Preview: Steel Division: Normandy '44

By Joe Robinson 25 Apr 2017 2

You wouldn't be wrong in thinking that Steel Division is something you might see on our sister site, The Wargamer. It’s a wargame in many senses of the word, but Eugen have been straddling the line between strategy and wargaming for years now. If you’ve played multiplayer in any RTS, then the skill sets required here aren’t too dissimilar. Much like our top picks of entry-level wargames, this is another title that can offer a lot to strategy gamers, provided your approach it with a strong heart and a clear mind. This aint Total War, son.

For anyone with experience in Eugen's Wargame series, you'll know what to expect. For the uninitiated, Wargame was and is a hardcore series of Real-Time Tactics games set during a fictional WW3 scenario. As various Cold War factions, you fought over vast swathes of Europe, Scandinavia or the Far East, depending on which title you were playing. You built an army 'deck' using sort-of cards drawn from national and doctrinal-led (Armoured, Mechanised etc...) pools of units, and then had to fight over controllable zones for Victory Points. Regular resource ticks allowed you to summon in reinforcements as/when they were needed. It required a lot of pacey clicking as you issued orders, and the scale of the game often saw you keeping track of a lot of things at the same time.

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You find all this and more in Steel Division: Normandy '44. Eugen have worked with the likes of Ubisoft (R.U.S.E.) and Focus Home Interactive (Wargame) in the past, but have now partnered up with Paradox Interactive; a company that's no stranger to hardcore games but have never created something quite like this. This one throws you into the heart of the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War 2. The 'armies' you create a more focused, instead comprising of historical Divisions that were present at the time. This 'deep dive' allows for a more varied choice of units and tactics that aren't shackled to national themes (although a Division's parent nation is intrinsically part of its DNA). Steel Division is going to have a single-player campaign, the details of which are being kept very hush, but we've spent the past couple of weeks playing the multiplayer beta which is available to anyone who pre-orders.

The game is due out in under a month now, so we won’t delve too much into how it plays other than to say it can be intense, yet extremely rewarding. Still, here are some key things you should know, especially if you’re considering pre-ordering so you can try it out for yourself:

Lines in the SandSteel Division's first headline feature is that it has a visible 'Frontline' mechanic, which essentially divides the map between you and your enemy in terms of control. In game modes like Conquest, this is very important because you have to own more than your enemy to score points to win the game. In the other game mode we've tried – Destruction – it's less important but in either mode it does give you an indication of enemy movement. If you see a particular section of the front-line rolling backwards, there's generally only one reason why. Depending on how you feel about stealth tactics, this is either going to be incredibly helpful or incredibly annoying, but we feel it works pretty well so far.

Phased Deployments – Part of the new 'meta' of building your armies is that each match is divided into three Phases – A, B & C. Generally, this is to simulate the idea of lighter recon and infantry units getting to the battle first, with everything else coming later. For every 'tick', you get a different amount of resources depending on what phase you're in (generally, more resources in later phases), but the Division you pick as a template can also affect this. Some Divisions get more points in Phase A than others. Some Divisions also get heavier units in Phase A than others do. You have to build your armies to focus on their strengths, anticipate weaknesses (bloody Beute Firefly) as well as making sure you can play the long game if needed. At the moment Phase A seems fairly decisive.

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Thought Before Action – Much like its predecessors, Steel Division requires careful yet speedy planning. Wait too long and you'll be reacting too much to your opponents moves, but rush in blindly and you will always, always, run unto that one AT gun that's waiting for you in ambush. Once you've gotten as close as you think you can get without being blown up, the infamous “hedgerow hell” of the Normandy campaigns comes to life in glorious 3D rendering. Rushing forward without a plan will get everyone killed, so make sure you learn about all the tools you have at your disposable, and try for the flanks. Pro-top: using artillery to lay down smoke is actually pretty handy.

Between Worlds - Underlying Steel Division's very-serious front-end is a sense that there's been some minor attempt to target a more mainstream player base. Despite its majesty as a wargame there are some abstractions and simplifications that you'd only notice if you'd played Eugen’s previous titles. Perhaps it's a way of trying to capture some of that magic that made R.U.S.E. such an accessible experience, but not all of it works at the moment. Also Steel Division doesn’t seem good at naturally explaining itself to the player, but the tutorial isn’t available right now so it’s hard to judge. The finer details though, the ones that are crucial for Division builds and evolving your tactics, seem a bit obtuse and could do with a bit more clarity.

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I’ll admit, a game that is set in one of the most covered periods of World War II isn’t immediately inspiring, but you can see why they chose it. You know instantly where you stand in this setting, and the beautifully crafted maps throw up some wonderfully challenging tactical problems. Despite some reservations, Steel Division is already shaping up to be a more personable and more accessible title than previous games, and we’ve very much enjoyed our time with it so far.  Steel Division: Normandy ‘44 is expected to release on PC via Steam and other digital distribution platforms on May 23rd, 2017. Bring on the full release, and let the real war begin!

Want to read more about this game? James has his own perspective over at The Wargamer.

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