World War II games are as numerous as the bad decisions made in a college dorm. Gamers are constantly exposed to various aspects of the war even though they didn’t live through it. As such, it’s easy to start to disregard any game that is set in Europe in the early ’40s. Square Enix and Wargaming.net have joined together to make you take a second glance and most succeed as Order of War hit’s the mark right between unbending realism and arcade action very nicely.
Order of War wants you to enjoy every minute of your experience. That’s why you will find a well crafted in-game tutorial. The tutorial isn’t mandatory or a part of the first mission but you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot by ignoring it. Learning the ropes is split up into three separate parts: Basic Training, for camera controls and unit movement; Firing Range, for attack commands; Tactical Training, for an introduction to approach different targets.
Once you’re ready to begin the single player experience, you have the option to play either the USA or German campaign. Choosing the former will have you fighting battles from the beaches of Normandy, through France and finally into Germany itself. Choosing the latter will have you pushing back the Russians and gradually retreating to protect the Fatherland..
Whichever road you decide to take will offer some of the best mission briefing videos in any video game. That might even be an understatement. The videos are that
good. Mixing real world war clips with in-game footage yields impressive results. The only sad thing is that they aren’t longer. Wargaming.net could create some shows for the History Channel that would make learning about the war much more enjoyable.
Once you are done drooling over the video, Order of War gives you a thorough explanation of what your mission will be. Giant arrows roll over the terrain showing you from which direction you will be attacking or defending. This is helpful as the battle fields can be rather large and initially overwhelming. Sure, you’ve been in every battle of WWII but not like this. Experiencing Normandy by sending wave after wave of men to break the enemy lines is powerful and a sobering reminder of the brutality of the real event.
One of the methods that Wargaming.net uses to keep the player from pulling their hair out trying to control each unit is not allowing them to do so. You read that correctly: it’s not possible to control an individual unit. Instead, you control companies which are comprised of a handful of armored vehicles or 20-30 soldiers. Another method you have at your disposal is pausing the action. Pausing the game and issuing orders is only a space bar away. The space bar becomes your best friend when you have forty companies on screen converging on multiple hot spots.
Instead of harvesting resources like some RTS games, Order of War gives you resources based on how many control points are under your control. Depending on the map, there can be a lot of control points. These are the most important areas on the map such as town centers, hill tops, and crossroads. Gaining control of different points will gain you access to various units that can be called in as reinforcements. Hovering over the control point shows how many resources it holds and which units will be unlocked if you capture it. This becomes vital when you consider which order to take on the objectives in a map as naturally some units or abilities are better than others.
Resources are important but their inherent value increases with the selected difficulty of the game. Play on the “Easy” level and resources are more plentiful while enemy troops are less numerous. Play on “Hard” and see more enemies with less chance to reinforce your own men. Having trouble with a mission? Choose a different difficulty level. The option is yours between any mission in the campaign.
Each mission typically moves very well with clearly defined objectives. It doesn’t always mean destroying every enemy unit onscreen but many times that goes hand in hand with the primary goal. Strategies will vary as you put your men into the trenches, call in air support, or dig in and prevent the enemy from getting past your fortifications. Try a flanking maneuver and get commendation. It might even open up a new control point to garner more resources.
At the end of a mission, a summary screen is shown with the stats of the level. Awards are given based on completing objectives. Order of War keeps track of all units destroyed both in mission and in the overall campaign. This screen also shows the number of points you received for your last mission.
Points are awarded for completing objectives, number of units lost versus destroyed, and mission performance. This was a welcome feature as it adds depth to the already enjoyable game. Points that are collected can be spent on any number of upgrades such as weapon range, effectiveness, unit armor and decrease the resource cost of reinforcements. The types of upgrades available will lend themselves to whichever strategy you lean toward. If you like to use mostly tanks then upgrade their mobility and armor first. If you want to fight from a distance (artillery) then make them more accurate and hard hitting.
Order of War looks nice even on a budget system. If your PC can handle it there are enough shadows, foliage, and polygons to convince your eyes that your on the battlefield. Tanks will knock over small trees and power lines, bombers will leave craters in the ground, and buildings will be slowly destroyed as you shoot at the soldiers inside. The interface is exactly what it needs to be: informative but not invasive or obtrusive. You can even remove it completely by hitting F12.
The developers touted the Cinematic Camera but that doesn’t quite pan out. First off, you can’t issue orders when using it so it will go unused in most missions except at the very end when you are on clean-up duty. It also zooms to the point that it shows off infantry running through tanks and tanks running through the edges of walls. Sometimes infantry will get out of the way to let a line of armored vehicles through the line, but mostly they’ll stand there and let the tanks drive through them. Another item that detracts from the experience is that tanks can shoot through hills or hit units from odd angles.
The audio has the same music as every other war game. It’s well done but stereotypical. The voice acting is solid and not done in over-the-top C&C style. If you complete two objectives simultaneously it could lead to two scripted lines being played at the same time. That turned what they were both saying into an incoherent mess. They’ll also constantly remind you if you aren’t living up to the games expectations. For example, in one mission the words “Don’t forget to call for reinforcements” were said 10 times in 3 minutes.
Let’s talk about multiplayer as it can be a big determining factor for many people. Order of War’s multiplayer was disappointing even though it allows you to play as Russia (not available in the single player mode). The game allows every unit, artillery, and air support type for your nation to be available from the first second of a match with a set amount of resources allocated to each player. It then becomes a free for all to capture control points with no fog of war to prevent you from seeing every unit on the field. The game will keep track of your performance and give you combat experience that matches you with players of similar skill.
Everyone will want to play as USA because they get paratroopers that can be dropped anywhere on the map. There appears to be very little end game strategy and becomes more of a mad dash than methodical progression. It was fun to try to play in teams but you start on opposite sides of the map than your ally leading to a split in your forces if you send them reinforcements. With there only being one game mode, it ended up being more of a let down than a fulfilling experience. This is sad because RTS games beg to be played online.
Order of War has a great single player campaign that lasts anywhere from 10-20 hours depending on your play style. Crank up the difficulty and prepare to be presented with a rewarding experience that provides replay value especially with the upgrade system. The graphics and audio, even though imperfect, will keep you engaged. If you can overlook some blemishes and prefer a solo experience, pick up this game and prepare to take command of a challenging but very fun game.
While you won't find much innovation, Order of War is a well crafted RTS game. The lack of satisfying multiplayer is disappointing but the single player game is rewarding enough to keep you coming back for more.