PC Game Review: Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game
Curtis Szmania checks in with a review of one of the most well-known mods for Hearts of Iron, but what makes it stand out against all other mods out there?
World War II strategy PC games are “a dime a dozen.” The war’s immensity and destructiveness fuels its fascination among the masses. There is no wonder why there are many out there who wish to play out the war their own way. The most popular of these games have been Paradox Interactive’s Hearts of Iron series (Hearts of Iron, Hearts of Iron 2, and Hearts of Iron 3). The series has seen a lot of success and support and subsequently have attracted a lot of attention from developers and modders alike. Many improvements have been made which include expansions and modifications. Most of the attention—even currently—seems to be directed towards Hearts of Iron 2, aka ‘HOI2”. This is impressive considering that the latest sequel, Hearts of Iron 3, has been released over two years ago. This alone shows how remarkable the second addition to the series really is, although HOI3 seems to be gaining more and more ground as we move into the future. Several expansions have extended the vanilla HOI2 game (Doomsday, Armageddon, Iron Cross, etc…), including numerous mods which range from hypothetical scenarios to World War I campaigns. But it may be argued that the greatest of these mods/expansions is Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game. This is a modification of Armageddon. So what makes Darkest Hour so unique compared to all the other mods of Hearts of Iron 2?
For starters, Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game isn’t free. This makes it sort of unique as far as a mod is concerned, being that “most” of them are free. But technically, it’s an “expansion”, though this could be contested. So this puts it on par with Iron Cross, another Paradox Interactive mod/expansion for HOI2 which is also sold. But being that it’s sold, Darkest Hour is mainstream material. This is good and bad. It has an easy and conventional installer and a very useful launcher—the latter seems to be the trend now for all of the recent Paradox releases. The game launcher has several options available including but not limited to: updating the game, screen resolution adjustments, sound settings, and mod selection. It’s a very handy tool with an easy to use interface.
Darkest Hour, or “DH”, offers two modifications. There is “Darkest Hour Lite”, which is a small modification over Armageddon with all features enabled but it is not compatible with other expansions or HOI2. “Darkest Hour Full” takes it a step further and has added many new features and modified many files. This mod is not compatible with HOI2 or its expansions either. There is also, of course, no mod, which is fully compatible with HOI2 and its expansions and even other mods.
Once the game is launched, players familiar with HOI2 will find the menu and navigation very familiar. In fact, the UI and GUI are nearly identical. Darkest Hour hasn’t changed much in this department but it has added a lot of features. One thing that makes it similar to HOI2 is the fantastic tutorial. It’s been dragged over from HOI2, although it shouldn’t be necessary for players used to playing HOI games. Although, Darkest Hour’s version of the tutorial has been transformed for its needs—this way players will become familiar with the new features of the game.
When DH was released it came with two campaigns: 1914 “The Great War” and 1936 “The Road to Another War.” The former starts just prior to World War I and is a unique scenario. In fact, I think it’s the game’s greatest asset. There aren’t many World War I strategy simulations out there. Just having this scenario, I think makes the game a worthwhile purchase (there was a mod in development for HOI2 called 1914 but its development has seemed to have stalled). In DH’s World War I scenario players can play with empires like Austria-Hungary or the Ottoman Empire, and battle all over the globe with primitive aircraft and tanks. But there isn’t much time to deploy your forces because war starts almost immediately, so act fast. Initially, upon release, this scenario suffered from many bugs. For example: France—once conquered—would be released and all of the French territory would revert back to French control. By starting from the “1914” scenario, players can “theoretically” play a continual game from 1914 to 1964. This is a large extension, considering that HOI2 vanilla’s timeline was 1936-1947. This is quite a feat for any strategy game, especially one that is so in-depth concerning military aspects. DH’s technological tree also allows the evolution of technology from 1914 to 1964. This permits a lot of freedom of play, while increasing the length of possible outcomes.
The other scenario is the typical World War II scenario (1936) of Hearts of Iron games. It has been the bread-n-butter of the series for years. Perhaps because 1936 is an ideal start, it gives players over 3 ½ years to prepare for world war. The Italo-Abyssinian War is in full swing, and the Spanish Civil War and the Sino-Japanese War isn’t too far off.
Four additional scenarios were added in patch 1.02. These are 1933 “Day of Decision”, 1940 “Burning Europe”, 1941 “Awakening the Giant”, and 1942 “Enemy at the Gate.” Adding “1933” to the mix extends the preparation time for World War II by three years. This allows a lot of freedom concerning production, technological, and strategic pathways. 1933 was the year Hitler became Chancellor of Germany and Franklin D. Roosevelt became President. Starting during this year would allow players to decide if they want to start building a new surface naval fleet or the first u-boats for the Kriegsmarine, not to mention the first panzers. ”1940” puts players into the game just prior to Germany’s invasion of France and the Low Countries. “1941” begins on the first day of Operation Barbarossa and “1942” just after the Second Battle of El Alamein and the entrapment of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Patch 1.02 was a necessary patch. It fixed many of the problems found in the World War I scenario, making the scenario much less of a headache to play and more user-friendly. Considering all of the scenarios offered, DH still doesn’t have any operations available to play, like “Fall Gelb” or “Operation Husky” found in the previous games.
For those not familiar with HOI games, Darkest Hour allows players to control a nation’s military, technological, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence aspects. These things include changing cabinet members and transforming political ideology, to moving and compiling armies on the strategy map. Building report with other nations is vital, and creating alliances will help you in the long run. Also, your economy relies on your foreign relations, so players need to find reliable trade partners that have an abundance of natural resources. Intelligence is also vital because one needs to know the status of their enemies and what their up to, while protecting themselves by using counter-intelligence. Economics and technology are vital when building an army, navy, or air force that can deliver defeat whatever the enemy can bring to the field. Technologies need to be chosen carefully because there are only so many research slots available. The technology tree of the game can be quite intimidating, but it just adds to the overall immersion. Since it’s so extensive—ranging from techs from 1914 to 1964—one needs to consider what needs to be researched in what order prior to attaining certain technologies.
Economics is on the same par. Without it your nation would not be able to sustain itself. These actions include building military forces, infrastructure, industry, and maintaining convoys for trading and supplies. All of these aspects can be overwhelming to even the most experienced HOI gamer, so I’d suggest taking your time and play it through at a slow speed (it’s a real-time strategy game with multiple speeds). Trading and diplomacy can be an overwhelming task at times as well, so you’re more than welcome to sit back and let the AI take over (certain aspects), while you manage the other things. But in essence, DH is a micromanaging game—I believe this is what makes it so attractive.
The main focus of the game is military. Everything one does is basically—whether directly or in-directly—tied into the military. It’s a strategy game, and this one in particular requires a lot of analytical skills. One can perform envelopments, do airdrops, lead armored spearheads, create diversions, and launch support attacks. Supplying forces is also vital, and key attributes such as attacking across rivers or defending coastal provinces will give certain modifiers. The importance of supply cannot be over emphasized in this game, and there are many tools to assist one in maintaining it (convoys, transport planes, infrastructure). Naval battles, like in all HOI games, still need work. Nothing has really been improved on the high seas and AI fleets seem to have unrealistic extended ranges when out at sea.
As mentioned previously, the UI is basically a continuation of the previous HOI2 games. This is unfortunate even though the HOI2 interface is dependable and has become a classic. But the same old thing eventually gets old, and had Darkest Hour not contained the World War I scenario I would consider it just another Hearts of Iron game. Some GUI aspects do vary from the original, like unit pictures and technology pictures. Darkest Hour’s AI is also much more improved and is given many more options, and in some aspects it’s much more historical. The game has also added decisions, something that was unique to Hearts of Iron 3. These are events that can be fired according to the user’s preference, instead of just firing automatically like in HOI2. This is a critical addition and it increases the user freedom within the game. The map has also been enhanced slightly, with additional provinces and important little islands.
Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game is a great addition to the HOI series. It has expanded on the classic Hearts of Iron 2 game and it is definitely worth it. The features, scenarios, and options it offers make it a must buy for Hearts of Iron lovers. The World War I scenario alone justifies this. But the UI and the tutorial is a drag-over from the originals, and basic gameplay hasn’t really changed much. Battles are fought the same and naval warfare is still crippled—lacking user-input. The new unit and tech pictures are a nice touch. Simply put, the available scenarios in the game make it stand out. Without them, DH may just have been considered just another HOI game. Players do have many choices however; from how much of the Darkest Hour mod you’d like to apply to the game or how you’d like to go about researching in the awe-inspiring tech tree. Darkest Hour is a necessity for Hearts of Iron and World War I wargamers.
The Good: A very helpful launcher with many options, several unique scenarios including one of World War I, a large and lengthy tech tree, new units, new unit and technology pictures, a time span of 1914 to 1964, a few new nations, new provinces, new “decision” events which allow player input of when their triggered.
The So-So: May be considered by some as just another Hearts of Iron game, I would have liked to see a greater divergence from Armageddon.
The Bad: Buggy upon release (although many issues have been addressed in the latest patch), few UI improvements over previous games, naval warfare still needs work, land battles last a bit too long.
Does the game have a permanent spot on Curtis’ hard drive? Darkest Hour: A Hearts of Iron Game definitely has a spot on my hard drive. The reason being is because I’m a coinsurer of World War I games, definitely an overshadowed conflict in my opinion. There aren’t many World War I strategy games out there. DH permits me to materialize my World War I strategies, as I usually play as the Central Powers. How do I win as the Central Powers fighting wars on several fronts? Darkest Hour allowed me to attack and eventually answer this question. It let me play this out as several of the wars participants, using early forms of tanks, aircraft, and submarines—fulfilling my yearning for the Great War.
Review written by: Curtis Szmania, Staff Writer
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