I really enjoyed grand strategy game Hearts of Iron 4 at release, but one thing that sucked was the way navies worked, which was boring and not fun and made using some of the game’s biggest powers a massive pain in the arse.
HOI4’s latest expansion, Man The Guns, is an attempt to fix that. It fleshes out the naval side of the game with a whole range of extra command options, operational possibilities, repair considerations and even a ship creation tool that lets you customise the weapons and loadout of every ship in your fleet.
All of which sounds cool! But none of it actually fixes the main problem with the naval side of HOI4. When you’re commanding armies in the game, they’re right there on the map, and when you set front lines and draw offensive arrows, you see them march off and carry out your orders.
It’s toy soldiers in the most adult, gratifying sense, and it’s easily the best part of HOI4, yet even after all this work Man The Guns’ navies still suck. They’re just these stacks of ships that lurk in ports or slink around huge areas of the map represented by their missions icons, and putting them into harm’s way is still incredibly basic compared to the elegant and involved land operations.
Indeed adding a whole range of extra features and buttons to click has actually made me want to use navies less, since they’re still as dry as ever, only now they’re also more complex, and the last thing I want to do in Hearts of Iron IV is have to pore over more menus. Maybe you are someone who is just very into ships, or appreciate the added depth for a playthrough as someone like Japan or the US, but as someone who only dabbles with navies, I just didn’t get much out of it.
Of course this being a Paradox expansion means that there’s other stuff here too, along with new features that have also been added to the base game for free, so even if navies aren’t your thing there’s still improvements or additions worth checking out.
The transformation of fuel into a trackable commodity (one of the free updates), something that needs to be stored and whose use by fleets and air forces is tracked, is a massive game-changer, especially for anyone who wants to both use a lot of ships or aircraft and won’t have access to large amounts of oil (hi, Japan!). It’s a small change, but such a realistic one, that I really appreciated it.
Four nations also get expansions to their focus trees, two of which are OK (the US and Britain) and two of which are pretty cool (Mexico and the Netherlands). America’s has a lot of neo-Confederacy stuff that I frankly thought was a bit much even for this game, and in general their tree is maybe too big, while Britain’s bizarre Monarchist turn, which sees Churchill teaming up with Oswald Mosley, wasn’t much better (though Britain’s other new path, which lets you accelerate the decolonization process, was a very neat idea).
One last thing, and I think it’s one of the paid content’s nicest achievements, is the way governments in exile have been implemented. There’s now a full and proper system for countries whose homelands have been overrun (most likely by the Nazis), and the new Dutch focus tree plays specifically into this, letting you rebuild and rearm your forces in SE Asia before returning to Europe as liberators.
This can also make a huge difference if you’re on the losing side of the war. I was playing a game as Britain and found my war going much the same way as the actual one, with most of Europe falling as my under-sized army retreated back to England. As each ally fell, I’d be picking up bonuses in the way of divisions, equipment and leaders as the remains of defeated forces turned up in London having escaped their homeland.
I had direct control over all this stuff, which I love; I’ve been able to build little French and Polish forces and have them complement my main British armies, which is super helpful at a time where my back is against the wall.
Man the Guns is in a strange place, then, where the main point of the whole thing isn’t that great, but the lesser updates sneak in and steal the show. Indeed I think the fuel system is so good that even if you skip the expansion entirely and just update your game, you’ll be having a greatly improved experience.