Order of War - first look

In a surprising foray into the real-time strategy field, Square Enix has teamed up with Wargaming.net to create a meticulously accurate re-creation of historical WWII conflicts in Order of War. The focus will be on territory taking instead of resource gathering, along with cinematic camera angles allowing long-distance visibility without the standard “fog of war.”

The campaign follows Americans fighting Germans on the western front, and Germans fighting Russians in Eastern Europe during 1944. Armies are scaled up so that you control groups of units instead of individual soldiers, which leads to truly huge fights as infantry, tanks, artillery, and aircraft converge on crater-pocked hills and decimated towns. The pacing is considerably slower than something like StarCraft, both for realism and visual purposes, since with slower moving units you get more of a chance to control the camera or activate the random cinematic mode that jumps perspectives to give a much more on-the-ground feel. You can be right there alongside the incredibly detailed soldiers, and the game almost looks like a shooter when you’re zoomed-in.

The story-based missions have much less filler than the typical RTS, partially because there’s no “turtle in base, build up forces, overwhelm AI” flow to it, and partially because each mission is broken up into miniature skirmishes with multiple turning points. Twists based on real events, such as a sudden bombing run that wipes out troops, keep you on your toes and change the tide of conflict.

The maps are not tile-based – you won’t see boringly repeated textures here. Everything is hand-painted, which is astonishing considering just how huge the maps are. With all that room, missions can be epic – sometimes reaching 90 minutes. We watched an extended siege where the player has to defend a hilltop mansion, with armored columns approaching from multiple sides. Success requires proper positioning of artillery pieces, which take time to move and so must be placed thoughtfully. A handy indicator draws a gun’s cone of fire on the ground so you can see what angles it can cover. When placing any units, you can rotate their orientation so they line up exactly how you want as they arrive at their destination. This simple mechanic allows the armies to arrange in formations often not found in an RTS, where many just end up with jumbles of individuals trying to path-find around each other.

New units can be parachuted in, infantry can hunker down in trenches for defense, and super weapons, like giant train-mounted artillery, are rolled in on tracks, all of which create an ebb and flow in the battles as reinforcements arrive to save your troops from impending forces. Clearly, movie-like moments are a big seller here, and to help that along, the game’s interface is designed to allow a casual player to control everything with the mouse, and the HUD can be pared down piece-by-piece to remove clutter that gets in the way of all the pretty explosions and tanks crushing trees.

Still, Order of War wants to please the more hardcore strategy freaks, with more difficult settings requiring precise positioning and usage of units. Luckily, individual unit AI aims to perform smart actions automatically – if infantry encounter a tank, they’ll know to whip out grenades and take cover. There will also be multiplayer modes to satiate those that need a human behind those looming units on the distant horizon. Get ready for what will hopefully be a fresh take on WWII and the RTS genre sometime in the fall.

Jun 3, 2009

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.