If you’ve read my previous review of Battlefield 1 then you’ll know what I thought of its attempt of a World War 1 setting. At best it was just a lazy reskin of existing Battlefield mechanics and gameplay, and at worst it was an insult to the reality of the war. Well now allow me to introduce you to a game that is also a multiplayer first person shooter, and yet manages to combine historical authenticity and solid gameplay into something unique and enjoyable.
Verdun was developed and self-published by two very small development teams based in The Netherlands. It was released as a beta on Steam early access in 2013 and fully released in 2015. The game consists entirely of online multiplayer matches based around one core gametype called ‘Frontlines’, alongside very simple deathmatch, team deathmatch, and wave defense modes. The game boasts a large amount of authentically modelled and functioning WW1 weapons, accurate uniforms and squads for various countries, and maps based on real WW1 battles, mostly consisting of areas around Verdun itself, but also some others based in other areas and later parts of the war.
Now obviously this game is going to be compared to Battlefield 1. There are only a handful of games set in WW1 out there, and as far as I know, these are the only two that are FPS games. So why do I say this game is so much better than Battlefield? Well let’s take it through a few different criteria.
For me this is pretty much the most important point. For a first person shooter, and especially one that is in any way aiming for a historical angle, the game lives and dies on the quality of its weapons. Obviously not every game is going to have a super realistic feel to its gunplay, and Battlefield has never gone too far down that road, but there is one part of Battlefield 1 that was unforgivable to me; the weapon distribution and use. In particular I mean that Battlefield has made it far too easy to run around with fully automatic weapons, and there is barely any use of bolt-action rifles for anything other than snipers. This wholly defeats the point of the game being set in WW1 to begin with, especially when Battlefield had to pull in experimental weapons from the period on a large scale to give players even more full-auto guns to run around with, when in reality it was a struggle for any country to field even self-loading (semi-auto) rifles at that time!
So what Verdun does in this case, is they make the game be primarily filled with an authentic mix of weapons. Thanks to their squad system, you can only play use the class loadouts that are available, meaning that you will have a majority of soldiers with standard rifles, a few Machinegunners based on type of squad selected, some officers primarily with pistols, and a handful of other loadouts such as bombers who mostly carry grenades alongside a sidearm, or a rare specialist who uses a trenchgun(shotgun) or machine-pistol. This simple balance of weapon distribution causes the game to change entirely. When most people have high powered rifles that have good range and kill in one shot most of the time, you end up with far more long range firefights. Everyone has to be more careful about exposing themselves above the parapet lest they get blown away. On top of this, it makes for interesting close quarters fighting that really ends up playing out like actual trench raids and can be really exciting. If you’re storming the enemy trench with your rifle then it can be tricky to use, you may get one shot off on a guy before his teammates come around the corner, so you may be better off rushing into bayonet range, using a pistol (with its own drawbacks), or lobbing grenades around every corner. If you’re playing as a machinegunner you can feel like the god of death in your entrenched position, mowing down the enemy as they try to cross no-mans land, but if they manage to flank you in your own trench, you’re usually unable to defend yourself up close without team support, and may get blind-sided entirely.
What Verdun also does right with its weapons is they make them a bit more realistic to use. This is a combination of several things; automatic weapons are harder to control in long bursts, rifle sights are smaller and harder to use, yet far more accurate at range, reload times are a lot longer depending on weapon, and it’s impossible to keep your aim steady while moving or out of breath. A lot of these might just sound like annoyances to most people, but I think they add a lot of flavour to the gunplay. Whereas a game like Battlefield had to scrape the barrel to find various rare and experimental weapons in order to give some weapon variation while giving only a token effort to being historical, Verdun has used all these different and realistic details on just the standard set of weapons used in WW1 to bring out their own inherent variety. For example, when playing as a French rifleman you have the option of the early-war Lebel rifle: 8 round capacity tube magazine in a large heavy rifle. Or you can use the Berthier carbine: 3 round capacity en-bloc clip in a shorter lightweight carbine. You may choose the first option if you like the larger capacity that you can top up as you go, but it takes a long time to reload each round one-by-one. So you may go for the second option if you want something that is easier to maneuver with, and is much faster to reload fully, albeit with only 3 rounds at a time, and you need to fully empty before you can reload at all. If you tried to look at it the same way in Battlefield 1 you would be wasting your time, as they make reload speeds on most weapons stupidly fast in order for them all to be at a similar time (for ‘balance’?), and it’s pointless to think about which rifle to use depending on range, as the iron sights are so oversized that differences in effective range are almost non-existent, and anyway you may as well just go for that machinegun you can sprint around with on this small-scale map and hipfire everyone to death with, trying to use a rifle will just leave you at a disadvantage to those guys.
Game mode and objectives
While Verdun only has the one true objective mode, it is where the core of the game is built around, and it works wonderfully. The frontlines mode leads players into more interesting gameplay where you can’t get someone annoyingly camping in a corner the whole game, and you don’t always have guys running around lone-wolf. In frontlines you and the enemy team need to take turns assaulting each other’s trenches, or other defended positions. This is forced in a fairly heavy-handed way that restricts the play area for defenders to just in front of their own trench, but it works, and makes the game feel far more focussed and team based than a simple killing competition deathmatch or an mode where the objective can be ignored in the pursuit of getting most kills on the leaderboard. There are other small details to this mode that also work well with the squad system, such as a well played officer class using their artillery, or poison gas strikes effectively to force enemy attacks or defenders into certain positions advantageous to their own team, or even just using attack commands that direct their squad into certain areas, creating a mini-objective of sorts that give bonuses to players that fight within those zones.
Authenticity and Realism
Finally I just want to cover a few of the other details that really bring this game to life as a true WWI game. There are a lot of playable nations based on squad type, all with their own purposes. You can play as the English, The Scots, The Canadians, The American army or marines, The French infantry or alpine troops, The Belgians. And as the Germans you can choose various squads including standard infantry, alpine troops, Stoßtrupp (shock troops), or pioneers. Each squad type has different buffs based on what they are supposed to be trained for, as well as their different class options, and weapon loadouts within that. Voice lines are included fully for the voice commands with correct languages (and accents), and the uniforms are accurate, and even upgrade in three different variants from throughout the war based on squad level.
The maps in the game are very large and are played in various segments based on the outcome off assaults and defense. You have a few which are your expected trench lines and a muddy bombed out no-mans-land, which are very atmospheric and incredible to play on. There are also a few variations in there such as maps consisting of large grassy hills, some forests, one with a huge night-time maze of a trench network, and one that is based around a large fort with lots of close quarters fighting that is a bit different from the usual trenches. All the maps are very detailed and give plenty of gameplay variation between them.
So there you have it. A game that has managed to merge historical accuracy, realism, and extremely enjoyable gameplay despite those that say it can’t be done! Hopefully I’ve managed to convince you to go ahead and support this small indie team by picking up this incredible game, and at the same time show the larger games industry that a game like this can work so we can get more like it in the future 🙂