The View From the Bunker – A not nearly close run thing!

By Jeff Ward 15 Jul 2015 0

First, please allow me to offer my sincere apologies for being so late with this one, but as the great John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” Not only that, but Scourge of War: Waterloo is not the kind of endeavor you can wrap your mind around in one or two afternoons. 

But no to fear! What I can do for those who crave brevity is tell you that I absolutely love this game and you should go out and buy it right now! Don’t worry – I’ll wait… Why, I haven’t had this much fun with a tutorial since that 23 year old French piano teacher…well – we better not go there. 

And when I said “buy it now” I was aiming at those folks who don’t mind running the marathon instead of the sprint. SOWW may not be all that difficult, but its incredible depth ain’t for the faint of heart either. 

To truly understand any SOWW review, you really have to understand the reviewer’s mindset. Because if the author is looking for a game with all the pieces in place, then they’ll likely be a disappointed. SOWW does have a few rough spots. 

Ah! But if, like this reviewer, they see the incredible potential that, per my favorite Kafka quote, is just aching “to roll in ecstasy at your feet,” Then this game is as close to a masterpiece as it gets. And I see this as a glass half-full kind of thing is because the fine folks at NorbSoftDev managed to answer my every wargaming prayer. And I didn’t even have to sacrifice a virgin. 

If you would kindly harken back to the last time we talked about wargame complexity, I waxed poetic about a potential title that would truly put me in the Field Marshall’s hot seat. I wanted to have to contend with all the time delays, misinterpreted orders, incompetent subordinates, and general fog of war that drive real generals to complete distraction. 

And it starts with seven separate difficulty levels which – wait for it – can be customized! For example 

  • At the easier levels there’s no fog of war, you can control any unit, move the camera anywhere, and basically enjoy the general omniscience that we’ve all grown accustomed to. 
  • As you ratchet it up, varying fog of war levels kick in, and army, corps, division, and finally, brigade orders, must be sent by couriers who can be intercepted. 
  • For those stalwart grognards, the highest difficulty camera settings only let you view what Napoleon or Wellington would have actually been able to see from their particular perch. So you have to move around the battlefield to get the big picture, something Napoleon failed to do that fateful June day.

All I can say is, that’s really cool! 

The manual is very well done and, unlike me, surprisingly brief. The graphics are downright stunning in the larger scenarios, the sound effects are great, and the interface, with the exception of the quick menus, is generally intuitive. The AI, both friendly and not, especially for a game this complex, is reasonably competent. And get this! SOWW supports 32 separate human commanders. 

In the immortal words of Frank Barone, “Holy crap!” This, of course, begs the question, when are my friends at Matrix going to host a 16 on 16 contest for the ages? 

But there’s work to be done! Even in the tutorial, the friendly AI occasionally reminded me of my U13 boys travel soccer team which, despite some very specific instructions, always seemed to invent a new and undiscovered team formation. A 1-1-10? Sure! Why not? (And yes! I know that’s an extra player.) 

You can certainly counter that problem by taking control of every unit, but the level of micromanagement required in the larger scenarios would have you weeping uncontrollably in the corner of your computer room. 

And I can’t image the AI, at this early patching point, handling a situation in which, per the real battle, Marshall Ney unleashed an ill-advised cavalry charge into the center of the British line only to be foiled and decimated by a series of stout British infantry squares. 

But remember! This one, like the best games out there, has many moddable features, not the least of which is the AI itself. So give the gaming community about six months and I can virtually assure you that these issues will be resolved. 

While there’s certainly something to be said for John Tiller games in that I can pick any one up and simply start playing. But there’s also something to be said for a software developer that lets a game system evolve and NSD has done a phenomenal job in allowing the Scourge of War series to find its own way. 

So even though we’re not quite to the finish line yet, we’re damn close. C’mon guys! I had fun with the tutorial and I’m really looking forward to delving into this one big time. I haven’t felt this giddy about a game since I got that IBM XT PC and the ensuing copy of SSI’s Gettysburg. 

I can’t imagine any game coming closer to those halcyon days of Airfix Napoleonic basement miniature battles with my high school friend Tony than SOWW. 

SOWW may be a bit pricey at $50 U.S., but considering the 20 single-player scenarios, the multiplayer options, and a sandbox campaign mode, the replay possibilities are endless.  

Some game developers doom themselves by overreaching to a point where reality and potential can never be reconciled. Hearts of Iron is a perfect example. By the same token, other titles are disappointing for playing it too safe. But in this case, NorbSoftDev’s grasp exceeded their reach by exactly the right amount. I’m convinced that SOWW will only get better. 

Therefore, even though number ratings are far too subjective, I give SOWW an 8.5/10 rating out of 10 which means, it may be an 8.5 now, but it will be a 10 before we’re through. 

Congratulations to NorbSoftDev for coming up with a genre defining winner. 

 

Jeff Ward is a free-lance writer, radio show host, and former opinion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group. He got hooked on wargames immediately after he picked up that copy of Avalon Hill’s Midway from Hobbymodels in Evanston, Illinois in 1970. You can reach Jeff at jeffnward@comcast.net.

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