by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
Things That Go Together
Peanut butter and jelly, metal music and headbanging, strategy games and World Wars. Some things just go together. It's rare that I'll pass up the chance to take a look at a strategy game based around either of the World Wars. While I missed the train on the original Steel Division, when Eugen Systems announced Steel Division 2, and that it was going to be on the Eastern Front of World War II, it caught my interest. The Eastern Front is an often neglected part of World War II in the world of gaming, despite having some of the most brutal battles of the war. I knew I had to review it, and see just what it has to offer.
Different Flavors of Warfare
Steel Division 2 offers up a variety of gameplay modes, both single-player and multi-player, designed to suit the wants of players. For solo play, you have a standard Skirmish mode where you just drop into the action as quickly as possible. Then you have Historical Battles, which let you pick between six historical battles to take part in. Last but not least is the Army General mode which makes up the single player campaign. It's also where I spent the most time with Steel Division 2. I wish I could say something about the Multiplayer, but at the times of day I tried to get online the population in my region seemed a bit sparse.
Steel Division 2's campaign combines aspects of turn-based strategy and real-time strategy. Prior to battles, you'll have an overhead view of a map table where you can move and position your units relative to where the frontline currently is. You can utilize artillery to soften known enemy positions long before the battle, and guide troop transports and armored divisions to where they'll be most useful. After your move, the enemy gets his turn and that's when the second aspect is likely to come into play.
Should the enemy general decide to engage you, you'll have the option to either auto-resolve a battle or participate in it (not unlike how it works in the Total War series). Auto-Resolve is not only almost always going to be a guaranteed loss, it really takes the fun out of the game trying to skip what is arguably the best part.
From An Uneasy Silence, To A Full Blown Battle
When a battle begins, the map is often quiet. Very quiet. Both sides are quickly moving their units forward and into position — it's tense and really gives you time to soak in the visuals. The maps, the vehicles and the character models all show a very pleasing level of detail, which is great because if you so desire you can zoom in to point-blank range and observe the action (killer for screenshots).
The game doesn't over encourage new and unique tactics though, which is a bit disappointing. You send your armor in first to do the heavy hitting, then you mop up with your infantry. This isn't unlike many warfare situations to be fair, the authenticity is there, but I would like to see a bigger emphasis on riflemen in particular. But this game isn't a game for the infantry, it's for the big guns. It's for the tanks, the artillery, and all things that go boom.
It's straight forward, it's functional, and it works mostly. Now and then the AI will break and things will get messy, or there'll be an audio error that suddenly makes a massive explosion sound like an audible screech instead. But overall, it's a functioning package. And while the tactics don't seem to go beyond the basics, watching these battles start from a brief exchange of weapon-fire to a full blown hellscape on land and in sky is pretty fantastic to watch and guide along as needed.
A Decent Timekiller
Steel Division 2 didn't blow me away, even though I did enjoy myself watching my army blow away the enemy. It's a very well put together game, a beautifully detailed game, but it feels a bit basic. There's a lot of potential in there that I'd like to see elaborated on more. I'd like to see more done with the General's Map table, I'd love to see an encouragement of deeper tactics in the actual battles. I think Steel Division 2 is a great way to kill some time in the annual summer gaming drought, but beyond that I'm not sure I'll be picking it up again any time soon.
The idea of the Map Table before a battle is great, visually the game is incredible for an RTS, battles can become massive fairly quickly
Tactics feel a bit on the basic side, occasional audio errors and AI breakage