how desolate the multiplayer community is, there are more people playing the demo of the game than the full game. And since you have to have the same version as who you’re playing against, it doesn’t even let you play with the two or three people that just happen to be online, if you’re able to catch them on at the same time as you are. I almost downloaded the demo just so I could play against someone. This is a serious devaluation of the game, especially since the single player mode is less than fantastic. If you’re turned off by the single player mode you will have nowhere to go when it comes to playing Rush for Berlin, unless you know someone personally to play against.

As for the actual gameplay, it is particularly solid. The game itself puts more value into each of the units you have, as they are not usually available in huge quantities – you can’t just build any anytime you want, and when you can, it takes a long time to build a unit. It can take especially long sometimes since there is absolutely no resource gathering, you’ll have to wait even longer for the resource counter to get to the point you want it to get to before the unit begins to build.

Needless to say, base politics play a very small role in the game, and it comes down to actually managing your units and being strategic in how you use them. Because the game puts more stress on the units, you’ll actually be aware of when you lose a unit, as it could make or break your push through enemy territory. The flexibility of the gameplay is also shown by being able to take over enemy vehicles (provided their occupants are no more) and use them for your purposes. Many of the blown out buildings in the game can also be used for your tactical advantage by making your infantry go inside them so they are able to shoot at whoever comes by.

By far the most impressive aspect of Rush for Berlin are the graphics. The maps themselves are enormously detailed – urban areas really show the best of what Rush for Berlin has to offer in this aspect. All the units look about as realistic as they can be –vehicles more so than humans. Everything looks incredibly akin to what it would have looked like in World War II, which should be applauded. There is also a 3D camera, so you can get all sides of the action. Unfortunately, they assigned the scroll wheel click to changing the camera rather than the right click, which can make it difficult to be as precise as you might want to be.

Sound effects and music are another couple strong points, but the voice acting is awful. The sound effects are cool, and they really help in making you feel like you’re in the middle of a battlefield. The music is empowering as well, and usually has a “march to war” feeling attached – possibly offering motivation to do what you need to do. Voice acting, however, is on the completely different side of the spectrum. The actors sound like Europeans trying to imitate an American accent, which end up sounding like they’re a bunch of pricks at the gym with surly voices – it doesn’t really cut it for what the game is trying to accomplish.

Rush for Berlin ends up being just another lackluster World War II game. Perhaps if the same gameplay mechanics were exploited better, and there were a multiplayer community to interact with, Rush for Berlin would have been a solid game, but unfortunately that was not what came to fruition.

 

Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 8.4/10

If anyone has played Hearts of Iron II for the PC, Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday will feel all too familiar. Heck, it’s pretty much exactly the same game except with a couple new layers of situations to play through and a few more options. As a stand-alone expansion, it’s all that’s to be expected really, but if you are yearning for more Hearts of Iron II challenges, it could be worth a look. One thing is for sure though, if you are contested between having to chose Hearts of Iron II or Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday, go with the latter.

Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday is one of the most fleshed out strategy games that I’ve ever seen. Such a massive amount of information is presented to you, all of which you are able to manipulate. The game almost inadvertently creates a very overwhelming feeling when you first start to play. The tutorial mode will help in that respect, but even after that, you’ll have to think fast as you have to deal with military, political, and developmental needs of your country. Taking place on such a large scale, it’ll be a definite challenge to keep up with all the things that are happening even if you put the speed of the game on slow.

The gameplay screen is exactly like a tactical map from a war documentary, as you can see the paths of your units with large arrows. The color of the arrows show what a unit is doing. The world is split up into provinces, and practically every province can be taken over if you play your cards correctly, but it’s easier said than done. You can fight through the whole of World War II exactly as it played out, with the Axis powers losing, or the complete opposite, with the Axis powers winning. You can use your imagination here, I’m sure. What can be a turn-off to some people is that you don’t really see the action unfolding all that excitingly. There are animations of units showing that they are in battle, but you’re not going to be right in the action seeing how units die and stuff like that, so it can be a little boring at times.

However, you’ll be so preoccupied with so many of the other things happening, it’d be trivial to even have something like that included. Your units are also not all displayed on the screen at the same time, so it might seem like you only have two or three units when you really have something like twenty or thirty, just because they all stack on top of each other as long as they’re in the same province. Units like airplanes and naval craft are in ports, so you have to click on the port itself to activate that particular unit. You can view the map in different ways, through terrain, political boundaries, wealth, and others, to help you plan out how you go about moving your military. There wasn’t really anything that was noticeably improved from Hearts of Iron II in the expansion, but either way the user interface is about as good as it can be for what is accomplished.

History only sets up the platform from which you will take control of the game… depending on what year you start out in. This brings us to the main scenario that has been added to the game: Doomsday. I suppose you can call it science-fiction, but Doomsday takes place in 1945, directly after the end of World War II. The Soviet Union decides it’s a good idea to go ahead and start to take over the world, especially when they feel threatened by a couple of US-owned atomic bombs sitting in airplanes in Turkey. So when the Soviet Union starts advancing into the war-weary Western Europe, the US drops those atomic bombs on Moscow and another city in Russia and completely destroys them. Boy is Russia mad now. They’ve already got practically half of the world’s provinces under their control, especially with taking back many of the provinces that had been taken over by Nazi Germany. So now Europe, the United States, and the rest of its allies have a heck of a task ahead of them in defeating the Soviet Union when they’ve exerted so much of their power on defeating the Axis powers. The Doomsday scenario is a lot more fast-paced than others included, since so many things are happening at the same time. One could even say that the Doomsday scenario was what the Cold War could have been if things had heated up right after the war had ended.

Since Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday is an expansion, a couple of gameplay features had been added to influence how the game can be played. Nuclear weaponry being the most apparent, there is also intelligence, and more technology to be researched. Intelligence will help in being able to steal technology from other countries, or cause some trouble in another country you don’t exactly like. The additions are welcomed, but they’re not nearly enough of a change from Hearts of Iron II to really worry too much about.

Graphics and sound are still the same as Hearts of Iron II. The graphics are nothing special at all — you’ll be looking at a very plain, but colorful, world and of course unique-looking units, but that’s about it. The music is nice to listen to, as it is a bit empowering in your military struggle against your foes. However, a good PC is a must for playing the game. I experienced a little bit of lag while playing the game and it isn’t even that bad of a computer. The processing power required running the complexity of the world and its huge amount of provinces and military movements across the whole thing is quite certainly a lot. Multiplayer modes are also included.

With plenty of dedication on your part, you can uncover a rewarding experience in Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday. Being able to play as so many different countries for the same scenario results in a large amount of replay time if you get so inclined to play the game for all its worth in that respect. Hearts of Iron II: Doomsday is one of the most advanced strategy games to date, and hardcore strategy gamers will find a great challenge in it.

 

Take Command 2nd Manassas (PC) Review

Developer: MadMinute Games / Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 7.9/10

Take Command 2nd Manassas is an interesting strategy game. Set during the American Civil War, It takes a middle ground between a real time strategy and a regular strategy game by allowing you to control your units as part of large groups rather than single individuals — all in real time. Through the use of different formations, you have to control your division effectively to overtake the Union or Confederacy in a battle in an open field. Take Command 2nd Manassas visually portrays the Civil War very accurately — it is a unique way to see how the battles in the Civil War had taken place, especially with a 3D camera, allowing you to see the fighting from all sides. History Channel, eat your heart out.

Take Command 2nd Manassas focuses more on a particular part of the Civil War, rather than the whole thing. Quite obviously, it’s the Second Manassas battle, otherwise known as Second Battle of Bull Run. During the time, Manassas was a strategic railroad crossing that lead to Richmond and Washington, DC. The battle itself is broken down into days, and further into multiple commanders for both sides of the battle. The battles before and after Second Manassas are also available for play.

You can manage your troops from the brigade level all the way up to the division level. Depending on the particular scenario you’re involved in, of course, it could vary how much command you have, with other soldiers on your side being controlled by the AI only. The AI assists you tremendously as well, automatically adjusting your soldiers in a fashion that they will line up facing the correct way to shoot at oncoming foes. You can control multiple brigades under a leader by selecting a leader and telling the troops to rally behind it in a certain formation. Rallying your troops behind a leader is a very effective way to move all of the troops connected to that leader as they march toward the battle.

Positioning is the key to winning a battle or skirmish. By placing your units in a line, your units will be able to fire on the enemy. Placing them in a double line or a column makes for some cool-looking marches down the battlefield, but you’ll end up having to revert back to the simple line to fire on the enemy. Once you position your troops, you just watch as they either become victorious or run away in fear because their morale is broken. One thing about the action that takes place is that you’re not as involved with what is going on as much as you might want to be. By restricting how much you’re able to control your soldiers, you’re forced to fight battles the same way they were done during the Civil War. The victor of the battle is basically the one who takes the least casualties.

Morale of your troops is important because it dictates how long a brigade will stay and fight as their buddies die next to them. As a unit’s morale drops lower and lower, you can see the brigade scattering out a little more, falling back. Once their morale reaches the “broken” status, that particular brigade will go into a full retreat and literally run away from the battle as they are still being shot at by the enemy. They don’t leave the battle entirely, as they will regroup, and once their morale gets back up will be usable for battle again. Positioning leaders behind your troops will give the brigades morale boosts as to divert the drop of morale just a bit longer. Though not every single individual person in a brigade is shown, a counter is displayed in the information bar when you click on one of them. The number can be anywhere from a hundred to a thousand, though it’ll usually be around three hundred. If a brigade gets tired, their morale will tend to get lower faster as well as not being able to move as fast. If they’re given time to rest, outside of any enemy fire, they’ll be able to get back to a rested state.

The graphics are okay. The cool visuals you can get with the full 3D camera are quite interesting as your troops are fighting. You can see it from a bird’s-eye view all the way to an almost-first-person view. The units themselves are low-resolution 2D sprites slapped on top of a large 3D terrain, which can make them seem a little bit out of place at times, just because of how flat they look, and even a little bit cartoony. The terrain could have done with looking a bit more realistic – same with the sparse buildings that are sprinkled here and there. Explosions don’t look anything more than flashes with smoke, and don’t leave any marks on the terrain as if there had been some. Sound is pretty good — there’s nothing that can be pointed out as really out of place or annoying as all the sounds of war are there in realistic proportions. There’s no speech at all, not even in tutorials, and all communications with other officers are done by courier, so there aren’t any briefing scenes where you talk with General Lee about the status of the battle or whatnot.

Take Command 2nd Manassas is the most accurate representation of a Civil War battle I’ve seen in a video game. Though it might not represent the battle of 2nd Manassas completely or even have a 100% realistic tone to it, the battles alone make the Civil War come alive in front of you. One thing is for certain, though: if you’re looking for a Civil War strategy game, give Take Command 2nd Manassas a whirl.

 

Hearts of Iron II (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Paradox Interactive || Overall: 8.2/10

Hearts of Iron II, like all World War II games, aim to be realistic and mirror some aspect of the time period. While Battlefield 1942 places you physically on the battlefield and Axis and Allies focuses you on particular battles, Hearts of Iron II aims to represent the war as a whole, on a worldwide-scale grander than either of the aforementioned games could accomplish. Hearts of Iron II places you in the dictator’s seat, looking down at the whole world as more than 2,700 land and sea provinces ready for you to conquer with imperialistic greed, or to stop those who aim to do so.

When you first start the game there are three modes to chose from, Tutorial, Single Player, and Multiplayer. Simple enough. That is, until you actually start to play. If you hadn’t played the first Hearts of Iron, and not really knowing what to expect when playing the game, like I had been, you will be overwhelmed within your first thirty seconds of play. There is so much information given to you right off the bat, that when they just toss you into the scenario, you won’t be able to keep up with what’s happening in the game at all. The sheer magnitude of what hits you is daunting. Until you actually build up enough courage to brave the overwhelming feeling that Hearts of Iron II gives you right off the bat, will you find a very fun and very realistic representation of World War II that you don’t see pulled off too often.

The main view looks like one of the tactical maps that you see in a war documentary, showing an army’s movements in general, without the specifics. Depending on which country you chose to play as, you will basically declare war on countries and take them over. What happened in history has no real bearing on what you can do in the game, such as actually being able to successfully invade the Soviet Union with German troops or take over the United States with the Japanese armed forces. However, when you’re on your imperialistic rampage, you have to constantly look out for all of your borders, as you may not have enough troops to occupy each province you annex into your country. Because of this, you have to deal with constant annoyance of having occupied territories taken over by your enemies and having to retake them over. The process repeats itself over and over, and you can’t get ahead too easily when it comes down to it. To make things somewhat harder, time progresses in an accelerated real-time (which can be slowed down or sped up according to your preferences), so not only do ten things happen at the same time, but you have to decide what to do with a relatively quick fashion, definitely keeping you on your toes. However, if the game gets too far ahead of you, you’re able to pause the game and deal with what had just happened. With a ton of provinces to take over, you’ll definitely be busy trying to advance your troops, conduct trade agreements, protect your borders, fend off pesky airplanes, produce more units, advance your technology, keep an eye on your supplies to make sure you don’t run out, tell your provinces what to build, and keep up with the ever-changing situations that arise, that you’ll constantly be checking on certain things while forgetting about others. It really takes a lot of initial practice to understand how the game works basically, before you can really understand how to play the game efficiently. For those who have a hard time getting into the game, the developers graciously put in a Tutorial mode. For those who try to jump into the game and see how it works, but just come out of the experience confused and on the brink of depression, the Tutorial is definitely for you. The Tutorial is broken up into smaller chunks, and if you want to concentrate on warfare (which IS the main aspect of a war game, after all), you can, and come back to find out about the other parts of the game later. Using the Tutorial to learn the basic mechanics of the game will definitely help you understand.

Being purely a strategy game, you do not really see your units actually fighting with your enemies. There are animations for your armies to show that they’re currently in a battle, but for the most part you just have to know that you are attacking. An annoyance that happens with the game when you’re controlling your units is that not all your units are actually displayed on the screen at all times. When units like airplanes or naval craft are in their respective ports, you have to click on the port itself to even be able to take control of them, instead of just dragging your mouse over it like you would with other units. This becomes annoying because it becomes hard to actually know how many units you have on the map. The map also has different views to it as well, allowing you to see different characteristics such as terrain, wealth, political boundaries and much more. I tend to use political boundaries the most, because it’s the most direct as to who owns what and what you have to take over.

Being able to take the head of nearly any country in the world and rule it how you see fit during this time allows for some very interesting information you otherwise probably wouldn’t have known about. I personally never thought about what Afghanistan, India or some other pretty much insignificant country was doing during this time. The only countries you really even hear about fighting in World War II were Germany, Italy, France, UK, Japan, the Soviet Union, and the USA, though they were the major players. This gives the chance for you to read up on the very in-depth information about the world and the different countries. Each country has their own technologies to develop, and loads of information down to the finest detail. Very historically accurate events do occur during the game, but can be changed drastically by how you control the game.

When it comes to the artistic points of the game, the game delivers a satisfying experience. There’s an excellent musical score that goes well with the game and what is happening (a world war), so it seems fit that there’s orchestrated music playing that feels, for the most part, empowering. The graphics, however, are not that great. The provinces throughout the world are nothing special, as they’re usual just solid colors, and don’t actually show any “real” terrain on it. Everything is color-coded, thus making it fairly simple to look at. There are also many black and white pictures from history of authentic tanks, people, technologies, and the like, which adds some more educational value to the game, seeing as you may not have known what a particular model of a tank looked like back then. When it comes to how units look on the map however, it gets very bland as the unit animations are nothing special, to say the least. You don’t see any action, per say, except you see the units looping their animation over and over to just show that they’re under attack or attacking something. It can get fairly boring, but like I had said before, you’re preoccupied with so many different things, like planning ANOTHER attack on a different front that you will kind of not even care that you don’t see any explosions.

Another part about the game is that things may not happen for a while, because in actual history, things took days or even weeks to happen. This is reflected by the gaps of nothing happening during your play time that can occur if you’re not constantly attacking someone, or waiting for a certain unit to be built, in which it’ll take a month or so for it to actually be built. Regardless of the accelerated time, a month is a long time to wait, so you definitely have to plan ahead whether or not you’re going to need a bunch of infantry troops all of a sudden, or if you’re going to need a particular technology researched in enough time to help you out. On a side note, from what I’ve seen, you’re not able to commit genocides or stick a whole race in a concentration camp (like the Germans did to the Jewish and the Americans did to the Japanese). I guess you just kind of have to assume its happening, as the main aspect of the game really relies on military and political difficulties.

Being a PC game, the game’s recommended requirements say that you should ideally have 512+ mb of RAM, a Pentium III, and an 8 MB video card or better. So if the only computer you have is the old hand-me-down you got from your great-aunt whom just passed away, you’re probably going to have to invest in a little better of a computer to play Hearts of Iron II. With the sheer vastness, complexity, and consistent evolution of certain events that occur during the game, it makes sense. The minimum requirements are less demanding, but in all honesty, you probably won’t have as good of a gaming experience when it comes to Hearts of Iron II, or many of the more demanding games being released.

Boasting the capability for 32 people to link up in multiplayer, one can only imagine the crazy games that can unfold. Hearts of Iron II itself reminds me of the User-made World War II scenario maps for StarCraft multiplayer games. If you’ve ever played the World War II map for StarCraft, the basic fundamentals of this game can be seen. However, those multiplayer maps could never accomplish the complexity (or even display historically accurate units) that Hearts of Iron II has done. During multiplayer, when you deal with another country diplomatically you’re going to have to take into account you’re playing with a human, and the chances that they know what they’re doing better than you know what you’re doing is probably going to be higher, unless you become a seasoned veteran through many many sleepless nights.

If you’re looking for the most historically accurate representation of World War II, Hearts of Iron II is your game. Hearts of Iron II is a history lesson in itself, and you can really learn a lot of the abstract, mostly unimportant facts you don’t come across too often without really looking for it. World War II history buffs and the like will absolutely love the game for the sheer amount of historical value included in the game. Being able to go through World War II from day one to the last day of the war is an arduous task that only a fanatic would probably want to undertake.