I’ve been a huge fan of real-time strategy (RTS) games since Age of Empires. Unfortunately the RTS genre has been lacking anything decent or interesting for quite a while now, if you exclude Total War. There is however this fairly unknown series of games called Men of War, which I highly suggest you check out if you want an interesting and unique RTS to try… with some issues.
Men of War games are a primarily WWII set series of real-time strategy games dating back to 2009 when the original was released, although there were a couple of predecessors going back to 2004. For the most part it is a fairly straightforward RTS without any form of base building. You simply spawn in new squads or units from a menu for a cost of points that you accumulate over time and by completing objectives. The game takes a very realistic approach which I personally love. This means that your soldiers can be killed by a couple of shots, or your tanks may be instantly disabled by a well-placed hit. However, it is this approach to realism that really brings in the details and opportunities for the game to shine.
Instead of your more classic style of RTS where there is a sort of rock-paper-scissors approach to balance, in this game there are for more possibilities for different tactics and how to counter your opponents. For example, if the enemy has a well-positioned artillery piece they may be able to take out your expensive tanks without taking any losses themselves due to being a far smaller target that is harder to hit, especially in an elevated position. If you keep throwing your expensive units at it hoping to break through then you’ll waste your resources. However, thanks to the game’s effective stealth system, you can carefully send in a small group of cheaper infantry to sneak up on the enemy and take out their vulnerable artillery crew. From there the game allows you to perhaps steal then enemy’s artillery by crewing it with some of your own guys, or you could use the same system to send someone to repair and crew one of your old tanks depending on the state of it.
When I first played the game with some friends and I realized I could effectively ‘steal’ their vehicles they had spent a lot on after I had temporarily disabled them, I knew I would love this game. A similar thing can be done with infantry units as well. They all have their own inventory, and this plays a big part in many cases. You can loot an enemy’s weapons and ammo, or even replace a lost helmet to increase your rifleman’s survivability. You can also use this system to resupply your troops and artillery by having someone lug ammo over to them, or even fill up a truck and drive it to the frontline. It may also be useful to prevent your enemy from stealing your abandoned tanks or artillery by taking all the ammo with you when you retreat. One of my favourite things to do with this flexible system is when a tank is completely destroyed and the tank crew abandon it, they usually only have pistols or an SMG to defend themselves with, but you can have on of them take the heavy mounted machinegun out of the tank to lay down some serious fire while they wait for reinforcements to arrive. You do need to think about who is using what though, and make sure you use weapons to their full potential. Units have their own skill levels with each type of weapon and equipment, meaning if your standard infantryman isn’t going to be great if you give him a sniper rifle, a Special Forces commando might do better, but a dedicated sniper is going to be best.
As the title suggests, I think this is a brilliant game, but there are a fair few problems with it. First of all it may be a little unclear as to what game you should buy. There have been 6 separate Men of War games released in only a few years. On top of that some of them have some fairly questionable DLC practices which doesn’t make the developers look good. Furthermore the series has also switched developers a couple of times, which doesn’t inspire confidence. For the most part it appears that between the first and latest game there haven’t been many improvements to the game. It is essentially the same game, and has been re-released with slight changes, or some releases were simply standalone mission packs. This appears to have mostly been done to get as much money out of a good game without any further effort. It’s almost as if the original developers struck gold and somehow made a great game by accident and then didn’t know where to go from there. Despite this you should definitely go for one of the newer game as they tend to have better graphics and are slightly more stable. If you want to go for multiplayer then the most popular one is ‘Men of War: Assault Squad 2’. This one has very lacklustre singleplayer missions where you simply progress through enemy positions for the most part. If you want a good singleplayer experience then the original ‘Men of War’ has a far better story based campaign, as well as a couple of nice things that they removed from the later games such as a free-for-all multiplayer mode instead of being locked to 2 teams. This first game has apparently been remade with the upgraded engine and graphics of the later games with the confusingly named ‘Assault Squad 2: Men of War Origins’, although I’m not sure how well it’s done.
The game itself also has some issues. First of all it can be fairly buggy and unstable. It has been known to crash randomly, although less frequently in the newer games. The menu system in the game is pretty clunky and unintuitive to use sometimes, especially when setting up a multiplayer game. Also it isn’t particularly well optimised, so if you don’t have an amazingly powerful PC you may need to turn down the already modest graphics of the game just so your game doesn’t freeze up when a tank explodes. Finally a big issue with the game for certain people is that it is very VERY micro-management heavy. This is unfortunately a side effect of all the detail in the game and its simulator-style nature. If you’re the kind of person that finds RTS game stressful and unenjoyable when there’s too much going on and there’s a lot of things you have to remember and do at once, then this game probably isn’t for you.
Despite all these issues the game is one of my all-time favourite RTS games. It delivers a lot of detailed gameplay in a very authentically realized WWII setting. Its realistic approach is satisfying and perfectly playable as a well-balanced game in a way no other has come close to beating.