Frontline Report: Order of War Impressions

By Kieron Gillen on May 19th, 2009 at 2:31 pm.

While I feel slightly nervous to dare add further comment after an RTS-expert like John Walker has had his say, I actually did cross London town to have a look at Wargaming.net developed and Squaresoft published Order of War and have a few shareable thoughts. Before seeing the game, the initial interest is in the industry machinations of it. It’s Squaresoft’s first PC-only Western-developed game. Wh… at? And after playing the Belarus-originated game, I’m smiling at a tiny observation. That no matter how much a PC-game this is, Squaresoft’s first RTS still manages to work out a way to make the whole thing into a cut-scene.

But we’ll get to that eventually.

Top level facts: Order of War is a WW2 set large-scale RTS, with multiplayer and a couple of campaigns. One puts you as the Americans on the Western front, facing off against the Germans. The other plays out on the Eastern front, placing you as the Germans. Its main feature is the sheer scale and detail to it. Apparently you get up to a 1000 soldiers beneath you. Developers repeatedly talk about trying to create a Total War-esque feel in a WW2 game, with masses of detailed, highly animated soldiers marching forth. Since it uses a unit-based control system, where you control groups of tanks and footsoldiers rather than individual units, I can see the point. The other game which comes to mind is World In Conflict. Obviously it’s a game based around controlling many more troops than the tight and intimate WiC, but it seems to rely on a reinforcement system akin to the glorious Ruling King Of Explosions. You gain resources, then spend on having more troops arrive from off the battlefield. So while there’s no actual base-building, there’s an element of that.

Generally speaking, the developers talk a lot about accessibility and excitement. For example, rather than having a single objective, the missions – which vary between half an hour and one and a half hours – have multiple objectives which you’re swapped between. So, for example, you might attack a base with some tanks. Win that battle, and you’re moved over to controlling some air-strikes on a town elsewhere on the pretty-damn enormous maps. This allows the computer to look after the reforming the ranks over there while you do something more abstractly interesting. It’s a sort of edited highlights approach, almost. Married to that is the difficulty level. It promises three. The top one they describe as punishing, probably requiring replays to complete. The other two are… well, more generous. They actually talk about how it should be virtually impossible to fail on easy, just being about the joy of moving masses of troops around. You’re drip-fed reinforcements when things are looking bad. The average difficulty – well, they talk about some of that same approach, but the idea is that it’s balanced that it always seems that you’re on the precipice of failing. In other words, it’s gaming as a card trick… of course, I’m not sure of the wisdom of actually explaining their philosophy in such open terms to begin. When a gamer realises that a game is tricking them, the pleasure from it tends to decrease. Now everyone who reads this, if they come to play it on Normal, will be aware of how much the game is jiggering around behind the scenes.

That said, probably best for lunatics like us who actually read the games press to play on Hard. Man up, etc.

There’s another point to the whole difficulty level thing too. They want it possible for the more casual player to actually sit back and appreciate the carnage more – it’s one of the reasons why it’s not as punishing. That’s because they’ve integrated a cinematic camera system, which you can activate at any time for the game to jump around the flashpoints of the battle, showing it all from artful angles. Yeah, this is the “turn the whole game into a cutscene” feature mentioned earlier. It’s actually genuinely pretty, capturing the most impressive parts of the games – the brutal air-strikes, for example – brilliantly. Married to everything else, it’s clear that Order of War really is trying to capture its own feel. Mass, cinematic battles, embraced in cinematic terms, with even level-design taking the movie’s dead-time-must-be-cut-approach, by moving you from interesting challenge to interesting challenge.

And from having a play, it is fun, in a lobbing-masses around manner. The aforementioned World in Conflict does seem to be the best comparison in terms of its single-player attempt to make drama – and there’s certainly room to do that better than World in Conflict. Upping the army size would be a step in the right direction, I suspect. There’s a few doubts. Some are niggles – the zoom at the moment takes you directly down to where your camera view is, where a zoom-to-where-your-cursor-is-at is generally a better method for actually having a nose at whatever you want to see. More seriously, while there’s flanking and taking cover in trenches and similar detail, the combat does feel oddly simple. With the Total War reference, I’d have expected something similar to its key Morale to be integrated. It’s not, and your soldiers seem willing to march off into machinegun fire and die. This may be that it’s hidden more than Company of Heroes’ flashing-red-men, as they do tend to lie down in trouble, perhaps signifying being pinned… but it’s certainly not clear.

With the perennial WW2 fatigue, it’s difficult to actually get excited about until actually digging into it further – Men of War, it should be remembered, only really turned on RPS when we actually played the bally thing – but it’s certainly an attractive, large-scale WW2 RTS. Welcome to the PC, Squaresoft. Beginners tip: be careful when selecting your DRM options. The locals get uppity.

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36 Comments »

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  1. Torgen says:

    PLEASE tell me they aren’t using P-47s as level bombers.

    …please?

  2. danielcardigan says:

    Wasn’t it a feature of “Warcraft 3″ that the difficulty decreased if you couldn’t beat a particular level?

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s a fairly common feature in games.

    KG

  4. Xercies says:

    Not common enough in my experience…

  5. Rosti says:

    War of War (huh!) What is it good for!?

  6. Heliocentric says:

    Some games hide easy until you lose a bit. In grid if you win too easy or come to far back it advises difficulty changes.

  7. Schtee says:

    And after all these years it’s still funny!

  8. Jim says:

    Compared to Men of War games like this just look rigid to me now. :(

  9. JeCa says:

    Has there been some kind of law enforcement that forces new RTS franchises to use either the word “war” or “empire” in their title? I’m seriously starting to have trouble telling the games apart. :P

  10. DK says:

    Noun of War: The Glory of Empire-Heroes
    Can they please get any more generic in their names?

  11. TheLordHimself says:

    I look forward to the possibility of surviving World War III so that afterwards I may play a computer game that does not revolve around WWII.

  12. PC Monster says:

    “Wasn’t it a feature of “Warcraft 3″ that the difficulty decreased if you couldn’t beat a particular level?”

    “It’s a fairly common feature in games.”

    Hmm. This dark art earns the PC Monster serrated seal of disapproval. How’s the gamer supposed to learn anything if the games take away the challenge when they see you struggling? Sometimes the best lessons come when you beat your head against a brick wall for a bit then suddenly have the blinding revelation that proves you’re not stupid after all. Bloomin’ hand-holding is going to ruin the next generation, mark my words…!

  13. Sunjammer says:

    “Order of War is a WW2 set large-scale RTS, with multiplayer and a couple of campaigns” somehow strikes me as an incredibly depressing sentence emblematic of how standardized games have become in recent years.

  14. Jad says:

    An idiot-easy mode has made this game suddenly much more interesting to me. I’ve always been intrigued by RTSes, but I’m terrible at them, and don’t really have the inclination to go through the boring and painful process to get better at them (and I’ve certainly put my time into games like Trials 2 and bullet-hell shmups to prove that I can do that masochistic gaming thing, too).

    I’ve missed the last couple of years of RTSes; the last RTS I finished I think was Warcraft 3, because of the difficulty levels. So, a question for the RPS comment crew: Of CoH, DOW I & II, WiC, Men at War, SupCom, etc, do any of them have idiot-easy modes?

  15. TC says:

    For someone who found the bigger Combat Mission battles hard even with the WEGO system I worry that unless the squad AI is really good it looks like either a micro-management nightmare or a unrealistic slugfest as you simply hurl 100s of Tiger tanks in a straight line at the enemy.

    Will be interesting to see how they pull it off.

    I really like MoW for the way you have a couple of squads but are just the small part of a epic battle, seems to be the best way of making an RTS work in this setting.

  16. Rich_P says:

    @TC: Well said.

    Massive RTS games need (a)units that can think for themselves without needing my constant intervention and (b)effective battlefield planners that allow me to coordinate combined arms attacks. Without these features, games like SupCom become incredibly overwhelming. Guess that’s why I prefer the DoW II and World in Conflict approach: micromanaging a handful of units without worrying about base building.

  17. IvanHoeHo says:

    I’m in the same situation as Jim – I’m pratically allergic to retarded AIs now.

    Commander v. nanny, etc.

  18. pepper says:

    Torgan, im afraid so, even worse, in a V formation.

  19. Quests says:

    This is complete nonsense, Total war gameplay style in WW2? Those wars were fought ENTIRELY in trenches, slowly, a war of bleeding out resources, not “honourable” face 2 face standing armies.

    This is ridiculous.

  20. Torgen says:

    Quests, you have as much knowledge about how WWII was fought as you do nuclear physics. Go read up on Patton, Rommel, Guderian, et al. If you want to back up 30 years in history to WW ONE, then you might sound sane.

  21. SirKicksalot says:

    War of War (huh!)

    War war War!

    I want the Battle of Kursk. 7000 tanks, 2 million soldiers and 5000 aircrafts ftw.

  22. Serondal says:

    they’d probably be better off if they made the game of then name something a bit sillier like say

    “Men running about in smart looking uniforms killing each other because someone else told them to. and oh theres tanks and planes and jazz – The game”

  23. Some Guy says:

    looking at this game, look like its WW2 RTS anouncment year though, RUSE, and now this have come out, who els is gonna do one, Nintendo

  24. Guy says:

    Torgen, whilst I feel Quests might be confusing WW1 with WW2 he is nonetheless right. The vast majority of WW2 was fought out of foxholes and was largely decided by attrition. The vast sweeping movements of WW2 armies are largely a fiction. Rommel of course was defeated at an attritional battle at El Alamein, Guderian in the attrition of the Eastern Front and Patton’s great sweeps were only possible because of earlier attritional battles (Op. Cobra only possible because of Op. Goodwood etc.)

    Of course a WW1 RTS is more than possible provided its based on the actual history rather than Blackadder. John Terraine/Gary Sheffield are the most accessible if you’re interested. Of course WW1 consists of more than just the Western Front and ‘open’ combat was seen in Africa, Mesopotamia, the Eastern Front, the Far East etc.

    Of course reflecting on the ‘reality’ of any particular war is pointless when you consider that the above game holds no relation to WW2 combat anyway (simple question: does it include logistics? If not its rather unlikely its ‘realistic’ to any war ever fought). Like all these games its fantasy WW2, WW2 through the prism of Hollywood etc. Fun games, bad history.

    [Apologies for the brief rant: I’m a war geek ;) ]

  25. Serondal says:

    Agreed @ guy. If they ever made a game that faithfully recreated the realities of WW 2 it would be boring as hell 99% of the time.

  26. JD says:

    Kieron, maybe I misread your article, but are you saying that Wic has a bad single-player campaign from a drama perspective?

    “The aforementioned World in Conflict does seem to be the best comparison in terms of its single-player attempt to make drama – and there’s certainly room to do that better than World in Conflict.”

    I think Wic did the story in the SP campaign better than any RTS game ever (and most games in general)…

  27. Kieron Gillen says:

    The plot itself was fine, and all the moments of drama in there people talk about were cool.

    For me, the actual missions failed to have any drama whatsoever. They felt totally artificial. When we were ordered to fall back because we couldn’t hold, I was laughing – I could have stayed there blowing them up all day.

    I quite liked it, but only in a gormless shooter kind of way. The MP was brilliant, however.

    KG

  28. Serondal says:

    Agree with Kieron, I was often confused why I was falling back when I was handedly whipping the enemies on hard mode. Couldn’t figure out why we had to nuke a city with very few enemies in it O.o I would say nuking a city would like 20 tanks is a waste of a city and a waste of a nuke.

  29. Torgen says:

    @Guy
    Anyone that pontificates that WWII was fought ENTIRELY in trenches is going to be dismissed as an imbecile by me, sorry. ;)
    Also, I am going to disagree that WWII was mostly attrition (in the tactical sense, which is what we’re talking about, as we’re discussing a wargame.) Aside from sieges like Tobruk and Stalingrad, this was a war of maneuver. The Battle of France was totally about maneuver, as the German tanks were inferior to the French ones. Had it been a stand-up battle of attrition, the French would have won, and were _expected_ to win. This is why the “Blitzkrieg” was such a shock to the world. I think you place far too much weight on the periods where one side or the other were gearing up for a battle of maneuver. If you want to be pedantic, ALL battle are battles of attrition and supply, even the air war, because men and equipment are consumed. Even on the Eastern Front, first the Russians, and then the Germans, the majority of the troops were forced from their positions by maneuver, not attrition. Each side probed for weak spots (or made them through brute force) then exploited them to force neighboring forces to withdraw or be surrounded. Note that this is totally separate from the “national” level, which of course was decided by destroying the other side’s capability to produce the weapons of war at a rate to replace losses. At the battlefront level, we did not see months or years of stagnant lines in WWII that were seen in WWI.

  30. Rich_P says:

    WWII was a war of logistics. Then everything else :D

  31. Torgen says:

    Which is why we won!

  32. Guy says:

    @Torgen
    Which is why I used the word ‘largely’ ;) WW2 was largely fought out of foxholes. It was hardly exclusively foxholes, it was never always foxholes but chances are if you picked any time, any place and went to the frontline the majority of soldiers would be in foxholes.

    The comment about attrition was focused on your comment on WW1 games. WW1 itself was not attrition at the lowest tactical levels (most of the time- a comment which also holds true for WW2) though both wars were attritional at the grand tactical (semantics I know).

    Your examples don’t particularly hold up. One off battles (El Alamaein) and campaigns (Italy) were frequently attritional. Most campaigns involved attrition as the key concept. The Battle of Normandy was only won by the maneuver element of Operation Cobra because the attritional battle of Operation Goodwood had created the conditions for a breakout.

    The Battle of France itself is something of a one off, representative not of the effectiveness of maneuver warfare but of the shockingly bad state of morale in the British, French and Belgian armies. Your comment about blitzkrieg is right but in the wrong order. Blitzkrieg was almost wholly an invention of the press in order to find some way of understanding the shock loss in the Battle of France in 1940. I know its a bit goit-ish to post a bibliography on a gaming site but I hope you’ll forgive me as the following two articles will absolutely turn your world upside down (as they did for me!):
    J.P. Harris, ‘The Myth of Blitzkrieg’, War In History, 2 (November 1995)
    Glyn Prysor, ‘The “Fifth Column” and the British Experience of Retreat, 1940′, War In History, 12 (2005)

    Your comment that all wars are attritional is applicable in reverse. All wars are maneuver wars because they involve combatants moving around. On the Eastern Front the key battle was the Battle of Kursk…an attritional battle that gained no territory but dented the Axis forces so badly they never recovered. Similarly in North Africa it was attrition at El Alamein that was decisive. In Burma it was Imphal. In Normandy it was Op. Goodwood. etc. The reason WW2 took 6 years is because that was the time period necessary to exhaust her armies, to exhaust her nation and to exhaust her people.

    The stagnant activity comment is interesting because WW1 was anything but stagnant. Aside from the previously mentioned examples (Eastern Front, Italian Front, Middle Eastern Front etc.) the Western Front was incredibly active in 1914 and 1918. It was only for 3 years, on one front (the Western) that mass stagnation took place. Though even there trench raids, attacks and the thousand other small battles meant that the frontlines were constantly changing. The majority of the war, fought by the majority of the soldiers was not even on the Western Front (though it was the key front) and was not stagnant.

    Edit: holy crap thats long. Sorry folks!

  33. JD says:

    Kieron,

    Ah ok, I understand what you mean :)

    For me, the in-game cinematics, the “stillframe phone calls” and the “loading screen dialogue” still made the overall story to be totally awesome, even though most missions fell on that part…

    Thanks for the reply!

  34. Torgen says:

    @Guy,
    we are arguing from different viewpoints. “Maneuver” and “attrition” are dependent on the scale you’re looking at. However, let’s not commandeer the comments section. BTW, my job is historical research. ;)

    EDIT: and I will heartily disagree with your assessment of French morale in the ranks in 1940, having read many personal accounts

  35. BlazerKnight says:

    Err, I don’t want to be THAT guy, but just a small note… the brand name Squaresoft has been defunct for 6 years, ever since merging with Enix to become Square-Enix.

  36. Serondal says:

    Another point, this isn’t SquareEnix’s first RTS< they’re already agreed to publish Supcom 2