Men of War: Assault Squad 2 - Cold War Review26 Sep 2019 0
Men of War: Assault Squad 2 - Cold War Review
Released 12 Sep 2019
When I returned from GamesCom you may remember me speaking quite positively about the (then upcoming) Cold War expansion for Men of War: Assault Squad 2. About how while it wasn’t necessarily what the series needed, it may yet breathe new life into a five-year old game and act as a platform for more to come.
I’ve never come to regret prior enthusiasm over something I’ve previewed quite so quickly, and it seems I’m not the only one to find this expansion lacking now that it’s out. As of the time of writing it has a ‘Very Negative’ 15% approval rating on Steam and has pushed out four updates in the past couple of weeks. When I was first playing this it was in a very questionable technical state, but since I decided to give it some time before I completed my review I can say at least things have been stabilized.
Cold War’s problems go beyond the technical, however.
Let’s recap what it is you’re getting with this expansion. The main source of content comes from new factions; a brand new USA and USSR faction that uses mainly Cold-War era equipment. I’m personally not versed enough in the period to know what years the equipment is from - looks like mainly post-WW2 with some miscellaneous WW2 equipment thrown in. On top of that, you get some new game modes for online multiplayer, and then the dynamic campaign generator that is at the heart of the expansion. For £20, this is stretching the boundaries of value, but if done right the DCG could have made everything worthwhile. The dynamic campaign mode still does carry the potential I talked about last month. It’s got some neat ideas, but at the time of writing the implementation leaves much to be desired and so the whole pack ends up being frustrating more than anything.
What under-pins this mode is the army management interface - you have a list of potentially recruitable units (not all will be available to begin with) which you recruit into your army. You then assign those army units to different ‘Phases’ which determines when they’ll appear in battle. Phase 1 will be purchasable instantly and all the units within that phase will spawn at once. You then must wait for your income points to tick up until you can afford to purchase Phases 2 & 3. There is also a 4th & 5th phase, which are unlocked later in the game. The UI also shows a ‘specials’ tab, which we assume is where the ‘special’ units go (at launch each faction seems to only have a single aircraft as an option), but so far I’ve never gotten far enough in a campaign to recruit one.
In skirmish matches, once you’ve purchased your final phase that’s it, there’s no other way to summon units into a campaign match. Matches always follow the Territory Capture game mode - the side that controls the most flags starts to accrue victory points - first to 100 wins. Early maps involve smaller areas with only one or two flags to fight over - larger maps will involve several. Units that survive a match gain veterancy and get stronger, although damage will need to be replenished and any unit wiped out will need to be replaced with a brand-new ‘green’ unit.
This has all the ingredients of really cool campaign experience similar to things like Wargame: Red Dragon, or even Close Combat: A Bridge Too Far. The problem is the way the design skews right now makes it a very unsatisfying experience. For starters, the map pool seems small in the early stages - I’ve started about half a dozen campaigns and always seem to get the same maps to begin with. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that some of them are just awful when dealing with a single flag to capture.
Indeed, the idea to start a player off with only one, and then two capture points in hindsight seems like a bad one. The AI appears to be allowed access to a lot more units than you (or at least favours infantry-heavy builds that are hard to repel) and their tanks always seem to be deadly accurate. Time-to-kill with infantry is also a lot higher, meaning an entire squad can get mowed down in a second if they get caught walking through the wrong field of fire. Generally speaking, if the AI gets to the flag first it’s going to be the winner,and if the player gets there first they will be the winner unless the AI throws so much infantry at you you’re dislodged and then you lose. It doesn’t always happen, but it depends on the map.
Going up to two flags to capture isn’t much better because assaulting these positions can be tricky. The AI doesn’t seem to keep much back for defence so with your meagre Order of Battle you’ll have to both attack and defend, which is no easy task. I’m happy to point out myself that much of this can be attributed to game balance, and yes I am basically complaining about the difficulty. But the early portion of the campaign acts as a bottleneck and is frustrating to interact with most of the time, and it prevents you getting to the later stages where I imagine this mode really comes into its own.
If you want a break from banging your head against the dynamic campaign wall, going for a more familiar one-off skirmish match is always an option. Whether it’s against real-people online or just trying to experiment or learn in an all-AI match, you get the more typical Men of War experience with lots of capture points and a ‘menu’ of units you can pick and choose to work with. This allows you to play around with more out-there additions like the Chinook transport helicopter, which is fun although it only really works on the largest of maps.
There’s every chance Men of War: Assault Squad 2 - Cold War will get better over time, but right now, especially for £19.99, I think we’re allowed to expect better. Not necessarily ‘more’ - I know some people have complained about the lack of content. It’s a tricky one because there is a lot of new tech that’s gone into the game, including upgrading the engine to 64-bit and other under-the-hood changes. Work like this is rarely visible so I wouldn’t necessarily say what’s being offered isn’t ‘enough’, but there’s definitely a sense of sloppiness about some of the new features.
Probably the most damning thing at the moment is that there’s a perfectly good mod for Men of War: Assault Squad 2 that adds in Cold War era units anyway, and it’s entirely free. With the Campaign systems still in need of work you’ve really only got the usual skirmishes or online multiplayer, and if that’s what you’re doing you might as well check out the mod instead. It even has a campaign.
Never say never, but this is one expansion you can probably ignore for now. Perhaps it’s time we get the true sequel to Men of War everyone actually wants.