Context is for Kings: Steel Division II's Strategic Layer Is Looking Pretty Great10 Oct 2018 2
While we all figured a new game was coming, it was a slight surprise to see Steel Division II announced so soon, and without Paradox no less. The sequel to one of our favourite WW2 war games, takes the action to the Eastern Front in 1944 with Operation Bagration taking centre stage.
This was an offensive by the resurgent Soviet Union to push the Germans out of Eastern Europe and storm into occupied Poland. It actually launched 20 days after the allies launched Operation Overlord, so you can imagine Hitler really having his hands full trying to defend two major attacks on two vastly separate fronts.
Steel Division 2 offers largely the same experience in terms of operational-tactical combat – you’ll have a pseudo ‘deck’ representing the forces available to you, and requisition points that will control how quickly you can get your units to the battlefield. 1944 Belyorussia is not Normandy, so while there is plenty of thick, impenetrable forest there is also plenty of wide open spaces. Controlling the roads will be key – but once again Eugen are allowing you to look beyond the tactical dimension.
Context is for Kings
The Wargame franchise had its big revelation when it added a campaign system in AirLandBattle, which was greatly improved in Red Dragon. The tactical engine for both that series and Steel Division is and will always be superb. A bit too arcade-like for some, but ‘historical realism’ was never a core pillar for Eugen.
Without a campaign to tie everything together though, Steel Division suffered similar problems that the original Wargame entry suffered. Sure, there was some continuity between missions, and some of those missions had some interesting design and challenges, but ultimately, they were little more than a series of battles with a loose narrative. Steel Division II’s campaign will provide the context that will tie everything together, and that will add a layer of meaning and decision making that will help this game become the wargame it was always meant to be.
Steel Division 2 transforms into a very different game when interacting with the solo experience. Multiple armies will be dotted about the 150x100 KM map, and their composition will determine what happens in the tactical sphere:
- Each top-level ‘unit’ within an army represents a Battalion-sized (or similar) formation.
- Battalions will have four or so companies – a HQ company, and then either Assault, Armor or Artillery companies.
- Each company will have a value – that represents the total number of that unit you can requisition in tactical battles.
Instead of units having their phase defined as part of their balancing & stats, Units are assigned a phase that they will appear in that will be based on how fast they can move, and their distance from the battlefield (up to a certain range).
You choose up to five units to take into battle with you, which will then have their phases assigned. This reinforcement mechanics means you could have a battle that involves elements from multiple armies, but it also allows for the tactical placement of your forces.
The Wargame campaign maps were divided up into zones and you were either in one zone, or another – SD2 is more freeform, although things are still controlled via turns. Every army will have a movement range and moving along roads allows you to travel further than rough terrain. Since road travel allows an army to typically travel quite far, placing a blocking force could prevent your enemy from receiving reinforcements along certain routes.
The tactical battles still looks beautiful – the engine tech hasn’t gotten any worse, and you’ll have a new terrain type to contend with ‘light forest’. Generally, the ranges for SD2 a lot bigger as well – you’ll be engaging at longer distances (sight-permitting), and they’ll be less urbanised areas to fight over. Most maps have been designed to be tactically interesting and will reflect the battle’s location on the strategic layer to some degree (it may not be 1:1 accurate though). There have also been some authentically recreated maps based on historical actions in key areas, should you end up fighting in those places. I imagine these maps will also serve as the backbone for multiplayer as well, which will be a lot more like the first Steel Division (since there’s no campaign map).
Speaking of multiplayer – at the moment the campaign will just be a solo affair. Eugen are looking at solutions… mainly around getting the AI to help you, (since Steel Division was at its weakest when it was just you vs. a single AI) – they’re not sure about a co-op mode or anything yet.
Moscow is Behind Us
For those of you who aren’t ready to leave the fields of Normandy just yet, the future is hazy right now. Eugen had a great habit of supporting older Wargame entries even after newer ones had released (up to a point), but they’re not sure what’s going to happen with regards to Steel Division 1. The will is there, but they’ve got to figure out what would be appropriate as new maps, for example, take a lot of time to make and now that they’re back to self-publishing their resources may be limited again.
There is no doubt I my mind that Steel Division 2 is going to be a step-up from the original game. The setting may end up being a bit ‘take it or leave it’ – I daresay the Eastern Front isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but it’s not exactly niche either. Regardless, Beylorussia’s wide open spaces will make an interesting counter-point to Normandy ‘44’s near-claustrophobic hedgerows and forests.
Whether or not Steel Division 2 solves some of the more fundamental issues that prevented the first game from being a major commercial success remains to be seen – it continues to occupy that grey area of being slightly too complex for casual strategy gamers but lacking certain elements that hardcore grogs tend to look for in their games. The campaign should help with the latter, but so far SD2 doesn’t seem to be trying to be any more appealing for the former. Regardless, we’re very much looking forward to getting our hands on the game, so we can try it out for ourselves.