Steel Di­vi­sion 2

Eu­gen Sys­tems’ se­quel is a WW2 RTS in­side a turn-based wargame

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SteelDivi­sion2 doesn’t just put a sin­gle di­vi­sion un­der your con­trol. It gives you com­mand of an en­tire army. Set dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Ba­gra­tion, the World War 2 Soviet cam­paign, the bat­tles are con­nected by huge cam­paign maps. It’s an RTS housed in­side a turn-based wargame, with ev­ery­thing recre­ated on a 1:1 scale, from the size of the tanks to the maps. One minute you’ll be com­mand­ing tens of thou­sands across 150x100km war­zones, the next you’ll be so close to the action that you’ll see tank treads churn­ing up dirt as they charge to­wards the en­emy.

Eu­gen Sys­tems’ game director, Alexis Le Dres­say, sends in col­umns of Soviet ve­hi­cles, clog­ging the ar­ter­ies that flow into Minsk. They are on their way to lib­er­ate the city, but only if they can smash through the en­trenched Ger­mans. This is all tak­ing place on one of the cam­paign maps, as prepa­ra­tions are made to march west. The Sovi­ets have around 40,000 troops and 1,000 tanks, while the Ger­mans have a quar­ter of that.

What might have been a sin­gle bat­tle in SteelDivi­sion:Nor­mandy44 is drawn out into a larger con­flict. Tak­ing Minsk means find­ing a way to pierce the Ger­man line, push­ing for­ward through vil­lages and cross­ings to reach the city. It’s a fight that will take mul­ti­ple days, spread out across a map full of player-de­fined ob­jec­tives.

“We wanted to add value to the solo cam­paign,” says Le Dres­say. “We wanted to make sure that the bat­tles you fight are de­pen­dent on the higher level stuff.” On the cam­paign map, you man­age the en­tire army, han­dle troop move­ments, and deal with sup­ply prob­lems, with each action hav­ing a tan­gi­ble im­pact on the bat­tles.

A break­through point is se­lected on the map, high­light­ing the near­est bat­tal­ions. Five can con­trib­ute to the bat­tle, but not all nec­es­sar­ily at the same time. SteelDivi­sion2’ s units get as­signed phases that limit when they can be brought into the fray. In the cam­paign, the phase is de­ter­mined by how close the bat­tal­ion is to the action.

“Phase A means they are just near the bat­tle­field, so they can be at your dis­posal at the very be­gin­ning,” ex­plains Le Dres­say. “Phase B means they will need one hour to get to the bat­tle­field, and Phase C means they will need two hours. Ba­si­cally the com­bat that we’re sim­u­lat­ing is about three hours of fight­ing.”

Pick­ing teams

That’s around 30 to 40 min­utes of real-time fight­ing per bat­tle, de­pend­ing on how the speed con­trols are used. In solo games, the speed of the action can be tweaked, giv­ing you more time to or­der your units or sit back and watch it un­fold. And if you need to think about your next move, you can pause the bat­tle.

There are quite a few bat­tal­ions near the tar­geted area on the Ger­man line, but they’re not ex­actly an elite fight­ing force. While SteelDivi­sion tasked play­ers with build­ing the best groups, the size of Steel Divi­sion2’ s cam­paign maps means that there are go­ing to be oc­ca­sions where you have to make the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion – even if that means re­ly­ing on the poorly-armed, roll-up smok­ing par­ti­sans.

The Sovi­ets throw ev­ery­thing into Phase A. The hope is that it will be a quick strike that’s able to punch through the Ger­man line and al­low the Sovi­ets to pour out of the leak. In­stead of fight­ing man­u­ally, the bat­tle is au­tore­solved — the whole game can be played this way — and it’s left up to the bat­tle re­port to tell the sad, sad story of the Soviet de­feat. Phase A ac­tu­ally went well, but then the en­emy brought in more troops dur­ing Phase B, and again dur­ing Phase C, leav­ing the Sovi­ets in a bit of trou­ble.

The dispir­ited Soviet at­tack­ers end the bat­tle out of moves and stag­gered, mean­ing that they’ll be over­run if en­gaged

You’ll be so close to the action that you’ll see tank treads churn­ing up dirt

by the en­emy. Re­in­force­ments will need to be moved from else­where to pro­tect them. How far bat­tal­ions can move within a turn — sim­u­lat­ing half of the day — is de­ter­mined by both their move­ment value and the ter­rain. Re­con units can travel fur­ther than big tanks, for in­stance, while all units ben­e­fit from us­ing roads.

“At ev­ery turn, you’ll be managing ev­ery bat­tal­ion dis­played on the map,” says Pierre-Yves Nave­tat, Eu­gen’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager. “It’s a huge strat­egy game, but if you want, you can play it just like a clas­sic turn-based strat­egy game. We have lots of bat­tal­ions to man­age at ev­ery turn, so there’s go­ing to be a lot of con­tent if you do. It’s like a new game within the game.”

The cam­paign map is cer­tainly busy, over­flow­ing with units and tar­gets. Thou­sands of troops need to be sent all over the bat­tle­field, ne­ces­si­tat­ing a network of HQs and sup­ply de­pots. Eu­gen is es­sen­tially build­ing an op­er­a­tional wargame. Sadly, the demo didn’t ven­ture far into the world of lo­gis­tics and sup­ply chains, so it’s hard to tell if it will be able to sup­port the en­tire game on its own.

Hunt­ing Tigers

An­other break­through is at­tempted, but at a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion and with a beefier force. This time we take man­ual con­trol of the RTS por­tion of SteelDivi­sion2, hom­ing in on the con­flict, leav­ing the mas­sive cam­paign map for a still-very­large 3x3km bat­tle­field. It’s been a day since the failed at­tempt, which has given the Ger­mans enough time to bring their Tigers up to the front line. If the Sovi­ets had en­gaged the day be­fore, there would have been fewer Ger­man de­fend­ers.

The bu­colic bat­tle­fields of Be­larus don’t look too dif­fer­ent from their Nor­man coun­ter­parts. It’s green and there are a lot of trees. It’s strik­ing, of course, and Eu­gen still makes some of the pret­ti­est (if a bit util­i­tar­ian) strat­egy games. The ter­rain is var­ied, how­ever, with hills and plateaus of­fer­ing ad­di­tional com­plex­ity and more uses for re­con units. There are routes only in­fantry can take, too. You won’t see tanks trundling through marsh­land, for in­stance.

Zoom­ing in close, it’s clear that Eu­gen’s ob­ses­sion with tiny de­tails persists. Even though you’ll spend most of the game high above the fire­fights and ex­plo­sions, ev­ery unit looks ex­tremely au­then­tic. You can get a bet­ter look at them in the ar­mory, which serves as both a mu­seum and a re­search tool, help­ing you pick the right units for skir­mish and mul­ti­player bat­tles.

With larger maps, the en­gage­ment dis­tance has been in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly. One of the Soviet tanks slowly tracks its prey like a big game hunter. A shell is loaded, and af­ter a mo­ment of an­tic­i­pa­tion it’s pro­pelled to­wards the en­emy ve­hi­cle, far across the fields, smack­ing into its chas­sis. Through­out the bat­tle, im­pos­ing heavy tanks ex­change shots with foes all over the map, across farms and vil­lages, never get­ting close to one an­other, but fre­quently land­ing dev­as­tat­ing strikes.

“We wanted to make it so that when you’re with a unit, you have that feel­ing of be­ing there on the bat­tle­field,” Le Dres­say says. “Some­thing we didn’t do prop­erly with the first SteelDivi­sion was the size of en­gage­ment. It was a lit­tle bit too short, so we wanted to make it more re­al­is­tic.”

In skir­mishes and mul­ti­player, where you can cre­ate spe­cial­ized unit decks, the range changes could have an even big­ger ef­fect. “In SteelDivi­sion, it was harder to spe­cial­ize with ar­tillery be­cause it wasn’t able to shoot all over the map,” says Le Dres­say. “There were some lim­i­ta­tions. We’ve changed how it works now; it’s re­ally pow­er­ful and able to fire any­where, ba­si­cally. And in the East­ern Front, we’ve got heavy tanks on both sides, which re­ally changes things. It gives you more el­e­ments to play with.”

With SteelDivi­sion2, Le Dres­say says he doesn’t want to cut out parts of the orig­i­nal, or even to change much. His goal is to add to it, to move it for­ward. “We tried to bring a new vi­sion to the game, but we don’t want to make a rev­o­lu­tion.” Even though there’s this whole new strate­gic layer sit­ting above the RTS fights, the game should still work the way you ex­pect if you’re a re­turn­ing player.

If all you want is more RTS bat­tles, there are 25 new maps, 18 new di­vi­sions, and modes that let you dive straight into the action. The cam­paigns are shap­ing up to be the real draw, how­ever. SteelDivi­sion was great, but the mis­sion ob­jec­tives were re­stric­tive and the cam­paign was just a list of fights. With SteelDivi­sion2’ s Op­er­a­tion Ba­gra­tion comes the prom­ise of agency, emer­gent con­flicts, and the abil­ity to lose a bat­tle, but still win the war — ev­ery­thing the last game was miss­ing.

Thou­sands of troops Need to be sent all over the bat­tle­field

Threats don’t only come from the ground.

It’s lovely here when the AA guns stop roar­ing.

We’ll try to lib­er­ate you next time, Minsk.

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