Wot I Think: Men Of War: Assault Squad 2

By Jim Rossignol on May 15th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Okay! It’s a sequel called Men Of War: Assault Squad 2, which is a name that will tell you the exact game it is based upon, if you think hard enough. What this means is that we have a new batch of multiplayer-facing missions (although some playable single player) in the fabulously vivid and brutal Men Of War engine. And the Men Of War setting. It’s World War II again, and let’s not forget that important thematic element. Men Of War has not changed. Perhaps it cannot change.

And so did Ass Squad need a sequel? And can I safely use that abbreviation in this introduction. Here’s Wot I Think.

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

It’s important for us to begin any discussion of a Men Of War game with a preface in what it is, and by implication, what it is not. Men Of War is a real-time strategy game (if we allow that word to basically mean “tactics”, because Men Of War is a game of combat, rather of resource management) expressed in an engine that does more than any other game I can think of. I conjure this hyperbole not to attempt to diminish the likes of the Total Annihilation lineage, because they certainly do a great deal, but to point out that the Men Of War games allow you to individually control every unit, as if it were a third person shooter. As you will discover as you play, everything in the world is a dynamic physics model, with universally destructible scenery throughout. Most breathtaking of all, though, every single unit, including every individual infantryman, has its own inventory which can be sorted, selected, scavenged.

What I am saying is that Men Of War is not like other real-time strategy games, even though it seems to share the same genes. It’s a nature versus nature debate, only the child raised is a child of simulated 20th century battlefield dynamics and not carefully poised build-tree events. This is where Assault Squad 2 gets its power: from a series of games that do too much and look like they should collapse under their own weight, and yet do not. Assault Squad 2 consolidates that power in a game which while ostensibly multiplayer, still offers plenty of engaging hours for the solo player.

Men Of War is not a perfect game series, but it has more strength and character than a thousand AAA releases. It is a wonderful ogre, and Ass Squad 2 continues that legacy.

WHAT IS CONTAINED IN THIS NEW GAME

The reason the solo player is moderately well catered for is that the game has a huge stack of scripted skirmish missions, which can be played by you alone, or with friends. As far as I can tell, Assault Squad 2 incorporates everything from the previous game, too, making it quite the truckload of content. The new missions are as strong as anything in the previous games, and sensibly err on the side of huge battlefield brawls, with plenty of armour, although there is some less intense variety in the mix.

What’s significant about Assault Squad 2, however, is that it goes much further into the multiplayer landscape that the previous game had already conquered. This time you can play an 8v8 game mode, and while some people are still suffering technical difficulties (the series has always run fine for me) new CPU-exploiting optimisations mean that this should, in theory, be the best-running Men Of War game so far, even with these huge new player counts.

The most far-reaching change to how all this works, though, seems to be Assault Squad 2’s Steam integration. This will of course stress those loners who don’t want to see Valve’s distribution tendrils creeping any further into their games, but it’s for the best, I think. DigitalMindSoft have made a big deal out of making use of what Steamworks has to offer, and I do think – given the already extensive power of the game’s editor suite – that the Workshop could be a place to visit in a few months time.

IMPORTANT CRITICAL MIDDLE SECTION

The same issues that have dogged the Men Of War games are still here, of course. The AI can be unreliable, many of the systems are maddeningly fiddly, even as they enable the kind of depth that other games put a line through, crumple up into a ball and throw towards the waste paper basket. This is a game whose feature list is spilling over to the point of making a mess of the whole experience. Sometimes it does, but mostly you muddle on through.

The lack of much genuinely new material might be off-putting to casual MOWAS players, but since no such demographic exists, I can’t see this being an issue.

Perhaps a more important thing to note is that this is not another single player campaign, despite the superb and well scripted new skirmish missions being playable by the lonely.

VAGUE CONCLUSION OR BUYER’S GUIDE SUMMARY

This is more Men Of War: Assault Squad. I love Men, War, Assault Squads, and numbers, so I’m down with the existence of this game. If you haven’t played Men Of War before, then this is a rich and rewarding place to start. And you really should play something in this series if you have the faintest whiff of interest in RTS, because it is one of the great masterworks. To not play it is to waste your life. And you don’t want to have done that do? Can you really deal with that being a deathbed regret? Eh?

APPENDIX 1.0: REMAINDER MUSINGS

The current caretakers of Men Of War – DigitalMindsoft, who are not it’s originators, a company called Best Way – seem to be stuck in a loop. Stuck in a loop. For a moment it looked as if they might break out of their reworking of the WWII obscuro-classic and make a Men Of Modern War, but no. They’re apparently working on it, but… Stuck in a loop. It’s not that more Men Of War is unwelcome, or even that Assault Squad 2 isn’t an essential addition to my collection of real-time tiny men games (it is), it’s just that I’d like to see something else done with the template. World War II is a fine source material, but the fabulous battlefield simulation produced by this engine could do so much more.

I say all this not to judge the game, because we can do that only on its actual merits, but because I want to register my interest in purchasing Men Of War in space. Or in the 21st century. Or in a demon dimension where slave penitents make war with fractal grenades. Because all of those things would be okay. Okay?

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33 Comments »

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  1. Premium User Badge

    oWn4g3 says:

    “although there is some less intense variety in the mix”

    Does that mean there are some of the more Commando style missions back that made Soldiers: Heroes of WW2 my personal favorite of the series for playing cooperatively or is it just that some missions are rather boring?

    • Fumarole says:

      I liked the first game the most as well, likely due to the smaller size of the engagements.

      • Premium User Badge

        Carra says:

        I also loved the original game. Especially with around 4 units which you could still micromanage. Lay some mines and put a soldier there with a machine gun giving some covering fire. Add a sniper to that building and try to flank with your two remaining soldiers, using submachines, rifles and molotovs. Ah yeah, it was one of the best games I ever placed. Quite reveolutionary back in the day. And then… way too many sequels.

    • Smoof says:

      There are definitely some smaller scale missions. In particular, I can think of one (as the soviets), where I’m given a squad of 8-men and tasked with “stealthing” them around a base and taking out snipers in various spots. Eventually, you’ll be able to order fresh men, but those initial 8 that you get are all you’ll have for a little while.

      Using them to my best ability, I eventually ended-up capturing both a StuGG and a Tiger and using them against said snipers. Though at some point a lot of enemy armor rolled in and I ended-up finishing the mission with ONE man making a mad dash to the exit.

      I’m excited now that the game is finally out and will hopefully be able to put some more time into it now; but between the current missions in World of Warplanes I’m attempting to complete, Dark Souls 2 and soon, Wildstar, I’m not sure I’ll have time.

      • sith1144 says:

        out of genuine curiousity, why do you play world of warplanes? from what I understand of it its basically inferior to war thunder in every way

        • Smoof says:

          I enjoy the arcade gameplay, which is slightly more realistic and is more indepth than War Thunder’s arcade mode. I don’t care for the fact that in War Thunder, I can simply toss the nose of my plane around as though it’s nothing, as well as all the planes feel as though they fly the same when it comes to roll rates and so on. It just feels too arcady too me, no depth to it. The realistic battles are really cool, but I don’t care for the time it takes: 15 minutes for the queue and another 15 before I even see combat. Which leads me to another issue: I can be one shot fairly easily. WoWP has a hitpoint system, which many bemoan, but I feel like it leads to a more interesting game. The fact that in WT my pilot can be shot and that it, I’m done, I’ve just wasted half an hour is frustrating.

          I like WoWP because I can simply jump into a battle and be done in ten minutes; from the instant I hit the queue button to the moment the battle is over and then I can choose to play another or go do something else. As well, even though many of the mechanics are a bit contrived, I feel like they lead to a more interesting game. Energy management in WoWP is a real factor, which is also is in WT, but only in the realism mode. WoWP I feel, suites my schedule better and has interesting mechanics to delve into to boot.

          I may have a bit of bias, as I was an avid World of Tanks player (about 8000 battles), though I don’t really play anymore, so the shared benefits are moot. At any rate, I think WoWP is a really great game, but gets shit on a lot because of how it was in Closed/Open beta, which I admit, I hated. The controls were very bizarre and left a bad taste in my mouth; I was very much a WoWP hater until I decided I should give it another go, since it’d been about a year. After coming back to it, I found I really enjoyed the game. That said, I also like the way Wargaming structures a lot of their content.

          Hope that answers your question!

      • Premium User Badge

        oWn4g3 says:

        Thanks, having bought all the other titles I couldn’t resist getting this one as well. That one mission sounds like a good start and with the editor I hope for some nice mission to come in the future.

        • Smoof says:

          I haven’t tinkered with it much, but the Steam workshop has been open since Early Access, so there’s already a TON of content in there to check out.

  2. XhomeB says:

    I’m a huge fan of Soldiers: Heroes of WW2, but never played any of its sequels. What I loved about Soldiers was its design, fairly similar to what my beloved Commandos series offered – which one retained that “a small group against all odds” feel, which one had the best SP campaign?
    Faces of War, Men of War? Something else?

    • MartinWisse says:

      Wait, is that the same game as the 1997 SSI Soldiers at War?

    • Premium User Badge

      oWn4g3 says:

      I share your enthusiam for Soldiers:HoWW2 and have actually played most of the sequels in hope to get the same Commando style missions and play them cooperatively.

      Faces of War was bad in many aspects (slowmo machinegun bullets being one the weirdest ones) and I would not recommend it at all. It also had even more technical issues than other games of the series.
      Men of War was a huge step forward in terms of overall polish and engine, had some smaller scale missions but was mainly focused on bigger battles already.
      MoW:AS kind of replaced proper story based missons with skirmish push maps in which you have to advance, capture points and order new troops and some hold the position for x minutes missions. I was fun in coop but not in the same way as Soldiers was with the whole “Let’s plan our engage for 15 minutes and then kill ourselves with a failed grenade” style.
      MoW:AS2 seems to mostly focus on bigger missions and general multiplayer greatness which might be nice for many but I really miss the old missions designs. They are shipping it with a level editor though, so there is hope for the community to step in (and maybe recreate some oldschool Soldiers missions – one can still dream).

      • XhomeB says:

        Very helpful pieces of information, thank you.
        Looks like I didn’t miss out on much, sadly. I’ll give Men of War a try, seems to be the most solid title of them all.

        • Dr.Honeyslut says:

          I actually thought that Men of War: Red Tide had some great single player missions with small squads. One in particular where you had to defend a port against tides of nazis sticks in the mind. Some of the campaigns are a bit hit and miss though, particularly the early ones. But its definitely worth persevering with and in my opinion had the best single player missions in the series besides S:HoWW.

  3. The Army of None says:

    So… what you want is a Warhammer 40k tactical game using the Men Of War engine?

    Alright, now I want that too.

    • Destyvirago says:

      Oh yes, a Warhammer 40K version of Men of War is something I would put down money to see. Now that THQ has gone bust and Relic has been bought by SEGA there will be no more Dawn of War games. The only thing the current engine is missing that would be needed for a WH40K game is better melee combat, because in the 40th century nothing says “you die now!” as well as a chainsword to the face.

      Seeing how Games Workshop is currently throwing the license to to makes WH40K games out to pretty much every 2 bit developer that exist these days, they should try to give it to Digitalmindsoft, because if anybody can make a new WH40K franchise that can rival Dawn of War, they can.

      • Premium User Badge

        FhnuZoag says:

        Oh dammit, that *would* be awesome.

        Direct control on a Baneblade.
        Soloing an entire army with a single space marine wearing all the hats.
        Stealing a carnifex and driving it around.
        Horribly scripted voice acting. “Blood for the God of Blood!”

        Best Game Ever.

  4. Shadow says:

    I got a bunch of Men of War games from a Humble Bundle once, and only really tried Assault Squad. I’m all for complex strategy, but the game just felt very messy, sloppy and fiddly indeed. As if they had overstuffed the system with complexity far beyond what its too-fast pace can manage.

    Played for something like a couple of hours, and after some certainly brawly fighting, as opposed to anything resembling tactical combat, my guys ran out of ammo. I figured I had to get a supply truck to their position, and they’d take care of the rest automatically. But then I realized the game’s definition of “automatic” doesn’t extend past machineguns. I had to manually get clips and reload every weapon of every soldier as if it were some kind of intricate RPG. I groaned so loudly the game was terrified and uninstalled itself.

    Maybe I missed some critical bit of user-friendliness somewhere, which if true might possibly persuade me to give it another shot. But after reading this article, despite the praise and all, I’m less inclined to believe anything major slipped past me.

    • Premium User Badge

      wengart says:

      Hit backspace to change the game speed. This is super nice when you are new to the series and just getting used to how to not slugfest your way through the game.

      Getting men more ammo is frustrating. It is in my opinion the weakest part of the series. My advice here is to setup a few crew served weapons as your defensive line and maybe some spare men. Then play kinda aggressively with everyone else. A dead soldier doesn’t need more ammo.

    • Moisn says:

      If I remember right if you hold Ctrl and double click on a stack of ammo either in a truck or soldiers inventory it takes as much ammo of that type it can, then distributes it across the squad with that weapon until their inventories are full. Then it places as much as it can in people who don’t have that weapon until their inventories are full.

      Its really easy to resupply units its just that you were probably doing it individually or dragging. If I have an ammo truck and a squad with no ammo it takes less than 5 sec to rearm, resupply, and heal all the men in that squad. Just remember the current squad leader (guy circled in yellow) is the one that will try to run and get the supplies.

    • Newt says:

      What Moisn said; the game has a steep learning curve and most of that is memorising shortcuts, keyboard or otherwise, to increase the speed at which you can move everything. There’s no need to reload individually, just find the shortcut.

      And while being able to do things at that level may throw you off, that’s only because you’ve never looted the ammo out of a damaged tank to put in your anti-tank gun, or liberated the ammunition off of a bunch of soldiers you ambushed.

    • Zarathruster says:

      In a game where you can do so much, you need a good interface to handle those very detailed interactions. It’s a small tragedy then, that this game fails so spectacularly with its interface. I tried so hard to love you, Men of War, but you need help. I’m not coming back until you’ve sorted out your issues.

  5. CookPassBabtridge says:

    One sentence TL:DR version of review for avid fans of the series:

    “Gauyz, thees ez gud”

  6. sinister agent says:

    There was a war and now there are men of it. Two.

  7. A-Scale says:

    How very odd. I just got on a RTS nostalgia kick today, started listening to the Three Moves Ahead podcast about the State of The RTS from last year, then looked up some Reddit threads, saw MOW:AS2 mentioned, saw that it should have released several months ago, got depressed, then saw that it released TODAY! What are the odds of that?

    Thanks for covering this.

  8. sinister agent says:

    Pretty much the tiebreaker question for me: Do units (but most of all, infantry) now automatically pick up ammunition if they’re low or nearby guns if they’re unarmed? Because if not, sorry, I don’t think I can face individually re-arming 400 soldiers again.

    • OJ287 says:

      I couldn’t agree more. It’s a really fun game let down by petty frustrations like these.

      • sinister agent says:

        I still love them, and I think it’s a naturally exhausting series, in an oddly satisfying way. But stuff like this means too many missions get bogged down and come down to micromanaging the logistics of the remaining six or seven soldiers, because if you don’t you’ll literally have no way to fight.

    • Graerth says:

      Nope, iirc they do distribute ammo automatically inside group though so you only need to pick the ammo for one guy, but they don’t automatically scavenge or pick up stuff still.

      Just in case this was one trouble: (the “most of all, infantry” prompts this) If you got an ammo truck and tank you can just inspect the truck with tank and pick up move ammo between inventories.

      I’ve seen some people try move artillery ammo few at a time with an infantry man working as a man in the middle..

  9. SuicideKing says:

    it’s just that I’d like to see something else done with the template. World War II is a fine source material, but the fabulous battlefield simulation produced by this engine could do so much more.

    WELL PLAY SOME WARGAME THEN. Like, you know, Red Dragon.

  10. MichaelGC says:

    I enjoyed the sub-headings.

  11. oz26mgs says:

    Your final paragraph, I was thinking the exact same thing with the whole you guys should make something fantasy or sci fi with the engine. because everyone would beyond appreciate an engine like this in a radically different setting. Imagine a fantasy rpg where you could wizard the corner of a merchant store to smithereens with a kamehameha style ball of flame, go inside to shop for what didnt vaporize, get kicked out and possibly more from the merchant owner, then either get a bill from the city messenger, or community service to rebuild what i destroyed with other wizardry, or face the town watch for giving the other two options the finger, and flatten the town on the way out` for looking at me the wrong way.
    Oh man, the things i would do if i was an ace programmer. people’d be like, you are the greatest for making this game, and i will buy anythnig you touch from now on.
    ok theres my dream, anyone else thinking on similar terms?