Sunday, October 18, 2009

Order of War Review

Order of War, developed by and published by Square Enix.
The Good: Campaign unit upgrades
The Not So Good: Completely derivative gameplay, no fog of war and few commands seriously hinder strategy and tactics, generic units, very limited tactical air support options, conquest-only multiplayer with only six maps and four players
What say you? An obvious, inferior ripoff of World in Conflict: 3/8

Given how great World in Conflict was, I'm surprised that the strategy genre hasn't been inundated with clones. The game's unique combination of action-packed tactical team-based gameplay with powerful aids and spectacular graphics was very enjoyable. Well, your wait is over as Order of War certainly takes heavy inspiration from this now classic strategy title. Eschewing resource management for pretty explosions and putting the player right into the fray, these tactical games put a focus on the action. Order of War takes the fighting back to ever-popular World War II, since using any unique setting that hasn't been done hundreds of times before would be just plain silly. Will Order of War improve and expand upon World in Conflict, or just be a shell of its inspiration's self?

The graphics of Order of War do not compare favorably to contemporary strategy games, World in Conflict included. I think this mainly has to do with the extremely dark hues of the game: everything is dark green or brown, and this color palate only serves to make a very dreary environment. The textures are fine and the explosion effects are realistically understated. Some of the damage effects aren't quite as dramatic and detailed as I would like to see, as tanks seem to go from intact to burning wreck instantaneously. There are also some clipping problems, especially with infantry units of different squads simply overlapping into each other. Order of War emphasizes the use of the cinematic camera (it's the largest button of the interface, questionably overshadowing commands and controls you actually use), which automatically takes control of your view and puts you right up to the action; it's here that the texturing and effects are seen the best, and while the graphics are decent, they are certainly not impressive. In addition, there are problems with the game's resolution: the sides of the screen are cut-off for my video card (an ATI Radeon HD 4670) and changing resolution doesn't fix the problem. This would not be a huge deal of Order of War did not put things right on the edge; I can't observe the health of my bottom-row units. The sound effects are disappointing as well. The voice acting needs work, as it alternates between passable and annoying. The battle sounds are only heard when you are right on top of the action, making the chaos all but silent most of the game (since you'll want to access the action for far up above). The music is a bit too overly dramatic for my tastes; it would be nice if it dynamically adjusted for in-game events. As it stands, just moving troops around involves a loud, piercing score. While Order of War isn't the worst looking strategy game on the market, it does not offer any unique feature to make it stand out, either.

Order of War lets you control forces during a minor, regional engagement called World War II (or, as the Polish called it, “Hey, Germany, WTF?!”). The single player offerings include two campaigns of nine missions each that last a while, thanks to some lengthy missions involving multiple objectives. The Americans get a campaign as do the Germans, which is unique because no other strategy game has ever featured a German campaign. The two campaigns feature very typical objectives, attack them or defend this, and are quite scripted. The large maps do lend themselves to some strategic variety, although most of the objective locations lend themselves to only one optimal solution. The only unique part of Order of War is the campaign upgrades: following a successful mission, you can choose to improve the abilities of your troops, like range for artillery or accuracy for infantry. It’s a neat feature, but it’s pretty useless since you do not know what enemies you will encounter next or what friendly troops you will have at your disposal; it’s disappointing to spend all of your points on artillery and not be given any next mission. While Order of War does allow you to save your progress anywhere within a mission, doing so takes a good fifteen seconds; I have no idea why. Order of War also features a tutorial for new players to the genre (of whom the game is geared towards) and skirmish games against the AI. Multiplayer games are quite limited, featuring conquest-only games on only six maps. Plus, the action is limited to a maximum of four players, and the large maps are horribly designed for this low player count: you simply do no have enough units to cover all of the control points. I doubt that anyone will spend more than a game or two online. It should also be noted that Order of War requires Steam, whether you bought a physical DVD copy or not, for those who have issues (philosophical or otherwise) with the platform.

Order of War takes the increasingly popular stance of removing resource production altogether, replacing it with a continual stream of resource points that are dependent on how many control points you hold. The resource points are also used to buy “air support,” tactical assets, like bombers and artillery, that are deadly accurate. There is a very limited selection of air support available (only four choices) and none of them are very interesting. Units are equally uninteresting: your typical selection of tanks (light, medium, heavy), anti-tank guns, artillery, and infantry. Anyone can purchase any of the units, so you are not tactically restricted to a single class of vehicle. Reinforcements are always called in from the same point on the map (either the top or bottom), but you can designate a rally point for them once they enter the fray. There are no special abilities for any of the units, which makes Order of War quite dull as you are quite limited in your tactical options. Using the same points for both units and off-map artillery is an over-simplification that I find strategically limiting, especially considering the overpowered nature of the air support and how one strike can easily decimate a superior amount of enemy units in terms of cost.

There are some basic control problems with Order of War that make the game unwieldy at best. Moving the mouse to the edge of the screen does not scroll, requiring you to use the mini-map or the arrow keys. Your orders are also quite limited, as you are only given move, attack, stop, and unload. That’s all, folks. Units will engage enemy units (attack-move is “on” by default), but they will stop while doing so and usually not start moving again unless issued another movement command. Troops will also occasionally ignore enemy units. A group will move at the speed of the slowest unit, making coordinated attacks easier, though. The AI is not great, but the game doesn't lend itself towards advanced strategy with the vanilla units and lack of advanced orders. The enemy seems to have simple scripted paths and will head straight towards the objective without regard for terrain or enemy positioning. Order of War is simply a matter of having more troops. One of the biggest sins of Order of War is the lack of fog of war. Seriously? Yes, you know the positions of every enemy unit on the map at all times, making success trivially easy and the air support assets akin to cheating. Heck, a good strategy is to spend your initial resource points and bomb your enemy’s initial control point in the first five seconds of the game, since you know exactly where their troops are located. Order of War has amazingly shallow gameplay thanks to the lack of fog of war and no special abilities or advanced commands beyond “move.” World in Conflict had special abilities. Men of War had direct control of units. Order of War has nothing.

Order of War is at best a simple copy of World in Conflict transferred to World War II; at worst, it is a blatant sub-par ripoff. There is simply nothing that the game offers that is any better or even equal to other titles; in fact, Order of War removes a lot of the strategic depth that World in Conflict contained. The use of the cinematic camera says all you need to know about the game: it wants you to sit back and watch units explode, instead of playing a strategically interesting title. The two campaigns offer nothing special, other than the upgrades you can choose between missions. The multiplayer features are a joke: six maps and 2v2 only? Give me a break. The game is poorly balanced for this player count anyway, as there are too many control points and never enough units to defend them. Resource points must be divided between purchasing units and using air support; in-game performance is not rewarded at all, so you can sit back and spam overly powerful air support all you want, especially since Order of War inexplicably lacks fog of war, making all enemy units visible at all times. Talk about limiting your tactical options. The units themselves are generic and so its the gameplay: all you have are move orders, as units will attack automatically, and stop indefinitely while doing so. There are no special abilities or direct control to make Order of War anything above a very simplistic strategy game that is quite unsatisfying. The graphics are average and, along with the interface, exhibit a number of annoying bugs. I would expect a lot more from the developers behind Massive Assault, a somewhat interesting turn-based strategy title. Why would you buy a fraction of the game at twice the price?