If you’ve been reading my other articles on this site, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a pretty big Bethesda fan, but I’m an avid strategy gamer as well. I own all the Command and Conquers even the bad ones, and I’m the only person I know that’s finished Age of Empires III.
So, when I found out that someone was working on a Fallout themed total conversion mod for World War II RTS Hearts of Iron IV, I was intrigued.
For those unfamiliar, Hearts of Iron IV is a grand strategy game developed by Paradox Interactive. Picture Civilization but about five times more complicated, and you have a rough idea of what most Paradox games are like.
The mod, Old World Blues, is still in alpha and very much a work in progress. Only about half the map, which encompasses most of North America, is playable, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of content already in place. All of the factions you know, love and viscerally despise from Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout: New Vegas, are represented in-game, as well as several mod-originals.
Many of the latter are just there to give canon faction’s something to nibble on early in the game, but a lot of them are just as fleshed out as the ones you’ve heard off. So, while California and Nevada are dominated by familiar faces like the NCR, Brotherhood of Steel, and Caesar’s Legion, a lot of effort has been put into fleshing out areas that have yet to appear in the Fallout canon.
Washington and Oregon are a frozen wasteland dominated by a rogue Brotherhood of Steel faction loosely inspired by the canceled Fallout: Extreme. Further north, Alaskan Vikings battle Canadian survivalists for control of British Colombia, while the land to the east is under the thumb of a steampunk theocracy known as Heaven’s Gate. Northern Mexico is home to several small countries chafing under the thumb of an unstable artificial intelligence while Aztec revivalists wage bloody warfare in the mutated jungles of the Yucatan.
The amount of lore each country gets depends heavily on how important they are to the story being told. Some minor factions get a name and a flag, and that’s it. Others have dozens of unique story events with branching paths that let you shape the future of the wasteland.
The mod utilizes Hearts of Iron IV’s national focus system to keep the story moving. This is a system in the vanilla game that’s meant to reflect the strategic and policy decision of world leaders during the Second World War. Mostly, it’s there to make sure World War Two begins more or less when it did historically.
That’s actually part of the reason I don’t like Hearts of Iron as much as other Paradox grand strategy games. Crusader Kings II lets you conquer Spain as Viking age Norway or turn Ireland into a merchant republic. In Europa Universalis IV, it’s possible to colonize the New World as Venice or Japan. Hearts of Iron IV, with its narrow time frame and deterministic nature, just never captured my imagination in the same way.
The Old World Blues mod, on the other hand, uses the focus system to tell engaging stores. While it encourages the AI to follow the canon path for each faction, it also allows for both the player and the AI to explore alternate scenarios based on Fallout lore. What if the Brotherhood of Steel and the NCR remained allies after defeating the Enclave? What if Mr. House chose to work with the Great Khans instead of the Omertas?
And the non-cannon storylines are just as satisfying. I decided to begin my first game in Mexico as a country called The Republic of the Rio Grande. At first glance, it seemed like little more than the Mexican version of the NCR. While that’s arguably true, Rio has its own story that draws from the Fallout canon without feeling derivative or too much like the fan fiction it technically is.
I soon learned that the nations of northeast Mexico are fighting over control of a pre-war stockpile known as Armageddon Station. Before I could deal with that, however, I had an election to win and civil war to resolve. Not long after, Mexico’s robot overlord fragmented into multiple personalities, and I was in a fight for my life against an army of robot communists. I don’t want to spoil the various endings too much, so I’ll just leave you with this: Cyborg God-Empress.
If you are already a fan of Hearts of Iron, that’s pretty much all you need to know. The gameplay is the same for the most part. The biggest differences are the smaller scale and new technology tree. A few countries also have unique mechanics, but the core gameplay will be familiar to veteran Hearts of Iron IV players.
Of course, that’s only a good thing if you like Hearts of Iron, and it’s not a game that will appeal to everyone. As I already indicated, it is very complicated, even compared to other games in the same genre. According to Steam, I’ve played 180 hours of Hearts of Iron IV, and I still don’t understand what most stats actually do.
There is also a much heavier emphasis on planning and logistics over the battles themselves. Combat consists mainly of drawing lines and letting your AI commanders take care of the specifics. Naval battles resolve themselves off-screen, and planes are treated more like status effects than on-map units.
It can be a very engaging game when it wants to be but isn’t exactly fast paced. I think the stories it tells make Old World Blues worth the time investment, but I understand if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Still, if you are a fan of Fallout, it might be worth giving it a try just to see a familiar world from a broader perspective. Just do yourself a favor and play through the vanilla Hearts of Iron IV tutorial before loading up Old World Blues. The learning curve is steep enough without going in completely blind.