My gaming year: 2016

Hello, and welcome to my gaming wrap for 2016.

For me, the year was defined by five new PC strategy games — Stellaris, XCOM 2, Total War: Warhammer, Civilization VI, and Hearts of Iron IV, each of which I really enjoyed. I also dabbled with a few new releases in other genres (Titanfall 2 and House of the Dying Sun), replayed several older games (Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, Total War: Shogun 2, and a little Dishonored), and discovered the joys of iPad gaming (Eclipse: New Dawn for the Galaxy, 80 Days, Desert Fox, and the mobile version of FTL). Two final notable releases were Dishonored 2, which is waiting in my Steam library for me to finish the DLC for the original Dishonored, and The Last Guardian, which I intend to eventually buy alongside a PS4.

Digging more deeply into the five new strategy games, it’s interesting to see how they represent different blends between innovation and execution:

– XCOM 2 is the excellent, evolutionary, sequel to one of my favourite games. In terms of game mechanics, it’s probably the strongest on the list: it is a delight to mix and match the complementary abilities of a late-game squad.

– Stellaris is imaginative, beautifully scored, and has the potential to become one of the most significant 4X games in the last 20 years. I am particularly interested in the extent to which future updates flesh out internal politics, an area where the 4X genre could learn a lot from grand strategy games.

Hearts of Iron IV and Civ VI are built on strong underlying designs, combining the best elements of their respective predecessors (HOI 2-3 and Civ 4-5) with new innovations; I expect both games to be stronger after AI tweaks and expansions.

– Finally, Total Warhammer successfully adapts the apocalyptic, “rage against the dying of the light” experience of Total War: Attila to a fantasy setting.

In the broader game industry, the most interesting development for me has been Nintendo’s counterattack across multiple fronts: (1) the Switch announcement, aimed at the traditional console/core gamer market; (2) well-received moves to bring Nintendo IP to mobile, through licensees (Pokemon GO) and  outright development (Super Mario Run, supported by mobile specialist DeNA); and (3) laying the groundwork to take that IP beyond gaming by partnering with Universal Parks. I love the concept of the Switch — playing core games on the go is a big draw — and I look forward to learning more in 2017. While I’m also very interested in VR, I expect this to be more of a medium/long-term story.

Other releases I’ll watch in 2017 include Frozen Synapse 2, Persona 5, and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (especially if it’s ported to PC).

Note: I will soon be travelling overseas and won’t have access to my gaming PC for several months — during that time, I expect to survive on a diet of Paradox, Slitherine, independent, and classic games. I wish all of you Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and all the best for 2017!

Musical Monday: The Faction Themes of Hearts of Iron IV, composed by Andreas Waldetoft

While on the whole I think the Stellaris soundtrack still represents Andreas Waldetoft’s best work, the best pieces on the HOI4 soundtrack excel at conveying the flavour of their respective factions.

The Western Allies’ music ranges from hopeful to wistful, reminiscent of the music from Band of Brothers:

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A world at arms: thoughts on Hearts of Iron IV

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Hearts of Iron

HOI4 French Battle PlansVive l’Entente! My first “proper” game of Hearts of Iron IV was a journey from desperation, through grind, to eventual triumph. Playing as Britain, World War II began a year early, in 1938, when I backed Czechoslovakia at Munich. This defiance came to little avail, as the German war machine rolled over Czechoslovakia, and British workers raced to equip an unprepared military.

Finally, the Axis marched into the Balkans — and stalled in the face of dogged Yugoslav, British, and Commonwealth resistance. As British troops helped stabilise France’s Alpine front, and the United States entered the war,   I dared to think Germany’s days were numbered. Would the Soviet Union take advantage of German preoccupation to march on Berlin?

The Soviets entered the war, all right — on the wrong side. Stalin sent an ultimatum to British-aligned Romania. The Romanians refused. Now, the Allies were at war with both the Axis and the Soviets. Stalemate — and a little frustration on my part — set in.

In time, I broke the stalemate. In Europe, I unleashed the “Brits-krieg”: my armoured spearhead, now lavishly equipped with tanks, trucks, and self-propelled artillery, shattered the totalitarians’ lines. In the Pacific, British marines and aircraft carriers pushed up towards Japan. After a long, gruelling war, final victory came in 1946.

HOI4 RN vs IJNVive la France! Several more attempts, this time as France, went less well. In one game, I defeated Germany single-handed, only to be bulldozed by the Soviets pushing from the east and Spain coming from across the Pyrenees. Eventually, the stars came into alignment. Shielded by an extended Maginot Line, I built up my strength, overpowered Germany, and sat down with Stalin to determine the fate of Europe. Then when World War III broke out in response to a Soviet attack on Turkey, I did it all over again, pushing the Red Army back from the Rhine and avenging Napoleon’s defeat.

Possibly the best Hearts of Iron game yet. I’ve played this series for over a decade, since the original Hearts of Iron, and for most of that time my affections have belonged to Hearts of Iron 2. Now, I can’t imagine going back: HOI4 combines great alternate-history potential with a solid underlying design and improved quality of life. At present, as is so often the case with highly complex strategy games, its greatest limitation is the AI 1.

More detail below:

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  1. See also Dominions and Total War.

Hearts of Iron IV Q&A, with Dan Lind

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Hearts of Iron

HeartsofIronIV_logo_R_NormalI am a long-time fan of Hearts of Iron, a grand strategy series in which players control all aspects of a World War II nation, from armies and fleets to research, production, and diplomacy. So when developer Paradox Development Studio took the wraps off the upcoming Hearts of Iron IV, I was eager to find out more. Read on for my email Q&A with project lead Dan Lind, in which I ask about his vision for the project and how it will fit into the series:


Peter Sahui: Hello Dan — welcome to the site!


It’s been five years since Hearts of Iron III launched, and in your first developer diary, you talk about lessons learned from Crusader Kings 2, Europa Universalis 4, and HOI3. What inspiration have you drawn from other sources — other games, books, etc.?


Foto: Oskar KullanderDan Lind, Project Lead: As you know, Hearts of Iron is, like most Paradox Development Studio titles, a grand strategy game in an open sandbox and victory is determined by the goals you set up for yourself during the WWII time-span. The Hearts of Iron series is all about taking control of your nation in the years around World War II and leading it to victory – a wargame where you have to look at the entire war and take decisions in a multiple of aspects to reach victory. So Hearts of Iron IV is at its core is not a pure old-fashioned wargame.


Therefore, to be frank, there are not a lot of other grand strategy wargames to look at unfortunately. But I’m personally fan of World of Tanks as well as War Thunder and I hope we can bring in more of their flavor and attention to detail. My team also really liked Unity of Command when we tried it since it is a pretty different game that shows how you can make a fun historical strategy game and still keep things easy to understand. When it comes to books, we have tried to have both a top-down and bottom-up approach. So we take a lot of inspiration from Winston Churchill’s books on WWII as well as writings by Otto Carius (a famous German tank commander) as well as memoirs of Russian artillerymen.

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Paradox’s Latest Games

Paradox has announced two new games and two new expansions, all of which will come from Paradox Development Studio, its first-party arm. The games are Hearts of Iron IV and a new IP — Runemaster, an RPG set in a world inspired by Norse myth. The expansions are Rajas of India, which will expand Crusader Kings II‘s map all the way to the subcontinent, and Wealth of Nations, which will flesh out EU4‘s trade system and — it seems — add chartered companies such as the British and Dutch East India Companies. Detail is scant at this stage, but I can speculate…


Of the four, I’m most interested in Rajas. It should be reasonably likely to pan out:  Paradox has plenty of experience producing expansions for Crusader Kings II, a game that has been out for two years. It’ll be unique: other than Champion of the Raj, have there been any other historical strategy games set in India? And I can’t wait to see the alternate histories that’ll arise from the collision of Norse, Indians, and Mongols. (It makes me wonder if anyone at Paradox has read a delightful book named GURPS Alternate Earths 2, which contains a timeline in which super-Vikings made it all the way to Southeast Asia.) I’m also interested in Wealth of Nations, which promises to cover one of my favourite aspects of the period, but I’d have to see more specifics.


The new games are more of a wild card. Hearts of Iron 3 was an interesting but unsuccessful design experiment, and IV could be very good or very disappointing, depending on the extent to which Paradox learns from past mistakes. About the only thing we know is that “battle plans”, a HOI3 feature allowing players to doodle arrows on the map, can now be used to give orders; this suggests that automation, HOI3‘s central (and most unique) concept, will return in hopefully improved form. I’d guess HOI4 will improve over 3 Crusader Kings 2 and EU4 marked a clear upturn in the quality of Paradox games — but for now, it’s too early to tell.


Meanwhile, Runemaster will be Paradox’s first in-house RPG. (This surprised me, incidentally — I was expecting a strategy game in that setting, along the lines of Holistic Design’s Hammer of the Gods.) Paradox describes it as follows:


Runemaster is an RPG set in a fantasy realm based in the rich, majestic traditions of Norse mythology, casting each player in the role of a unique champion in a time of chaotic upheaval. Procedural maps and quests will ensure that no two playthroughs are identical, allowing players to tell a saga that is uniquely their own. Explore vast vistas through the six worlds of Norse myth, command troops in tactical combat, and define your champion through the choices they make.


It’ll be interesting to see how Paradox, a strategy developer, adapts to the new genre. Perhaps as a newcomer, it’ll be more innovative — compare Dragon Commander, a genre-blending strategy game from a RPG studio. Like HOI4, I can see this going either way, but it may be one to watch regardless.