Monday, June 03, 2013

Wargame: AirLand Battle Gameplay Review

I'm playing Wargame: AirLand Battle, a real-time strategy game by Eugen Systems and Focus Home Interactive.

The new dynamic campaign features both turn-based strategic and real-time tactical modes (similar to the Total War series) across four campaigns (one of which is a tutorial) of varied difficulties and lengths; progress is saved automatically after each battle, but you cannot save during a fight and resume later. You can play each scenario against a generally passive AI or online against one human opponent (no cooperative play, though), given objective provinces that must be captured within a time limit. Political points earned by capturing provinces can be used to call in new battalions or use special abilities (recon, delay enemy reinforcements). Units are grouped into pre-designed battalions that become available on a specific day, recruited in locations based on their attributes (for example, marine battalions can spawn in coastal provinces). Each battalion has an initiative value that determines the number of points you have to deploy units at the start of a tactical battle, and a morale rating that determines the victory point requirement for the enemy. Units are permanently destroyed but gain experience over time. There are no quick battle resolutions, so each tactical battle must be played out manually. Events (some with decisions) occasionally happen as you advance through the campaign mode. While the new dynamic campaigns are much more interesting than the scripted affairs of the original game, the shortcomings in the AI make for a less entertaining experience for a single player.

Skirmish games can be played against the AI (up to eight players this time, an improvement), and competitive multiplayer can handle up to twenty players simultaneously. Customizing your unit deck is easier thanks to a revamped interface, command stars for unlocking units have been removed (eliminating an obstacle for new players), and you can choose specializations (a specific country or unit role) for additional bonuses. More experienced units can be added to your roster (rather than purchased during a game), recruited for the same cost but at a lower total count. The interface is largely the same, although more unit detail is given. Organized formations are still missing, grouped units do not move at the same speed, and I’d like to have the option to make units use roads by default. The terrain is better but not great: it’s still mostly flat, terraced farmland, although the occasional hill or mountain is present. Spawn points located in the middle of a map (oddly placed tunnels) are confusing and unrealistic. Wargame: AirLand Battle effectively doubles the number of available units (to over 750) and covers all of the options you could need on the field of battle, including the addition of planes. Detailed attributes and system-specific damage are notable, supply and recon remain important, and infantry have a vastly expanded role thanks to urban environments. The skirmish AI is more capable (certainly better than the conservative AI in the campaign), as computer players seem to execute specific unit-based strategies that vary from game to game. While the price is high for what is essentially an expansion, the inclusion of dynamic campaigns and a host of minor features make Wargame: AirLand Battle a definite improvement over its predecessor.