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Men of War 2 preview - Controlling chaos

Men of War 2 is a relatively easy RTS game to get a handle on, but there are complex systems at work that require micromanagement mastery

Men of War 2 screenshot showing a tank approaching an enemy force

My initial experience with Men of War 2 is of repeatedly driving tanks across a river and watching them explode. Being a newbie to the series, thrown in at the deep end of this complex RTS, and pitted against experienced players for the couple hours I spent with it, my first impressions of Men of War 2 make it to you through a veil of confusion. Thought I should provide fair warning.

The game is an interesting mixture of highly granular, and very fast paced. You have a high degree of control over your troops; you can order individual infantrymen (as opposed to squads) to dig trenches, crouch, or equip different weapons or grenades, for instance. You can also take direct control over any unit, from the heaviest tank to the weakest soldier, and move them around personally.

But you’ll need to know these options like the back of your hand, because Men of War 2 also moves fast: units die quickly, and if you’re not constantly vigilant, one sneaky rifleman with an anti-tank grenade can make all the difference. Coming from Company of Heroes 3, where artillery takes a good long while to load up, I was shocked by how quickly an air strike can be called in and immediately wipe out a key component of your foe’s forces. Keeping your best units mobile is very key.

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Your awareness can also make or break a battle. While units can defend themselves to an extent in a scrap, you’re required to micromanage to a high degree, as the game provides no means (for example) to queue up actions.

Getting the drop, and being the first to fire often has a dramatic impact on the outcome of a skirmish, and as there are usually multiple battles going on at once, you sometimes have to pick your battles. You feel smart when you catch an opponent unawares, cutting through them while their attention is elsewhere, and you curse your luck when you swing the camera round to check up on some lads and find nothing left of them but a few bloody scraps.

In 2v2 multiplayer matches (which is what I was playing), communication will be crucial for this reason. The developers told me they were debating whether or not to add a spotting mechanic to the game so you can mark approaching threats, but explained that many players prefer the roleplay feel of having to call out grid references to report a position.

On the subject of awareness, there’s some interesting quirks in how fog of war works in Men of War 2. Infantry have better line of sight than vehicles, which forces you to use a mixed force for the right balance of power and perception. (It also lets you sneak up on a tank with troops with relative ease.) A fun detail – I could also sometimes see trees bend and topple in the distance through the fog of war, an ominous portent of a big vehicle on its way, like ripples in a glass of war as the T-rex approaches.

Men of War 2 screenshot showing a wintery town and troops

A new feature for the game is the front line system. Available in certain new game modes, this lets you capture territory by moving units around the map, pushing and pulling front lines in a kind of militarised tug of war. It’s an exciting and dynamic game mode, and also one where it’s much easier to keep track of everything that’s going on, as these lines help you spot incursions.

My favourite part of Men of War 2 is the destruction effects and physics engine. Tanks lurch over hillocks and shake and shudder with explosions. The tops fly off them in a satisfying way. Once I was able to zergrush a vehicle and stick it with five anti-tank grenades at once, observing with satisfaction that it was blown sky high in the ensuing blast.

My main area of complaint is the fiddliness of the controls, which sometimes frustrated me, especially when tackling systems I was unfamiliar with. Sometimes I struggled to get my units to do quite what I wanted – as it seemed random whether a right click or a left click would get the desired result. The dev team told me that making things consistent here is a key area for improvement.

In my limited time with Men of War 2 I wasn’t quite able to make the granular control of troops available to you gel with the fast-paced nature of the game and the degree of micromanagement required. However, I was still able to have fun with the gameplay, and do some significant damage to our opponents, even with a limited understanding.

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I therefore agree with dev Best Way’s assertion that Men of War 2 is easy to play (for an RTS game – it’s all relative), but difficult to master. You can brute force your way to victory without understanding everything, but to be a true master tactician, there are difficult systems to grapple with and learn.

Men of War 2 has a tech test available right now, and is available to download on Steam and play for free for the next four days, until Monday, March 27. This will be a limited version of the game, with a smaller roster of five maps and over 80 units. The final game will have 22 maps and 300 units.