First Look: Divided We Fall24 Oct 2016 5
As with many titles that have made the long march across more than a decade of development, the core mission of Divided We Fall (née Call of Combat) is a solid and worthy one: to marry the real-time tactical combat of games like Men of War and Company of Heroes with a kind of spartan team-focused realism set within bite-sized arena battles. A kind of Cannon Fodder for Close Combat fans, if you will (or perhaps that should be the other way around), all surrounded by the usual trappings of multiplayer progression.
Choosing to fight for the Allies (US) or Axis (Germany), players start each battle with a squad of four troops, each armed with a rifle and five grenades. Sub-machine guns and extra ammo are often available too, but before tinkering with the game’s limited loadout options players need to consider what their orders are, which is one of two main areas in which DWF proudly stands out against the aforementioned competition.
Orders you see are handed down from the highest ranked player on each team, who is able to draw arrows across the 3D map prior to battle commencing, in the hope that each of their squads will follow the broad sweep of the game plan. Assuming they intend to honour the implicit terms of their subordinacy, players might opt for an MP40 or a Thompson for close encounters, or stick with the standard issue equipment if a deeper covering position is to be maintained. In either case using cover is central key to maintaining a solid defence, while a staggered advance supported by suppression is often helpful in attack, but the real key to unlocking the opposition - aside from sticking to the battle plan of course - is the effective use of grenades, which is the second of the game’s USPs.
To the uninitiated and to those spectating before diving into play for the first time, DWF can look like an olive-drab re-skinning of Bomberman. There are explosives flying about and cracking open all over the map with characters running hither and thither to avoid their debilitating effects. Truth be told it is a little comical and a soundtrack loop of Yakety Sax wouldn’t be entirely out of place, but once you’re in amongst it, you start to the appreciate that far from being the game’s overpowered ultimate weapon, there is a finesse to using grenades properly and effectively, one that brings to mind the ebb and flow of a good League of Legends match, only without all that tedious fantasy guff constantly getting in the way.
How so, you may well ask? Well, part of it is the timed aspect. You can’t just hit a button and a grenade pops out, it has to be primed, which takes a few seconds, which means that as well as putting the fear of God into an opponent by going through the motions of lobbing, you can draw them into breaking cover to prime a grenade in response, then pop yours back into your tunic before anyone gets hurt and crack off a few rounds instead, which at grenade-throwing range can be just as effective.
The other neat thing with grenades in DWF is that they don’t often kill an opponent, especially one hunkered behind cover or around the corner of a building. One will almost certainly disorientate an enemy however, which in the grand tradition of wartime maiming has the added benefit of focusing an enemy player to perhaps try and extricate their woozy trooper from imminent execution, often at the expense of their other soldiers’ health. Clever!
DWF matches do not last that long, partly because there are no respawns - once you’re men are eliminated for you ze war is over. It helps keep things ticking along too that the maps are generally all small, square and generally quite symmetrical, designed to funnel the teams into as many skirmishing opportunities as possible as they attempt to capture the zones that will hasten victory. Unfortunately the terrain isn’t deformable, soft cover can’t be destroyed and there’s currently no way to take advantage of any high ground, since there are no hills or stairs to take. In sense it’s a curious oversight for a game that pertains to be realistic, but when competitiveness shares equal billing, you can appreciate the need for a literal level playing field.
If there was a third aspect of the game worth shouting about it would be the controls, which are kept to a minimum and thus easy to learn, yet devilishly tricky to master. 1-4 selects individual soldiers, but rather neatly you can toggle one, two or three to assign an order to if you hit more than one number key simultaneously. Also useful is that small arms fire is automated, leaving the player to focus on the camera, positioning, stance, firing modes and of course lobbing grenades around. Given the length of the battles, how quickly the enemy can be upon you - and you them - and the all-important cooking time for the game’s explosive ordinance, there’s more than enough to keep players busy, even after losing a couple of men to rank inexperience.
Although it’s still early days in DWF’s development, the game having only been drafted into Early Access back in September, the active player base is surprisingly small given the long heritage of the developer in maintaining DWF’s predecessors. As I write this during what is regarding as prime time in Europe (9pm GMT on a Sunday evening), there are just 15 players logged into the game’s Main Lobby, only occasionally exchanging greetings and even less frequently joining one another in combat. My midweek forays into the game have seen barely a handful of other players and rarely enough to guarantee more than one or two good skirmishes before the paucity of players drains one’s enthusiasm to hang around.
That said, I’ll be checking in on DWF from time to time. Though small, the community is friendly and helpful and the development team eager to expand the game far beyond the limits of the current version. A tutorial, more weapons and the introduction of tactical munitions and equipment would be a great boost, while an imminent demo (which should be available any day now) should tempt new players to at least try the game before committing monies, which should boost the numbers and get the player base on a more healthy footing - once they’ve learned to use grenades properly, that is.
Divided We Fall is available through Steam's Early Access Program.