So it finally happened. Deep in the night, the first full version of Hearts of Iron IV: The New Order mod was released on Steam. As a sceptical and jaded person, I’m usually immune to the so-called hype, but I’ve been counting months, weeks and days to see this moment. Sadly, as it was to be suspected, the mod is still ridden with game-crippling bugs at this stage and I couldn’t manage to make any progress with my chosen factions. I’ll definitely have more to write when this issue gets solved, so this time I’ll just sum up my experience with playing the two demo versions released earlier this year and following the subreddit community.
Quite a few things are laughable in grim-dark visions of future presented in such works as the Wolfenstein series or The Man in the High Castle. For example, how is it possible that the evil Nazis have enough manpower to occupy half the world and suddenly don’t need all those Italians and Romanians as cannon fodder and police force? (at least in Panzer General II you were able to invade Bronx with your Romanian marines) What’s even less plausible, the final victory is indeed… final. The economy flourishes (or at least there are no signs of a crash incoming), the technological progress sends the first Aryan to the Moon, the machine of terror is omnipresent and works flawlessly, but ordinary German citizens live in peace and prosperity.
Fortunately, the development team behind The New Order: Last Days of Europe, a total conversion mod for Hearts of Iron IV, decided to take a different approach.
At first glance, it looks like another alt-history scenario with Nazis winning the war and ruling forever while a handful of brave resistance fighters tries to bring them down. However, you’ll quickly discover it’s not exactly the case. Sure enough, the Axis powers (not just Germany and Japan) managed to defeat their enemies and enjoyed the spoils of war for a while. Eventually, the walls of their shining fortresses began to crack. Germany quickly learned that you can’t base the economy on pillage, slavery, and spending all the money for humongous public projects. The economic disaster was followed by a massive Russian insurgency which managed to recover large parts of the former Soviet territory. Finally, the dreaded SS rebelled against Hitler’s government and Germany plunged into civil war. Other Axis countries aren’t faring much better, with the Iberian Union being crippled by its dysfunctional political system and Italy struggling to keep hold of it’s huge colonial empire.
When you start the game, it’s year 1962 and the wind of change brings the smell of imminent trouble. Sure, everything plays slowly at first, no matter which country you choose, you’ll probably focus on choosing internal policies, managing your budget and developing new technologies.
Then the Man in Berlin dies. The Greater Germany turns into a few lesser Germanies, jumping at each other’s throats. The rest of the world quickly experiences the domino effect, facing internal crisis and new dangers from outside.
This is the main difference between the mod and vanilla HoiIV. Basically speaking, you’re playing an alternative Cold War simulator. Major players have tonnes of nuclear weapons and minor countries can get their own warheads if they’re ambitious and lucky enough. Nuclear annihilation of the entire planet is always dangerously close, so instead of the proverbial ‘map painting’, it’s all about proxy wars, revolutions and civil conflicts. Dealing with internal policies and reforms is very important, too, just as diplomacy and espionage, so it’s hardly surprising that TNO introduces several new mechanics.
In case of some factions, the devs decided to sacrifice all plausibility and make them, uhm, colourful. The first demo version set in Southern Caucasus includes a mad scientist using his NKVD goons to kidnap people for experimentation (apparently, he’s trying to grow test-tube über-soldiers and liberate Russia), but also a mad warlord, Oskar Dirlewanger, leading a rogue SS unit which turned into a wild bunch, raping and plundering in the countryside. Meanwhile, the full release adds such factions as the National Redemption Front, best summed-up as ‘Spanish Catholic ISIS’, or a group of Jewish partisans which plans to genocide all Germans and their collaborators in Eastern Europe (one of their focuses is literally named ‘Six Million Germans’). And then there’s Burgundy…
Another thing making this mod stand out is the quality and quantity of writing. Since it focuses on telling stories, there’s really lots and lots to read. What is really important, the perspective often switches from men and women on the top — politicians and generals — to those standing at the bottom of the ladder, be they German soldiers, Congolese slaves, Belgian mercenaries, or Russian bandits. Quite often you will see the consequences of your decisions through their eyes and I’m sure it will make you look at those numbers and unit icons on the screen a bit differently.
Now, I know I sound enthusiastic, but there are some serious issues with the current state of the mod. First, the UI is another example of a great idea gone… not so great. In theory, it was supposed to invoke Cold War aesthetics with its neon colours and vector images reminding of early computers. Sadly, the end effect is a strain to the eyes, even if it got somewhat improved in the full release. Let’s hope a new patch will add an option of returning to the vanilla design.
I praised the quality of writing just a paragraph above, and sure, it’s creative and enjoying enough, but after a while it becomes clear that the devs really need a qualified editor. Sure, it’s a matter of your preferences, but typos, flawed grammar errors, and poor choices of wording really spoiled the fun for me. But again, very just one week after the release and things may eventually get better. Hell, maybe I’ll do something crazy for once and sign up as an editor too, but I promise to post more about this wonderful mod. Meanwhile, I’m clicking the play button and getting back to live in the last days of Europe.