Square Enix may be best known in the West for its role-playing game heritage, but the company decided last year that it wanted to be known for more than just Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. As a result, it started looking specifically to the West to find new developers to partner with and bring a wider variety of games to market.
"It was a company-wide initiative this past year," said Kristina Yoon, product marketing manager at Square Enix. "We are the number one publisher in Japan hands-down, and we are definitely branching out into a lot of different genres."
One of the first products born of this new push is Wargaming.net's Order of War. A real-time strategy game with a focus on combat skirmishes rather than resource gathering, Order of War chronicles the fighting on two fronts during World War II. American, German and Russian troops battle it out in the single-player mode over two campaigns, with nine scenarios each. Each side features a different set of historically accurate troops and armor, so while they are evenly matched, they aren't identical.
We posted the single-player demo last month, so budding commanders could try their hand at the game, but we knew there were still some unanswered questions about the multiplayer aspect of Order of War. Thankfully, Square Enix was in town this week, and they stopped by to show off the multiplayer portion of the game.
Jumping into multiplayer on the first map, Manor House, the focus on combat was clear. You don't have time to sit around and plan. As soon as the game starts, it is time to build troops and start moving toward conquest of the map. Taking control of the map consists of capturing control points (flags). The more control points you have, the faster your resources come in. It's intuitive and encourages players to jump right in. There is no need to turtle and tech up since a wide swath of troops is immediately available.
"We were really going for that casual appeal; for someone who's a big war fanatic," said Yoon.
Unlike other RTS games, Order of War's multiplayer didn't have a fog of war. Instead, we could see our opponent's troop movement on the mini-map so we had an idea of where he was headed and what he was up to. The catch, though, was that we didn't know what his troops were. That mass of red dots moving across the map could have been an imposing tank line backed up by artillery, or it could have just been a bunch of infantry running across a field. Just because the mini-map reveals troop movements doesn't mean it takes all the challenge out of the game.
An additional twist has to do with the starting control points. In order to build troops, you must control one of the starting control points. If you lose your starting control point to the enemy, you can no longer call in reinforcements. Win back your point (or take control of the enemy's starting point), and you can start building once again. This little point is an important one, as it can allow for some late game comebacks.
Fighting on our second map, Across the Canyon, much of the combat centered around three bridges. Serving as natural choke points, our long-range artillery was obliterating most of our opponent's approaching forces. Down to a few troops, he switched tactics and raced in a group of fast-moving forces. Most of them were killed, but two broke through our defensive line and brought down our starting control point. While we fought for control, he brought in reinforcements to level the fight. For a few moments, our opponent took complete control of the point, and that was it. Because he had control, he was able to start spawning troops right there and leveled our forces.
Our untimely demise did highlight one annoying quirk of game design: the requirement that you eliminate all of the enemy troops and capture all of the control points on the map in order to win the game. Despite our troops being completely slaughtered, the game didn't end until our opponent took the time to wander the map and capture all the remaining control points. It seemed like a pointless exercise, and we're hoping this will be tweaked in a patch.
A nice visual touch in multiplayer is the use of the action camera. The camera doesn't actually record anything, but it does allow you to switch into a cinematic viewpoint at any time in order to watch the action unfold. Lay out an imposing attack and want to watch the enemy get slaughtered? Click the camera button. Just called for an airstrike and want to watch the bombs level a town? Use the camera. The action camera can be canceled at any time to return to you the standard overhead view.
"It [shows you] what the developer calls the 'juiciest' moments," said Yoon. "The team did a really good job of paying attention to every single detail."
Six multiplayer maps will be available for play in the final game. DLC content will also be available, though these will initially be limited to people who pre-order at a specific store. After one month, all DLC content is planned to be made available for all players.
"There are going to be four DLCs," said Yoon. "Three of them are upgrades to units, and the fourth one is an extra mode of playing."Creating a solid RTS is no easy task, yet Order of War seems to have a nice little gameplay niche. It's easy to pick up and play without feeling limited. We'll have a final verdict on the game once it ships at the end of the month, but if you want to get in some early play time, be sure to grab the Order of War multiplayer demo when it is released on Sept. 15.
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