Situation Report: Steel Division: Normandy ’44

By Ian Boudreau 09 Nov 2017 5

We’re coming up on six months since the launch of Steel Division: Normandy ’44, and in that time, we’ve seen a host of changes, large and small, to Eugen Systems and Paradox’s engaging World War II RTS. So what’s the state of the game now? If you hesitated on picking it up back at launch, is now a good time to jump in? Let’s break down what’s changed, what’s yet to come, and what the game still needs.

As a first stop, let’s revisit Editor Joe Robinson’s review of the game. As you may remember, Joe had high praise for Steel Division, with only a few minor caveats. Multiplayer stood out to him as a place where it’s highly likely to get smashed by dedicated players, and then find yourself with little in the way of after-action tools to find out what went wrong (or right, as the case may be). Joe also noted that while Allied divisions are naturally diverse, both visually and in terms of hardware, the same can’t be said for the Axis divisions, which, being exclusively German, suffer from a baked-in feeling of redundancy.

 

Since then, though, Eugen has released six major updates, which have included several rafts of free new content, as well as the paid Second Wave DLC. Even if you decided not to spring for the DLC, there’s plenty of new content that’s been added to the game. Interestingly, each of the updates has been named after a rock song (the developers are apparently big fans of classic metal):

  • And Justice For All (Metallica)
  • The Duellists (Iron Maiden)
  • When The River Runs Deep (Iron Maiden)
  • The Division Bell (Pink Floyd)
  • Closer (Nine Inch Nails)
  • Ace of Spades (Motörhead)

The bulk of the updates deal with the usual quality-of-life and balancing changes that you expect to see in the first year or so of an RTS’ lifecycle. A couple major changes I’ve noticed personally have been an overall increase in anti-aircraft effectiveness, which for all intents and purposes now includes all .50 caliber weapons in the game. If an M2 crewman on a Jeep can see a plane, he can shoot at it. Infantry are much less prone to suppression while moving now, and can fire while assaulting, which is a very nice change for us gravel agitators. There have been some rebalances made to the first couple campaign missions, flamethrowers have gotten toned down a lot, and the game’s stability and optimization have been seen to, with a few new graphics options added.

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But there’s quite a bit more game now, too. The Duellists update added two new map variants for Carpiquet and Sainte-Mère-Eglise, and When The River Runs Deep added a new Odon variant for both 1v1 and 2v2/3v3 play. The Closer update brought with it a new game mode, Closer Combat, which sets deployment zones much closer together and allows players to deploy transported units without their vehicles (handily subtracting the deployment cost of the vehicle).

Closer launched alongside the paid Second Wave DLC, which naturally is the beefiest of the additions to Steel Division so far in that it adds four brand-new divisions: the U.S. 4th Armored Division and British 1st Special Forces Brigade for the Allies, and for the Germans, the 9. Panzerdivision and the 16. Luftwaffen-Felddivision. Of the four, I’ve spent the most time with the 4th AD, and it’s been a natural switch from the 2nd Infantry’s scout-heavy A-phase. The 4th gets to bring a big complement of cavalry scouts out early in the game, and they’re very handy in finding good spots to set up for the division’s M12 GMC heavy artillery (I may have mentioned before that I’m a big fan of artillery), as well as its fearsome force of M18 Hellcat tank destroyers. The British Special Forces have also been exciting to play, with the addition of Royal Marines Commandos and the Supermarine Seafire L-III.

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Eugen have also added four new “Scenarios” that can be played either head-to-head or as player vs. AI. These are all attack/defend missions where one player takes the offense and the other plays defense, and include Offensive on Cheux, Assault on Colombelles Steelworks, Crossing the Merderet, and Last Stand on Hill 112. These are all played in “Breakthrough” mode, and players will have to build new battlegroups specifically for this mode. Instead of drip-feeding economy points, all points are granted at the beginning of each phase. It makes for an interesting alteration to the rhythm of Steel Division, and the addition of true assault and defense missions is more than welcome.

Still to come in the next few months (by the year’s end, by Eugen’s most optimistic estimates) are another unit pack and a pack of co-op missions, both of which will be additional free content.

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All in all, even absent the DLC, Steel Division has grown a lot in six months. We’re still missing a good way to scrub through past missions to review our mistakes and victories, but multiplayer matches can now be opened to spectators, and I’ve learned a lot from watching better players go at it. It can, unfortunately, be difficult to find games during evenings in the U.S., which is a worrying sign. But the new scenarios help round out the game’s single-player experience, even if time zones keep you from finding public matches easily.

But there are a couple more things I’d like to see that aren’t represented on Eugen’s roadmap for Steel Division. I think air combat needs some work; it still feels like an afterthought right now and I rarely feel as though planes are worthwhile additions to my battlegroups. The new German divisions have added some needed variety to the Axis roster, but even with the addition of the thoughtfully-designed new map variants, the admittedly-gorgeous Normandy setting is feeling a bit stale and same-y with its farmlands and hedgerows. Perhaps a more beach-heavy map, set near Cherbourg, could liven things up again?

Whether it’s with this title or whatever’s next, I’m excited to see what happens with Steel Division as a franchise. The game certainly has room to grow, and Normandy ’44 is still a very solid base to build on. 

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