Reviewed: November 15, 2005
Released: February 1, 2006
For those of you that read my post-E3 wrap-up article, you know my feelings on what a game should be in order for it to be fun. For those of you that did not, basically, what I said was that a game needs to be dynamic, skill-based, and replayable to the Nth degree. I have found a game that meets all these criteria. It is not very well known, but it should be. The game is World War II Online: Battleground Europe.
The game, which is being made by Playnet and Cornered Rat Studios, has been in production since 1999 and has gone through many, many expansions, fixes, upgrades, and so on. Just this October, the version 1.20 patch was released, marking the point when the producers of the game felt that it was solid enough of a product to have a box release for retail sales. Until this time, it has only been possible to play the game by paying for it online and downloading it. Now, coming February 1, 2006, it will be available on the shelves to hopefully increase the player base.
Not that the player base is small, by any means, where it stands now. There is already a large and devoted following of people playing this single instance Massive Multiplayer Online game on a daily basis, some of them who have been consistently playing for over four years, and others joining up every day.
This persistent game world is only persistent in the sense that it is always open for business. Every time you log on, you will be fighting over different territory over a scaled model of Western Europe during World War II (currently over 350,000 square miles of virtual battlefield), fighting on either side, as Axis (Germans) or Allies (French and British). You will have access to fighter airplanes, bombers, tanks, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, armored cars, trucks, destroyers, troop transport ships and planes, paratrooper units, riflemen, sub-machine gunners, light machine gunners, engineers, grenadiers…well, you get the idea. Basically, anything that you would have any interest in doing during a war, you can do in this game.
Perhaps the most alluring aspect about the game is that the world is huge. Unlike other multiplayer war games where the area you fight over is only the size of one small battlefield, the area in this game is all of Western Europe and multiple different battle-zones or areas of operation will be active at one time along the constantly shifting front lines, making for a highly dynamic environment where supply lines are crucial and devastating losses will cripple an assault.
Also, unwise decisions of where to use supply could hamper an attack in another area, leaving it short of supply and unable to defend itself. Each city, town, village, and scrap of countryside is different from the other, so strategies have to be constantly adjusted to fit the geography, and every effort in the game makes you feel as if you are contributing to something great. And the best thing is, the developers are adding more and more cities as the game progresses, eventually planning on adding Paris, and the coast of Normandy where the D-Day invasion took place.
For anyone who has played any military-style games, whether they be FPS, tank-driving, flight sims, or even RTS style games, you’ll find aspects of this game familiar. The game is based on realism, however, so there are no crosshairs in the middle of the screen when you’re aiming with your rifle. You’ll actually have to bring the rifle sights up to your line of sight and aim that way. Bullets travel at different speeds, so you have to learn your weapon to know how far to lead an enemy. A rifle will never kill a tank, no matter how many times you shoot it, there are no hit-points, and you can die in one shot.
The world that you play in is an ever-expanding scale model of Western Europe. You will fight over each unique city along the ever changing front-line. Each side has a certain amount of supplies, and if you die, that unit will be lost and time is needed to re-supply the front-line. Through this, even though you are but one fighter among thousands, you definitely get the feeling that what you do, whether it be winning or losing, is definitely impacting the overall scope of the campaign. Once a campaign is over, with one side decided as victor over the other, the campaign map is reset and the war starts over again.
For those of you who are interested in the logistics and strategies of war, there is even the opportunity for players to be the commanders of the war effort. These people are chosen for the campaign to lead the rest in the effort, deciding what areas need to be focused on for attack, what new technologies need to be researched and developed first (when the campaign starts, your side only has access to the most basic equipment and as you progress, your equipment will become more advanced) and so on.
Basically, there is something for everyone in this game. If all you want is to go in and blow stuff up, you’ll enjoy this game. If you want an immersive battlefield experience, you will find that here, as well. I, myself, once spent an hour in the game stationed in one spot guarding a place that might have been attacked by the enemy, but never was. As boring as that may sound to some, I found it interesting to see how quickly I did get antsy, but that I had to remain alert to defend the area in case of attack, because it would have been crippling for my side if we had lost that area.
An interesting ranking system keeps with the philosophy of other MMO’s that players should be rewarded over time for their efforts, but it does not exclude new players from the fun. A new player will start off at the rank of Recruit, with access to the most basic equipment. As new ranks are obtained (through successful completion of missions and killing of opponents) you will gain access to better and better equipment. However, a Recruit can kill someone who is a General just as easily as the other way around. Your ability to survive in the game is based on your skill and how well you work with your teammates, not on whether you’ve spent a thousand hours level-grinding your character.
The best aspect of the gameplay is the fact that it is extremely easy to get into the action relatively quickly and it is also very quick and easy to switch between units. You can fly a plane for one mission and then decide to take an infantry unit the next mission without any difficulty.
Probably one of the most important elements of any MMO game is its online community. What I love about this game is that its community is primarily people who are true military history buffs, so they really know what they are talking about when it comes to what is going on in the game. And it is a very mature group of people. The game requires a certain level of dedication and patience to enjoy it fully, so impatient people who just want a frag-fest should probably go play Battlefield 2 instead.
This game has been in development since 1999, so the graphics engine is a little out of date, as of right now. Although, CRS (or the Rats), have stated that they are beginning work on a new and up-to-date graphics engine that they hope to incorporate into the game soon. The latest patch did update the graphics a little, adding a “Post-Render Filter” effect to the game, which gives the world a hazy-glow to all light sources. Also, many new three-dimensional objects were added, as well as new equipment, like the Tiger tank for the Germans.
As out-of-date as the engine is, the graphics are still impressive. Every piece of equipment that is modeled is done so with a loving attention to detail. When you get up close to tanks and planes, you’ll notice dirt, rust, etc. that adds a level of realism to the look and feel of the game. Buildings get bombed out as the campaign goes along, leaving charred, smoldering husks of buildings behind. Tracers from machine guns arc across the sky, and explosions from devastating 250 lb. bombs literally rock your world.
The best thing to keep in mind is that the Rats are constantly developing new technology to improve the game’s performance and how it looks. They have improved the game in leaps and bounds even over the last few months; I am excited to see where it will be in another year.
One of the coolest aspects of this game, that I noticed, was the realistic sounds. Every weapon’s sound is different and unique. A British rifle’s crack is not the same as a German rifle, and experienced players will hear the difference and know if it is a friendly or an enemy nearby. Engine sounds are also unique to each unit, giving players the same ability to identify not only that an enemy vehicle is nearby, but if you’re good enough, what exactly it is.
The very coolest sound technique that they feature in this game that blew me away was that sound actually has to travel over distance. And since distance is such a factor in this huge game, you notice this effect quite often. If you see an explosion far away, it will be a few seconds before you actually hear it. Or, more importantly, a skilled rifleman may fire at you from far away and you may die before you actually hear the shot.
The game will retail for $30.00 in stores when it is released Feb. 1 2006, but you can purchase an online activation key and download the game from the website for $20.00, then a standard monthly subscription fee will follow. For that amount of money, I have gotten much more gameplay out of this game than I have out of any other that I can think of in a long, long time. For twenty to thirty dollars less than you’d expect to spend on any other standard release, you’re getting a helluva lot more bang for your buck with this game.
World War II Online: Battleground Europe is an incredibly fun and long lasting game for any war gamer or history buff. If you find yourself playing and loving this game, as I have, you will probably find that you can put all your other games to rest and you’ll still be playing this months, or even years, from now. The Rats have a huge vision, and one day plan on incorporating many more aspects of the war into the game (American troops, more theaters of war, more equipment, more of the world).
If the game weren’t huge enough already with so many different options that it almost seems like three different games put together, they plan on only going farther and making it bigger and more enjoyable. This game will truly stand the test of time, and over time it will only get better and better.