A shell ricochets off a tank hull, exploding in mid-air and killing an entire infantry squad. A sniper round finds purchase on a commander's helmet, but leaves his head intact. I've had a soft-spot for Digitalmindsoft's long-running WW2 Men of War series for some time; Chaotic, anarchic things, they're more like simulationist tabletop strategy games, played out in realtime. While it bears a different name, the modern-themed Call to Arms may as well be a direct sequel, and has been lurking around Steam Early Access for some time now. Today, it officially launched.
Rather confusingly, Digitalmindsoft have opted to go the way of Ubisoft and create several tiers of Call to Arms ownership. At the Free level, the game is free-to-play, but only offers access to multiplayer and skirmish modes as the US and GRM factions, with some units requiring time and effort to unlock. The Basic Edition of the game includes full single-player with a 10-mission campaign, as well as unlocking all US and GRM units from the start. The Basic edition will also provide access to the planned Allied, German & Russian armies as they're released.
Now this is where it gets messy: The Deluxe pack at present contains nothing but some minor cosmetic/booster-type perks over the basic edition, but in future will provide instant unlocks for all Allied units, plus an Allied campaign. Lastly, the Ultimate/Season Pass edition of the game will add German and Russian campaigns plus unit unlocks for them as they're released, and early beta access to new factions during development. It is such a mess that they produced a big chart trying to explain it. It doesn't help much. On top of that, the game has loot crates, keys and all, although these seem primarily geared towards providing cosmetic fripperies for your account.
A lot of the promotional screenshots for Call to Arms look like they could have been taken from a tactical shooter from just a couple years back. It's a reflection of the most interesting feature of the game: Direct unit control, far in excess of anything the series has previously offered. Earlier games allowed you to control units directly from an overhead perspective, pointing directly to targets as needed, but Call to Arms allows you to play it as a (slightly wonky, admittedly) first-person shooter if so desired, popping headshots down rifle sights. It adds an interesting new angle to gameplay, especially in multiplayer, and it does prevent you yelling at the screen as your little soldier-men fail to land a single bullet on a lone enemy in plain sight.
Rob Zacny took a peek at the early access version of the game two years ago, and was a little disappointed just how much like Men of War it felt. Honestly, it's still pretty much the same game at heart, only more polished and fleshed out now. Still, there are some weird omissions - I didn't hear any voice-acting in the campaign missions I've tried so far. While acting has been present in previous DMS strategy games, it has also been amusingly rubbish, so perhaps it's for the best that it remains subtitles-only, but it does give the game a slightly cheap, mechanical feel.
One thing that may end up a key selling point for the game long-term is the modding community. Digitalmindsoft's previous games have had very active mod scenes, and the engine for Call to Arms is significantly more robust than previous iterations. There are already some impressive projects in the works, including total conversions based on Halo and STALKER. Some folks are even trying to port over the content from earlier Men of War games into this new engine. Mod support is for Basic edition owners and above, sadly.
Call to Arms is out now on Steam, and free if you just want to casually dip into multiplayer, but the Basic edition will cost you £20.69/$26, the Deluxe edition will bring that up to £27/$36, and the Ultimate edition costs a pretty penny at £40.49/$54.