Launching in February 2012, The Wargame series is one you might not have heard of or thought of buying, even if you are a big fan of RTS (real time strategy) games. Beginning with Wargame: European Escalation by Eugen Systems, it introduced us to an alternative history setting of the Cold War, focused during 1975-85, where things got a little hot in Europe.
Rather than the traditional base building of military RTS games, Wargame: EE gives players a deck building system. Playing campaign and multiplayer will earn you “command stars” that you can spend on unlocking units in the armory, which you can then use to build your deck which that you will be used for multiplayer. Deck building has changed significantly in the current iteration so we won’t go into too much detail. In-game players can call out the units in the deck at certain points on the map. These reinforcement zones are hotly contested and an important asset to defend.
The single player campaigns of Wargame have always been well written and flow nicely. The alternate history backgrounds to each campaign gives nice insight into the Cold War, starting off as West Germany clashes with its Eastern neighbour, right up to all out warfare in Europe. Different campaigns allow you to play as different factions, which gives a nice look at units before we go splashing those command stars on deck building for multiplayer. With over 360 units in Wargame: EE alone, knowing what style of deck you want is important!
Fast forward to 2013 and we get our hands on AirLand Battle. This time we’re introduced to the beautiful landscapes of Scandinavia, and even more beautiful for us military nerds, planes! The deck system has changed and does away with spending command points to unlock units. Now, you’re players are free to pick what they want, from a generic decks, to specialised decks that can be more focused on armor or infantry. For example, if we a player chooses the ‘Armor’ thematic, players they can choose to have more tanks in their deck, so these tanks will now be better trained. However, it comes with a tradeoff, so the player we will lose numbers of say, support units (mortar carriers and Anti-Tank units for example).
Aside from the introduction of planes to the game, the biggest difference is the improvements made to the game engine. The IRISZOOM engine has the ability to handle even larger, more detailed maps. Topography is now a bigger factor in macro-managing your units. Though your best tanks could fire up to 2200 meters away, if they’re placed on the wrong end of a slope, you can’t engage the enemy. It also allows you to nicely hide your units to launch an attack, so long as the enemy hasn’t seen you with a recon unit. From being zoomed all the way out overlooking the whole map, to flawlessly going down to a close up of a single unit in a single swoop with barely a stutter, it’s a near perfect engine for such a game.
Our final destination on our tour of duty is the most recent iteration of the series, Wargame: Red Dragon. The setting has now shifted from Europe to Asia, and we’re now given the chance to command armies from the region. Set against the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Union circa 1990, the Wargame: RD arsenal has been increased to a staggering 1600+ units, with factions such as China, North and South Korea, and ANZAC forces. Like the games before it, each faction has its own unique traits, advantages, disadvantages, unique units, etc. The engine has been improved once more, now allowing for naval maneuvers and landings. Though larger capital ships don’t appear, there’s a large variety of options for ships, from gunboats right up to the mighty Sovremenny class destroyer. Like the reinforcement zones you need to capture on land, there’s now naval zones on some maps where you can call out more ships, or even landing craft, allowing you to stage a naval landing on your enemies flank. Some lighter vehicles are also capable of swimming across rivers, meaning those bridgeheads that were always bogged down before can now be hit from another side (that is, if you can pull it off). Navy on Navy maps do exist, though these are lesser seen on multiplayer, which is the main focus of the game. It’s a shame this feature hasn’t taken off the way it could have, but it is a welcome addition none the less, and it is nice to have the option.
I previously reviewed Arma 3 for Dawnbreaker Gaming, and in it I mentioned that for new players, Wargame: Red Dragon has a steeper than average learning curve that needs to be overcome. But once you do, it will be a very rewarding game. Duping your opponent by using smoke shells to make him think you are launching an attack, only to then hit his flanks, or launching a massive rocket artillery strike to stun enemy units before driving tanks right into the middle of them. These are moments that never get old. After holding against a mass of tanks and infantry for well over an hour before turning the tide and winning, the feeling afterwards is one I rarely experience.
Maybe I have a fetish for such games, and this is another one of them, but that’s a topic for another day.
The developers have put a staggering amount of detail into each and every unit, and although some do share similar traits with their immediate counterparts, there are still some subtle differences. It requires you to carefully think and tinker with your deck. Play as France and your tanks are fast and accurate, but lesser armored against the likes of Russian tanks. Play as North Korea and your tanks are cheap and plentiful, but outgunned against the the slow moving and heavily armored tanks of the British army.
Wargame goes for a more authentic approach to the difference in units compared to previous iterations in the series. If we take everyones favorite tanks as our example, we see that they have a front, side, back, and top armor value (in that order of toughest to weakest). Naturally, the cheaper the tank, the lower its armor. However, as mentioned before, some tanks have better armor than others to represent the real world differences. Guns also have a similar trait, in that the better the tank, the longer the range. It naturally allows you to balance against spam attacks by cutting down numbers before they can engage you. It’s a unique “feature” of the series where it’s more on the players themselves to balance the game using their head and tactics suiting each country to reap the rewards.That said, the best plans and units are useless without a good line of supplies. Each unit has a certain amount of strength, ammo and fuel (bar the latter for infantry of course, strength is changed to numbers.) Like units themselves, you only have a certain amount of supplies, either via supply vehicles or a F.O.B (Forward Operating Base). But if you are sneaky, it’s possible to capture enemy supplies and use them for your own troops. Or, you could simply destroy them.
Thankfully it’s possible to do skirmishes against the AI, allowing you to play around with different nations and decks, and get used to the controls and gameplay before jumping into the lions den that is multiplayer.
The in-game sounds aren’t too shabby either. Each weapon has a very distinctive sound. Tank and artillery cannons are nice and beefy, machine guns crack, and vehicle explosions in urban combat sound add to the mayhem. Each unit has unique dialogue between them when selected and each uses their national tongue, which adds another layer to the game. You might not know what the Czechoslovakian pilot of a Hind is saying, but when he flies off humming Ride of the Valkyries, you know he means business. The soundtrack is well composed, if only a little too short per each track, meaning you may hear the same tunes repeated a few times during a round. Personally, I selected an option to include all the tracks from previous games to decrease the repetitiveness. However, they suit the game quite well, and serve as excellent background noise, so it won’t annoy you too much.
One downside to Red Dragon is the lack of a good tutorial mode which can add to the frustration of new players. Though the game does come with nicely segregated written tutorials, it would be nice to have a more in depth, live in-game tutorial mode.
The development of the series, for now, is on hold. Developers Eugen are currently working on a new IP called Act of Aggression. It is not known at the time of writing when this is due for release, but from what has been seen, it’s a different beast to Wargame. Wargame: RD is well worth picking up, even more so if it goes on sale. I’ve noticed it on sale for 75% off quite regularly at E9.99 which is a steal if you’re a RTS fan.
Wargame: Red Dragon is a solid title, and a solid series for any big RTS fan. If, like me, you love knowing the differences between a T-72A and T-72BU, you’ll love the detail that goes into the units of Red Dragon even more. One suggestion, it pays to have a buddy or two to play with, even just for fighting against the AI. Knowing what the other guys on your team are up is a big factor between success and failure.
With a large variety of maps, several game modes, and a vast amount of options to change in multiplayer, from a time limit to having NATO versus NATO, or even 10v10 online (or 4 against 1 if you’re feeling lucky). Whether you want a quick 20 minute game, or a full on no time limit slog, Wargame: RD has something for every RTS fan.