RPS chum Joe Robinson talked to Eugen Systems about their new RTS, Wargame: Airland Battle, and he reports back to us on the new dynamic single player campaign, and the revamped multiplayer that should make this game of war shine most phosphorescently.
A stand-alone expansion as opposed to a sequel, Wargame: AirLand Battle (named after an old US Army doctrine during the Cold War) exists solely because the studio reached a point where they couldn’t simply ‘patch’ what they wanted to do into European Escalation. Now, though, it's looking like one of the most important RTS releases of 2013. Read on for the details.
From a gamer's standpoint it’s somewhat annoying to see what could just have been an expansion spun off into a standalone thing, and could easily be thought of as money grubbing, but if you stop to look at what they are offering you with Airland Battle, I think you should find plenty of reasons why it’s still worth your money. Let's start with:
Top Gun? Top Fun, More Like
One of the main driving forces behind AirLand Battle was the studios desire to include jet-engine aircraft. There’s going to be around 150 (!) basic models (we don’t think that includes the variants) in total, spread across the 12 factions. That averages at around 12½ jets per faction – although fractional aircraft won't be making an appearance, and instead whole aircraft will be distributed between the various sides. The UK, for example, only has three (with three variants each, for a total of 9).
Jetplanes work just like any normal land unit in the fact that you ‘summon’ them to the battlefield like everything else, except they have their own special GUI, and they actually fly in from ‘off-map’ using special air corridors that you have to control (like the land corridors). The time it takes for them to appear depends on the specs of jet itself, but once on the battlefield they can be controlled and used just like any other unit.
Once they run out of ammo, fuel or are damaged however, they need to fly back off map in order to rearm themselves. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to spend points to summon them again, you just need to wait until they make their way back.
Flying Solo. (That's A Euphemism For Something.)
One of the biggest criticisms levelled at European Escalation was the feeble single-player campaign. It was boring, had odd difficulty spikes, and really was there just to get you more command stars to use in forming your Skirmish/Multiplayer decks. And as great as Wargame is as a multiplayer game, many wargamers simply want to play a solo campaign against a fun AI.
The overhaul of the single player game, then, was one of the first things Eugen addressed when it came to the new game after the Jets. AirLand Battle’s solo campaign revolves around a fictional scenario where the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet Union and chums) invades Norway to gain control of the North Sea.
This is not, however, a series of single missions strung together by a plot like the last game though, Eugene are going to fully represent the strategic scale of this conflict, with a campaign map, controls zones, different (and historically accurate) army deployments and compositions, and the ‘simulator’ will also throw in randomised external factors such as political changes, weather and god knows what else. You can choose to play competitively or co-operatively as either NATO or the Warsaw pact in this campaign, and the devs reckon it could last around thirty hours. Impressive stuff.
Flying High. (That Isn't.)
This might not seem particularly relevant to our previewing reconaissance, but it's actually the backbone of why this is a stand-alone product: it's a new engine. I thought European Escalation looked good, but man, this it looks hoop-jumping fantastic. The new version of their IRISZOOM engine not only renders everything in a lot more detail, but it also allows them to create maps that have actual mountains. No more battles on a plain: topography is here, and it wants its revenge.
Actually, it’s not something that I really thought of when playing Escalation originally - although it did annoy some people - but you look at it now and all the maps are, well, as flat as a cricket pitch. Now, though, we'll have verticality to contend with, plus it looks top pretty. Everyone loves a mountain. Not only will these peaks be crucial in air-to-air, air-to-ground, and ground-to-air engagements, but it also means more interesting level design, and land units can even traverse mountains as well to a certain point.
More: the engine can also generate physically bigger maps as well, with the team testing maps of up to 576 km squared (over the 144km square of EE) – Eugene aren’t sure as to whether or not they’ll go that big however… they’re still testing all that stuff out. Either way, damn.
National Pride. (This subtitle refers to there being new nations in there.)
So yes. Some of what will matter to the fans of historical war will be the stuff that's in there. The what and the why: Wargame is shipping with around 750 military units – around 350 of those were from the original game, and 150 are going towards the new jets, which leaves 250 new land units for players to play around with. All of them are hauled up directly from the depths of 20th century history, and should be as accurately rendered as the game can manage.
A lot of the new bits are going towards making sure the four new factions – Denmark, Canada, Norway & Sweden – get complete rosters, but a load are also going towards beefing out the existing national rosters to allow you to form more specialised and focused decks. If you want to go all-infantry with your deck, the system is now flexible enough so that you can, and if you wanted to go for a UK-only ‘national’ deck, you’re also now able to do that without having too many weaknesses – plus you get deployment bonuses if you decide to field a national deck. They are even throwing in the US Marines, for those that were missing them. And let's face it, we've all missed marines at some point in our lives.
All of the new factions are NATO, though, apart from Sweden which is technically ‘neutral’ (with NATO leanings)… apparently there are no new Warsaw factions because, well, the rest are boring/irreverent, and the fact that Russia has plenty more unit types to bring to the table anyway. Not sure that sounds quite right - there's always ekranoplans and battle hovercraft - but they're the experts.
And there's more! Enough for a list of bullet points:
After these key aspects, things basically become a list of tweaks and features that are mainly a response to fan feedback. Some of these include:
- 10 vs. 10 multiplayer matches – It’s been confirmed - You will be able to have twenty-man matches. In what form or context though has yet to be determined.
- Broadcasting – Eugen will develop a system that will allow people to broadcast their matches, allowing people to jump in as observers to study other peoples tactics and tricks. Might be useful for the eSports scene as well.
- Urban Warfare – The team have tweaked urban warfare, both in how towns, cities (villages, suburbs) etc... Are physically built on the map, but also how the Player/AI interact with them. Buildings are grouped into ‘districts’ and infantry units smartly deploy to cover all angles of a district, saving you having to micro-manage them by moving them around between individual buildings.
- Logistics – Logistical units have been given a tweak, allowing you to choose what the re-supply, whether it be only ammo, or only fuel, or only repairs, or a combination of both
- Maps - There will be over 30 new maps, mainly based on Scandinavian topography, although no new game modes at present. A new mode is due to hit European Escalation in the upcoming new DLC.
In conclusions: Yes. If you weren’t sold on Wargame before, then you should be now – hell, I’m definitely excited, and that doesn't happen too regularly. Or does it? You decide.
Wargame: AirLand Battle is tentatively due sometime in March 2013.