Hearts of Iron 2

 · 12 mins read

Hearts of Iron 2 - Armageddon

Hearts of Iron 2 was made by Paradox, it’s a sequel that enhanced the previous game (same concepts in HOI but better). It’s probably the best grand strategy game focused on WW2. A complex game but great in design and concepts. It’s a fun and addicting strategy game once you understand the underlying basic mechanics.

Hearts of Iron 2


Before I describe the game strengths and weakness, I could just add an After Action Report to show how your typical HOI2 game can be:

It’s 1939. After 3 years of careful preparations, Germany is ready for war. With the help of the minister Ribentropp, we allied with Hungary, Argentina, Portugal, Japan and its puppets. As a side effect, Poland got already into allies. Seems that Japan early joining the axis has been too much of a threat. Italy is still not in Axis. Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania neither but those can be puppeted later…

After signing Molotov-Ribentropp treaty with URSS, autumn is failing onto Europe. It’s time for “Danzig or War”, but the formal demands never arrive. Japan is still in war with Sinkiang, an asian minor country, and it seems to be affecting diplomacy. Anyways, october starts and Hitler decides that there is no more time to waste because Winter is coming. Germany just declares war on Poland and the allies, WW2 begins.

The campaign starts ok. West frontier with France is safe. In the east, battles happen: Danzig invasion to unite the northern german territory, panzers advance in Poznan to open a path to Warsaw and a big operation in Cracow to disrupt the big polish army stationed in the area. Poznan is quickly taken and the Luftwaffe attacks without mercy any fleeing polish troops. And then… it happened.

Japan launches the Pearl Harbor attack and dows Netherlands too… in 1939. USA and Netherlands joins the allies. Luckily, the germans have already some forces stationed near Belgium and Netherlands, so it should be fine. The biggest threat is going to be USA: the USA democratic industries are now running at 100% for war and they’ll be ready to operate on Europe and Asia sooner than expected.

The war continues and german are advancing in Poland. Suddenly, a dutch 9-division army attacks the 5 division old guard army in Münster. Dutch win and get a ground behind the german lines, but it was a big mistake. German armies move to reinforce in chain, Dortmund to Arnhem and Cologne to Dortmund. Münster enemy is suddenly cut of supplies and attacked by 2 flanks. Without hope to retreat, the brave dutch soldiers perished. The dutch defense capacity is now severely harmed. The Wehrmacht old guard can now advance and the west theater is again safe.

The chief of war has a look on the Japanese operations. It seems they’re doing fine in continental Asia. Luckily, british and french SEA military presence is still limited, because japs’re still busy with Sinkiang’s war. Almost all China is a Japanese puppet, only the Communist China stronghold is still untouched but they remain neutral. Funnily, few days later the chinese commies decide to declare war on Axis. They saw an opportunity on the undefended borders. That’s going to slow down Japan for sure, but there is still time.

War is going on Europe. The moon is rising on the east. The eagle cries, the wolf howls and the bear snoozes timidly.

Hearts of Iron 2

Strong points

One of the biggest points of HOI2 (and other Paradox games) is that you can use almost any country of the WW2 time.

This is a grand strategy game where you must guide your nation but there will be a huge difference on playing when in wartime or not. For that reason, I think it’s best to differenciate:

Peacetime HOI2

During peacetime, time pass quickly. You’re only interrupted by historical&random events, few treaties/trade and research decisions. From time to time, you’re deploying units and leaders.

  • For all major powers, you don’t have too much time to prepare well and game is going to punish you if you don’t focus your strengths right. Your only battle in peacetime is against the time.
  • I find development is fun in this game: it’s a repeating cycle where you must look to the long run, trying to have exactly what you think you need for a given date, usually before war. Read more.
  • You can move nation sliders to set its strengths/weakness, but you’re constrained to do it once per year, slowly.
  • Research is interesting. You try to choose the best team for a given tech you need at a given time. In other games, you just choose a tech and wait x turns, but not in HOI saga.
  • Peacetime diplomacy is varied (chances are low and it costs money):
    • You can influence other treaties or offer treaties. You can also do trade deals.
    • Spies can do many fun operations against the enemy. Sadly, probabilities are small and there is minor impact (unless you coupt).
  • You have to deploy your armies, secure the frontiers where you can expect a war, assign leaders, check your weakness. “Building the pieces” is fun, but it’s better to place them, like in a puzzle game.

Wartime HOI2

Lets be honest here. Peacetime is ok, but great fun comes with the war and here the game shines.

  • During wartime there is a clear change of pace. This is more notable on all powers, less notable on small countries. You can’t (shouldn’t) rush the clock. Everything slows down.
  • You’ll do the same dev cycle as in peacetime, but now will mostly focus on reinforce armies for current war, with maybe minor development in preparation for next expected war theater.
  • Your vision/focus will be on checking frontiers all time. Now the enemy territory, away from your country, is important too.
  • Battles are complex. The climate is relevant, it can harm your operations. The terrain type is relevant. The clock is more relevant than ever (daytime/night). Supply chain is relevant. Transport capacity, needed to supply your armies, is limited. Leader command limit is important. You can’t expect big numbers to just win everytime!
  • Winter is coming! Forget about GoT. Hearts of Iron 2 winter is far more scary. Climate is important: your CAS airplanes can’t give support on bad weather, your tanks are ineffective on mud and your infantry is suffering attrition because of cold.
  • The game doesn’t simulate the WW2 too strictly. There is room to changes on history and crazy things to happen during the game.

Hearts of Iron 2


  • Gameplay during peacetime can be boring for players that are just interested in the wartime action.
  • In the other hand, gameplay during wartime is micro-management heavy. You must waste your time with every army movement.
    • It’s bad to see time go slowly in a game with such long term objectives.
    • Managing a big army like the soviet can be very consuming, specially when you’re pushed.
  • The leader selection UI is bad, it only has basic reordering, it lacks filters to help you find exactly what you want from a leader. You must visually scan a long list.
  • Anti tank brigades are worthless in HOI2 (bad cost-effect), but they weren’t in real life.
  • Bugs and stability issues. This happens on most to all Paradox games, but game engine tends to inestability after some game time.
  • This game rewards you more if you don’t win battles (at least, not quickly):
    • The leaders get experience by time spent on battles, so if you win quick you won’t earn exp. This also is asymmetrical:
      • Easy for air bomber units (tac/cas/stra/nav) as you can usually attack every day for many hours (unless you don’t have air superiority).
      • Very hard to earn exp for air superiority units (int/fgt), you’ll combat in few battles.
      • Land units need to participate on many even battles to get good experience. If you fight to win quick (the logical way), you earn little exp.
      • Sea units have problems too, few battles. Convoy raiding is limited too.
    • Your leaders can randomly learn new traits from battle but they must fight for a long time (2 days+) to have some chances.
  • The game is very event/script driven and it’s difficult to avoid the historic WW2 war: ger vs pol, ger vs fra, ger vs URSS, jap vs nch, jap vs USA, … You can just get earlier wars, but you won’t avoid them.
  • Game starts on 1936 and war is guaranteed for most major powers in 1939-1941. This means there are only 3-5 years for preparation, which is enough to define your strategy but not enough to change sliders: the only way to change your government is by using both events and sliders (e.g. USA, R. Spain), or by foreign influence (which is random). So, for most nations you’re just stuck with your govt for a long time.

Hearts of Iron 2

Why to play?

If you really like WW2 or you really like strategy gamest then you’d try this game. Also, if you like other Paradox games, then you could like this… but, given the huge differences between them, there is no guarantee about that.

I consider HOI2 the best on the saga, as HOI3 (and worse, HOI4) probably failed on apply some concepts. I don’t say this just because of nostalgia, as I loved EU2 and still like EU3 and EU4, because they tweaked gameplay but the essence is there.

Hearts of Iron 2

How to acquire

Paradox has it’s own online store, so you could buy it there if you want: Paradox Plaza. You can also acquire it from gog.com and Steam.

Hearts of Iron 2

Version / Platform

I’m reviewing HOI2 complete, the definitive version that includes both expansions (Doomsday and Armageddon). Armageddon last patch was 1.2 but also I patched it to 1.3a (a beta patch) but it isn’t mandatory to enjoy the game. In fact, you can also enjoy HOI2 without expansions.

Hearts of Iron 2


There is no future for HOI2, per se, as Paradox is unlikely to remake or patch any of their old games, as those were already sold and they want players to buy new games. But, hopefully, a future HOI5 will return the saga to it’s roots with renewed UI and improved graphics.

Hearts of Iron 2

Games like Hearts of Iron 2

If you are interested in grand strategy, even (or if you) don’t interested on WW2, any Paradox game can be worth your time:

  • Crusader Kings. This saga has many fans, it spawns during dark ages up to the renaissance.
  • Europe Universalis. My favourite Paradox saga, it starts where CK ends, when the age of discovery begins, up to the 1821, before the victorian era. Religion, colonization, revolution and lots of events are its main ingredients.
  • Victoria saga. This saga is probably the least popular, it happens between EU and HOI, but there is no historic WW1.
  • Other HOI games. More WW2 :)

There are other strategy games that are focused on WW2 battles (instead of the great picture), it’s not easy to find something of quality but those two are:

  • Panzer General. A strategy classic.

  • C&C Red Alert. Real time strategy, ahistoric but very fun.

Hearts of Iron 2


I have been playing Paradox games from long time and I consider HOI2 a great WW2 game. You’ll get really immersed on the epoch and face some of the strategic challenges the world leaders faced back them, but there is some room for changes on history.

Hearts of Iron 2



  • Your main concern is to develop your nation industry/infrastructure + static defense + army + navy + airforce.
  • Development strategy.
    • There are four development steps that feedback in a cycle: research, upgrade, build, deploy, (repeat).
    • It’s simple but interesting as you really want to match everything in a chain. E.g. if you expect war in sea in 2 years, you don’t want to build and deploy sub SS2 now as you can research and build SS4 next year to deploy them in 2y, right for sea war.
  • Building strategy. You can choose parallel or serial building:
    • If you get gearing bonuses or you have limited Industrial Capacity, it can be worth to start early with a long series
    • If you have good IC and standing army slider, it’s just better to build IC/defenses/infra now and later build units/brigades in parallel, JIT.


  • a land frontier (or many), the enemy will push now if you let him.
  • any beach can be used for a amphibious assault, so if enemy has access to your waters, consider them a frontier: it’s time to secure them.
  • enemy bombers can raid your territory by air, and enemy could parachute troops too from nearby airbases, so launch your interceptors and put troops on your capital.

Hearts of Iron 2