Review

WarGame: AirLand Battle Review (PC)

To be honest, not a hell of a lot has changed with Wargame: Airland Battle since our extensive hands-on session over a month ago. There has been a few tweaks and balance updates, bugs squashed here and there, and the various systems the game offers have been tied together more fully. By and large though, the game still plays the same – very well, a lot like European Escalation, naturally, but the changes have a real and significant impact – and it still has the same problems we highlighted at the preview stage.

Jets, while a game-changer, are a little over-powered at the moment (and some nation’s AA severely under-powered), and they render helicopters pretty obsolete, except that there are helicopters still in the game, and typically the jet AA isn’t as good against helicopters so you have to bring in some helicopter AA... in my opinion, it’s one element of micro-management too far, but that’s just me. Infantry, even though they’ve gone through some excellent changes and are made more relevant, could also be able to give as good as they get a bit more, I feel. Again, that’s a personal thing though.

It's a shame the game can’t represent the ‘human’ element when it comes to fighting over cities and towns

On the bright side, you don’t have to unlock units using command stars anymore, but the game does really favour national and doctrine focused decks, yet the choice with said decks isn’t great at the moment. On the gameplay side of things though, everything is as good as it could be – the new engine makes the game look gorgeous, and the ability to render vertically now just brings the environments alive. The maps are also really diverse and interesting now, with a lot of tactical challenges and opportunities.

To break this down even further, here’s what you can expect from the game if you buy it: Five Tutorial missions, four campaign set-ups and a skirmish mode on the Solo side. On the online side, you can play any of the four campaign set-ups online against another person, so competitive 1vs1. You can also play the regular matches, and the special, absolutely crazy 10 vs. 10 mode, if your internet can handle it. There are three game modes, around 12 maps, and you can have Nato vs PACT or PACT vs PACT (or NATO vs NATO) confrontations. There’s also the deck creation interface. You don’t have to sign-in to your user account to play solo, but you do have to sign-in and be online for multiplayer, obviously.

The campaign map – very pretty, very dynamic... reminds me a lot of Close Combat

The thing you’ve probably all been waiting to hear about though (assuming you haven’t played the game already), is the dynamic campaign mode. In a word – it’s pretty good, but the most exciting thing about it has to be its potential. At the moment, the campaign is centred on the Scandinavian peninsular, and even then it’s not all there. Even so, there are plenty of individual zones for players to fight the opposing AI over, stretching from Denmark and Copenhagen, all the way up to the northern most reaches of Sweden and Norway, stopping just before the land starts bending round to join up with Finland and Russia. Looking at the UI, it’s clear that it wouldn’t be that hard for the team to add-in/focus the campaign map on other areas of Europe, either.

The campaign is turn-based, and there are four variations, each providing a different set-up. Two campaigns have you playing as NATO, and two as the PACT, and each one focuses on a different area of Scandinavia, with differing objectives, with the hardest one acting like a ‘Grand’ Campaign that lets you fight over the whole space. Every turn, you get a certain amount of ‘political points’ that is generated by the territories you own, as well as randomised special events. These points can either be spent on mobilising additional armies (which all have pre-set unit composition), or by using various ‘Strike’ actions that may be available to you – Naval or Air Bombardments, Commando Raids... you also have a handful of free actions, like Recon and Air Cover, that can get replenished through special events. The events system really is a nice touch, as it adds in outside factors to what is essentially a very specific scenario and it keeps things interesting.

The deck creation system has been made more interactive, with clearer and easier to digest information on units (they hope)

If we had any criticism to levy about the campaign mode specifically at this point, it’s that the system doesn’t really handle the presence of multiple armies that well. At the moment, armies have to fight each other on a 1-to-1 basis, however if you start piling in multiple armies (for example, I had three armies defending Copenhagen against a singular attacking PACT army), you then have to fight a series of battles in the same place, with each army fighting each other. This can get repetitive even within a single turn, but if you’re unable to attain victory (and it gets harder the longer a fight drags on), imagine having to fight the same series of battles every turn. There also needs to be a bit more balancing over the points and what you can spend them on – most of the ‘decent armies require a large point spend to mobilise, which can take several turns to save up for. Also, it’s not immediately obvious, but your progress through a campaign is saved – every turn the game is auto-saved, and if you go into the Solo > Campaign menu, you’ll see a button for saved games, and they’ll be there. We got caught out at first, as we couldn’t see any obvious way to save your progress if you didn’t want to do the campaign all in one go, but don’t worry, it’s there.

Wargame: AirLand Battle’s biggest challenge though would be the justification of a brand-new title so soon after the last one’s release. To be fair to Eugene, they’ve supported European Escalation fantastically over the past year, and there’s no reason to doubt they’ll do the same for AirLand Battle – in both cases, I think gamers will have gotten their money’s worth, but we can see how having to fork out so soon for another game could be a stick in somebody’s throat – this isn’t Call of Duty, after all. It’s a shame that Focus haven’t done more to ease people wanting to jump in to AirLand Battle who’ve bought the original game, but in all honesty this is worth the money, even if Focus don’t follow the same DLC plan they did before. Wargame: AirLand Battle is out now for PC.

Top Game Moment: Infantry now have a lot more use, and you can have some pretty epic standoffs with garrisoned infantry.

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Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 10, 2013
herodotus
Thanks for the review Joe.
I have played "W: EE" recently to get back up to speed, yet still found the campaign in it dreadfully complicated (that is, far more so than it should be) and inherently boring. So much time is spent zoomed-out, that the maps themselves become more iconic than detailed presentations (a left-over from "RUSE" probably). I never played MP, as I am just not that good. Simple as that.
A friend of mine went ahead and pre-ordered this one, while I was still feeling burnt by the previous title's launch state (no skirmish -WTH!). I have since had the opportunity to play the tutorials for this one, and immediately noted many differences (though if this carries over into the dynamic campaign or not is yet to be seen), but aside from the new visuals, which I do like one thing stood out. This was the lack of my units rushing haphazardly into shrubbery and hedges, throwing tracks left, right and centre and constantly getting bogged. Where did these idiots get their training? Fort Courage?
As I say I do not know if this better training is simply restricted to the tutorials, whcih would make sense, but it got tiresomely annoying in "W:EE". As my mate is so caught up in playing online I doubt I will get the chance to play much more until the price drops and I can pick it up for myself.
One thing I did not like, and thought it pretty poor on Eugen's part. While the sound effects appear to enhanced and audibly suit the situation, the same alarm warning and particularly the same music as "W:EE" is pretty slack. Once more, the music themes might be different in the Campaign, which is what I am interested in, but will probably be the same in skirmish. Pretty poor effort guys.
I do like the cleaner interface, and the simplistic orders menu to the right (only a slimmed version of "W:EE" but much easier to use on the fly), and I have found, even in the tutorials that I spend more time zoomed-in than I did in the previous title which is very welcome indeed. The maps themselves too are far more intersting, with wharves, mountainous terrain and grasses that cover more than basic green and yellow fields.
As I said, I like the new visuals, while I do know others are not so wrapped and see them as too 'blurry' or 'fuzzy', but I'm afraid the unit detail and damage effects still cannot rival "Achtung Panzer: Operation Star", particularly the new the DLC "Shield of the Prophet" which is based in the same time frame. The again, even the daunting "Theatre of War" series could not match it.

Ultimately, though, the bottom line for me is - does it rival "World in Conflict"? Rival it? Yes. Better than it....getting there. For very large scale conflicts, it definitely blows "WiC" aside, however. While it rivals "WiC", at least for me, it does not surpass it from what I've seen, and what I've already played in the previous title. Still, it's the only game of it's kind at present, and I cannot wait to pick up the game when the price drops, as it will. No doubt by then, the Campaign will have been tweaked more, and even added to I hope (as you point out, there are many blank areas). I'd love a Germany and Poland DLC pack, even if they were seperate. That would fulfil the NATO/ Warsaw Pact scenario completly.

P.S. I do hope they tweak the AAA, as I agree. It is micro-management gone too far. A Tunguska should threaten everything in sight, from the ground up.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 10, 2013
herodotus
PPS. "Fort Courage". Think "F Troop".
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 11, 2013
herodotus
Yeah, but I get trashed every time. Last time I won an RTS MP match was with my Necron Army in "DoW". Then they started base-raping me with Assault Marines so I gave up.
Did alright in "WiC" though, so I could stand my ground here. I will give it a go, when I get it, but it's hard taking on guys that live and breathe for competitive MP. I'm afraid I can't take gaming that seriously. Just ask anyone who's had me as a gunner on their Gotha or HP-O100 on a night bombing run in "Rise of Flight".
Bored now...think I'll shoot bits off my own aircraft...hehe:)
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 12, 2013
herodotus
You've reminded me there Chosen...I did hold my own in "BF3", particularly with a tank or AAA wrapped around me. Never too old, but the reflexes do get slower believe me.
I did own in "Bad Company 2" there for a while as well. Became a team leader many times over. RTS is a different beast though, and aside from "WiC" and a bit of "CoH" MP (and of course "DoW") it's been more frustrating than fun. "Dow II" just annoyed me with the dickhead elitists barking orders and then bellowing because you didn't follow them (and giving you a negative comment on Windows Live profile which really helped things...not).
By Kres (SI Elite) on Jun 16, 2013
Kres
Chosen you not doing FAF any more??
By Kres (SI Elite) on Jun 17, 2013
Kres
Aha, aight. Seems like a good plan. Let me know when ready so I can be your scout :D