Men of War's Cold War expansion may not be the sequel we want, but it could be the kind of update the series needs21 Aug 2019 1
If you'd asked me blast week whether I'd have wanted another expansion for Men of War: Assault Squad 2, I would have said “probably not”. There is definitely room for more Men of War in the world, especially with a resurgence in tactical strategy games but initially I was sceptical if an expansion for a game that's now five years old was the right move. Turns out it is. Just.
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First thing's first, while the expansion is called 'Cold War', it's actually more of a 'what if'/WW3 type alt-history setting where the Cold War got very hot (again) – a la Wargame, basically. It also apparently doesn't have anything to do with the mod of the same name.
Men of War's tactical engine has always been robust – a bit rough around the edges in places and clunky in others, but very versatile and it IS in a much better place than it was when Assault Squad 2 first launched. Cold War actually changes very little in the tactical realm,– essentially you just have a new and updated unit roster to learn, but even in this new setting the tactical choices and options are basically the same.
Matrix Games’ Armored Brigade did a very good job of showcasing how much longer engagement ranges became during the arms race that followed WW2, but Cold War side-steps that somewhat. Armour is a lot more prevalent, but then so is anti-armour and in fact vehicles in general have had their line of sight reduced to incentivise a combined arms approach. There's a lot more motorised and mechanised units, with new APC vehicles and squad types. The advent of the jet and rotary engines meant that 'air power – whether by helicopter or jet fighter – was an important aspect of Cold War doctrine, and again this has a very limited impact in tactical battles.
Helicopters can be spawn as their own 'squad' type and they do feature in the tactical space, but things like Jet Fighters assume a role similar to the off-map support options that started to appear in Assault Squad 2. We weren't able to play around with helicopters properly so were unable to gauge their place in battles, but the Chinook is definitely there and since that's largely a transport helicopter we imagine that helos can land. Attack helicopters can be equipped with varied load-outs, including rockets that can help against armour (tanks have a very rough time of it now, it seems).
Maps in Cold War have the capacity to be a lot bigger, meaning that on-map air power and transportation will be fairly key. We were told the biggest maps can be 4x the size of the biggest map in Assault Squad 2, and there are plenty of maps that are wide, not just 'long' which was what AS2 was mostly known for.
But what Cold War really brings to the table has nothing to do with the tactical space. The headline new feature of the expansion is a new campaign interface. Essentially you can dynamically generate a Nato vs. Warsaw Pact campaign that uses a fictional campaign map to visualise the frontlines, where you fight through a series of battles until there is a winning side. 1C it seems are not as brave as say, Eugen, who set their own fictional 'Cold War gone Hot' scenarios in what is clearly Germany, Finland, etc... so the campaign map won't be recognisable in any way, and the tactical battles are not meant to represent real places.
When the campaign starts, you get given an amount of funding and a (limited) list of squads you can recruit into your army. These can range from infantry squads of various specialisations, to vehicles (with crew). They then go into your central 'Army' pool where they are then eligible to be deployed to missions.
A new mechanic for the series is that they've moved away from the more free-form 'spawn what you can afford from a shopping list’ set-up. Instead, in each mission you get three 'waves' – each wave can only have a certain capacity, although that capacity grow. You assign the units you've recruited to the various waves, up to what you can take with you. The only real concern here is capacity – infantry take up less capacity than motorised vehicles and tanks, and you have to make strategic choices as what you bring in when. An early tank can help you take the capture point, but if you don't support it and it dies you'll be on the back foot until the second wave comes in.
The in-battle resource points become less important as a result of this – all you're saving for essentially is the next 'wave' of troops. When you have enough funds you simply click a button and they all spawn at once. Once you've summoned the last wave that's it – there are no more troops coming to save you. We imagine when new off-map support abilities come in they will also share the resource economy. 'Special' units like from Assault Squad 2 are also coming back. On paper its a system that seems to ape Steel Division somewhat, although it's a much simpler interpretation.
What I think will really excite fans though is the persistence elements. When you finish a tactical battle (win or lose) you get a report regarding what units survived and how damaged they are. If you can disable enemy vehicles and get your own men into them, you 'capture' them and they get added to your main army pool. Damaged units will need re-supplying to bring back up to full strength, but units that survive also gain experience. Campaigns are dynamic but seem to follow a trend – the first mission or two will only involve one or two capture points, where-as later mission will involve more. The difficulty is adaptive so if you find yourself losing often the AI will take it easy on you, but if you lose too many times you will lose the war and have to start again anyway. More advanced army units also unlock over time as well.
Our time with the Cold War expansion was short, but quietly impressive – the majority of changes involve behind-the-scenes and quality of life improvements, along with more subtle tweaks. It definitely shows, and Cold War certainly doesn't feel like it's running on a five year old engine. Co-up is also a thing for the dynamic campaign, and 1C have said that if this expansion does well they can look at adding more factions and units – at the moment it's simply 'USA' vs. 'USSR', and so there's none of the granular depth of national actors that the real Cold War had.
We'll bring you more impressions of Men of War: Assault Squad 2 – Cold War when it launches next month on September 12th.