Image via Best Way/Fulqrum Publishing
Men of War II treads upon some of the most tread-upon ground in gaming, media, and world history: World War II. Countless games, films, television series, and more tell these stories from about any imaginable perspective. That said, developer Best Way is a few short months from releasing its fresh take on the World War II RTS subgenre. I was lucky enough to play a few multiplayer matches with some devs and other gaming outlets. I have to say, Men of War II felt distinctly unique, deep, and innovative, despite the limited content in the preview. During the playtest, I played three 2v2 multiplayer matches in which I was paired up with a dev and pitted against another developer/press team. Each match took place on a different map and game mode.
The first thing that struck me with the Men of War II preview was the depth, customizability, and control it gives players, even in the Army selection screen. The USA, German, and Soviet Armies were playable in the preview I played. Within each army, there are several battalions available, including infantry, tanks, and artillery. I spent one game trying out battalions of each type. I chose the USA tank battalion on the devs’ recommendation for the first game. My jaw dropped when I saw the sheer number of orders I could give and the actions each unit could perform. For example, each tank had multiple weapons, and some had different ammo types for each weapon. Of course, each weapon and ammo type serves a different purpose. Most of the tanks I played with had a main cannon for other vehicles and a lighter machine gun for infantry.
Diversity in the ammo, weapon, and vehicle types included in the Battalions also led to my favorite moment of the preview. I spawned in a unique-looking USA tank with rocket salvos as an available weapon. My dev partner recommended a spot to set up, using his knowledge of the game and his opponent’s behavior. It was apparent the devs engaged in healthy competition during these playtests. On his recommendation, I fired the rocket salvo and caught a few enemy tanks off guard, quickly destroying them. There were a ton of similar vehicles and other units with different specialized roles based on their actual role in the real war.
Men of War II‘s devs also went above and beyond in the historical accuracy department. They emphasized the importance of finding that sweet spot between complete realism and flat-out fun. The amount of real-life details they crammed into the game while maintaining the fun gameplay astounded me. During my tank game, I discovered the vehicles in Men of War II are made of many individual parts. Each separate piece reduces the vehicle’s effectiveness relatedly when destroyed. These smaller parts provide insane realism to the game’s vehicles. For example, the German tank battalion’s Panzer 4 Model G was a heavier tank than other real-life Panzer models. In the game, heavier parts make up the Model G, making its model and playstyle much heavier.
Multiplayer maps provided another considerable aspect of the game’s historical roots. While they weren’t full scans of actual World War II battlefields, the maps offered accurate looks, feels, and locales you’d expect from the European Theater. We first played on the Borovaya River map in the Combat game mode. Combat mode provided the classic real-time strategy gameplay we’ve all come to know and love. There were no objectives other than fighting the enemy. Lush green forests, hills, and farmlands populated the map. Of course, it also featured a vast river basin dividing sections of the map. A great mix of high and low ground allowed each army to take strong positions. However, the map spreads these positions enough that no place dominates the map.
Next, we played on the Winter March map in the Frontline game mode. Winter March played precisely the way it sounds: a white winterscape. It reminded me of Hitler’s real-life decision to invade the Soviet Union during wintertime. The fact I played the German infantry battalion compounded this fact. Also, more of the game’s depth and versatility shines in the infantry units. Each battalion contains a few infantry units, regardless of their makeup. However, the infantry battalions have significantly more versatile and specialized infantry units. For example, I chose between veteran Riflemen, Grenadiers, SMG, and mechanized infantry units on each spawn. The Frontline game mode also emphasized the importance of the infantry. In this mode, there’s a frontline dividing the map in half. Each side must push its frontline into enemy territory while maintaining its own. The catch is that only infantry units can move the frontline.
Finally, we played our last game on the Coast map in the Incursion game mode. Incursion provides an exciting twist on the classic RTS gameplay. One side attacks while the other defends. The attacking side must push the frontline to encircle various positions held by the defenders. Of course, the defenders must prevent this. While the Coast map lacked the cliffsides of real-life Normandy, it certainly did its job of providing a D-Day-like atmosphere to the match. Attackers start from the beach and must push inland. Additionally, the sheer number of positions attackers must take in Incursion accelerates the pace of matches significantly. There are so many positions that attackers must take within a limited time. Therefore, the attacking side can’t afford to spend too much time preparing or focusing on one place.
Moreover, Men of War II boasts tons of contextual gameplay elements. For example, infantry units can take cover against almost any object and hide within buildings. During the third game of the playtest, I ordered a squad to hold a house so they had some cover against the advancing enemy. This is when I found out the game also has distractibility elements. A few minutes later, I checked on the house, and it was gone, along with the squad. Reduced to atoms by enemy artillery.
I had an absolute blast during this Men of War II preview, and I can’t wait to jump back in and try the other battalions Best Way and Fulqrum Publishing are cooking up. Be sure to wishlist it on Steam. The game doesn’t have a definitive release date yet, but you can expect to hit the battlefields sometime in 2023.