Review

WarGame: European Escalation Review (PC)

Well, we will say one thing: Wargame: European Escalation doesn’t really have the most original title we’ve ever seen in a strategy game. Thankfully, the lack of imagination ends there as it proves to be a surprisingly good time sink, and is all round a more refreshing experience. For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet – Wargame presents a ‘what if’ Cold War scenario where, essentially, World War Three breaks out in Germany. Not something that’s always covered, as the Cold War seems even less favoured than World War II at the moment, but it does fit in quite nicely with the whole set up.
 

Airborne assaults are very cool, but only if they work. Otherwise you it's just fail...
Wargame is mainly a multiplayer focused title, with a fully integrated and comprehensive online system, although there’s an offline mode as well that serves as training, as well as helping you get a head start for online. The single-player has a loose narrative that’s based on the game scenario, and involves several groups worth of connected missions – each taking the perspective of different army units from both sides of the conflict. The ‘story’ is very light though, as thankfully Eugen has shied away from the cheesy CGI character cut scene of R.U.S.E. and stuck what matters – the fighting. Each army you control for each ‘chapter’ is persistent, with you unlocked new units as you go along (which feeds in multiplayer), and any losses or promotions your units gain along the way sticking.

They’ve also done away with the base-building that the previous game had too – something that I personally welcome although I know there are many gamers out there who prefer those kinds of games. Swings and Roundabouts I guess, but we like it because it makes the game cleaner, leaving you to focus purely on the strategy of beating your opponents. That’s not to say there’s no resource management at all – much like Company of Heroes there are ‘control zones’ on the map that will net you command points. The more you own the more that trickle through to you allowing you to requisition more units. Some control zones also act as spawn locations, allowing you to get troops to the battle areas quicker. In order to control a zone, you need to put a command unit in it – a weak and costly unit, which means that you have to choose carefully which zones you want.

You also need to keep your units supplied with ammunition, fuel, and repairs, which means logistics. Each players starts the game with one firebase, with the option to summon in more if possible. You can then summon in supply trucks or helicopters to transport this resource across the map with your troops, so that they get refuelled and resupplied. The supply units themselves can only carry so much however, so they’ll need to go back to the FOB to restock themselves, and when the FOB runs out that’s pretty much it (unless you keep summoning in individual supply units, which come fully stocked).
 
You can look down from on high, or zoom right into the action
Anyway, we’re getting a little off track. You can tell this game is the successor to R.U.S.E. – the engine is still top notch, and you can zoom even closer into the action (which is a definite improvement), and the maps are nice and huge and lush, populated with towns, forests, rivers, roads… forests and hedges can be used as ‘cover’ for defensive purposes, and also to hide units from sight at long range. Where R.U.S.E. was about intelligence and fooling your enemies through power, Wargame is about intelligence and fooling your enemies through scouting ahead with recon units, and simply doing something your opponent wouldn’t expect. Whilst there’s something to be said for off-map abilities or special powers like the ruses,

Of course, the main element of Wargame is your army. Now, as we said before it’s not like Company of Heroes or any other base-building type strategy-game, but neither is it quite Men of War where you can summon in any unit you want provided you have enough points. This game uses a deck base system, with ‘decks’ split up into several categories, and you get to decide what units fill in a limited number of slots. The range of units available for choice is very diverse as well, with four nations for each of the two factions pitching in. Do you want to go for a combo of English and American Airborne infantry? Or would you rather use up the slots using (west) German or French mechanised units instead. Do you want to use Russian or (East) German tanks? The choice of how to outfit your armies forms another layer of strategy, and it’s always interesting to see how other people specialise.

Sadly, you can’t have access to everything at once – Wargame does use a progression system. The way you slowly unlock more advanced and varied units is through command ‘stars’, which you earn when you either go up a rank in multiplayer (you gain XP and levels when you fight matches), or as we also mentioned before, when you complete objectives in the offline campaign. The campaign only lets you unlock a small selection of units as you go along within the campaign, but you could easily take the stars you earn to the ‘main’ armoury and just spend them as you please. Remember to unlock units for both PACT and NATO however, as you’ll often end up playing both sides.
 
What will your army look like? The choice, is up to you... just no artillery spamming, please

Some people liked R.U.S.E., some people didn’t. I don’t mind admitting I was probably a little harsh on it when its turn came. Wargame: European Escalation however is definitely a better game – Eugen has taken everything they’ve learned and made a better, more engaging product that’s more focused on the strategy. Looking forward we wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of abilities worked back into the game, whether off-map or unit based (Engineers, for example, don’t really do anything engineering). Regardless of the future though, this game is worth getting now, pure and simple.


Top Game Moment: Seeing a strategy come together and completely confounding your opponent. A successful airborne infantry assault is also pretty satisfying.

Videos

Comments

By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Feb 29, 2012
SirRoderick
I liked RUSE, so I might give this puppy a spin as well.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Feb 29, 2012
JustCommunication
It's well worth it. I'll admit, it is odd not having off-map abilities or anything like that, and of the units seem out of place because they can't do anything 'special' (see my Engineers example), but that can all easily come after launch.

People will have differing opinions about deck-based games, games that don't have base building... but if those are your cup of tea, you'll want another cup of this. And another, and another!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Feb 29, 2012
herodotus
I still play "RUSE" in skirmish mode so have tracked this since it was first announced. Picked it up on preorder and have been playing since release.
I am very disappointed that the game is MP-focused, though I knew it would be. If only they'd taken the "WiC" path, where after a strong SP Campaign the MP drew the player in. Ultimately the MP for that game became a monster and one I enjoyed very much. This is different.
As a SP experience the game has problems. The Campaign has no Tutorial, aside from pop-up texts in the first couple of missions to give the player some idea what they might do, but not how to do it or why they're doing it. There is no changing of difficulty settings - it is murderously hard. If you can play the first few missions in one go, without losses and completing all objectives you're either a Dev or making stuff up. It's all trial and error. The manual does not help.

SP skirmish is very disappointing as well, particularly after "RUSE". There is only the option of 1v1 and a small number of maps (about half a dozen). It reminds me more of "Order of War" than "RUSE", and that for me is not a good thing. "OoW" got better with time, perhaps this will too. However with the focus on MP I am not holding my breath.

The visuals are great, but you have to stay zoomed out far too much to appreciate them as your flanks are never secure and youre unit pathing is poor. The AI is dumb in SP, and when faced with a muddy field, treeline or hedgerow, it will not navigate carefully. Instaed there will be a flurry of messages sunch as "Stuck in mud", "Thrown a track", "No line of sight" etc. This really needs attention as the enemy AI is relentlessly aggressive. It's like fighting The Daleks without The Doctor...just a handful of UNIT no-brainers who need to be hand-held.

I'm not sure where to place this in terms of strategy games. A "Work in Progress" might be the best way to put it, and it looks it.

So if you're into MP pitched battles, with customised decks for your own personal army this is a great title. If you're into SP, prepare for a difficult and grinding 22 Mission Campaign with little to no information on what's happening or why. Skirmish Mode, so strong in "RUSE" is just a light add-on here.

Fingers crossed for the future, but as I say with the focus on MP, something I'll never play it remains to be seen what community feedback results in.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Mar 02, 2012
JustCommunication
Hey Hero,

I get what you're saying, but I think you're kind of missing the point.

AI pathfinding isn't 'bad'. You tell them to go to a place and they'll go in a straight line to get there, and terrain being what it is if you tell them to go through trees or what have you and of course you're going to get those "stuck in the mud" events. But they don't ALWAYS happen, I've had tanks go through entire woods fine one second and then get stuck in the mud the next. It's trying to simulate battlefield conditions and I think it does it well.

Also, if you tell them to move 'fast' to a place, they'll use roads and not fields, so there are ways of moving without getting stuck.

I suppose the tutorial could have been better, but to be honest the lack of a decent tutorial is only an issue if you can't pick it up on your own - I managed to do that but I guess not everyone would, so fair point.

I guess MP-focused games arn't to everyone's liking either, but that doesn't mean a game should be penalised for that choice as you seem to be.

I completely 'disagree' with your "Work in Progress" remark, but I can understand how you got there given what you've said. I just think you're being too harsh on it.

I'm pretty sure Eugen have been open from the start abotu this being MP-focused as well.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 02, 2012
herodotus
I am being harsh Joe, as I had high expectations, many not met- for me. However, that's my personal view and certainly not as objective as a reviewer would approach this title. Comparisons with "WiC" are fair, and to be expected. This, unfortunately is not the successor many of us have been looking and waiting for. With that in mind, and it may take a whole to shake that expectation, the game can stand on it's own two feet. "WiP", as opposed to "WiC" is a good thing in my mind, as it means the Devs are going to continually evolve the title (just as I consider the fully fledged and brilliant "Rise of Flight" a WiP). I just hope they don't leave SP to starve and die.

I'm not really penalising the game for being MP-focused, as from long hours with "RUSE" I could see that that is where Eugen were headed once more and where their interest lies. However, both "DoW II" and "SC I & II" were/are in the same boat. It did not stop them from producing brilliant SP experiences, however (I excluded "CoH" as noone could foretell the MP beast it would become).
Still, many enjoy MP RTS/RTT...I'm just not one of them (and from many posts from others in the Eugen forums I'm not alone).

The tutorial for "WiC", though I will use as a good example of how to do things right. You have several "missions", not hard to develop using only one map, and step through the use of ALL Classes used in the game, how they are used and why. It could be done in One Tutorial broken into several parts. That's what I call a Tutorial. Reading the manual does not help, and there are several errors in it. "A" is not "Move and Attack", as is referenced in the manual but "Q" as is listed in the key commands on the final page of the manual. Weird.

Trial and error, quit and load a save or simply replaying full missions once you've learned the hard the way is not fun in my book. It worked in "RUSE", but this is far more complex from the get go.

I do see the gem that's lying within this stone, Joe but looking at the game now there are a few things that won't change that make it hard to enjoy.

The Campaign has little to no replay value. The AI is tightly scripted and, with perhaps very minor variation will always show up at the same time in the same place. The Secondary Objectives are either too easy or too hard. One is usually on your way to the First Objective or soon after (but in your line of advance), the other requiring too much of a commitment (and loss of) your forces in a section of the map removed from the main fighting.

Skirmish Mode just seems to randomly throw a AI opponent at you that has no concept of how to use it's forces. The AI is easy, foolish (sending Recon choppers against AAA for example) or attacking your main force piecemeal and with seemingly unlimited funds a spam-fest. The maps are few and pretty bland, making things worse.

If you don't play MP, and I gave up on MP RTS/RTT when the nasties took over in "DoW II" ("support me or I'll kick and bad rep you") then there is little here to justify paying full price. Even the maps are unexciting and colourless.

I'll sink more hours in, and who knows...I may change my mind, or minds.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 02, 2012
herodotus
Oh dear, I do prattle on don't I.....
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 02, 2012
SirRoderick
At least you realise you do!

Although I've been known to run on a tad myself...
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 03, 2012
herodotus
You can get arrested for that in some countries!

Oh, "tad"...without my glasses it looked like "lad":)
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2012
SirRoderick
Run on a lad? I can only let my imagination think of illegal things that might be described by that term :/
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Mar 04, 2012
herodotus
Yes, well immoral as well.
I really do have to stop writing so much, though.
By SirRoderick (SI Elite) on Mar 04, 2012
SirRoderick
You will do no such thing!