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Steel Division 2

Steel Division 2 – A battle too far

I got the chance to try out the new Steel Division 2!

Before we start dissecting Steel Division 2, let me clarify that most official screenshots suck.
They’re done at a very high zoom level to showcase the 3D unit model details.
The game isn’t played like that so let’s cut the crap.
Every screenshot I will add to this post will feature the average camera angle and zoom for most players.
Sorry if it doesn’t look as pretty as those incredibly detailed tanks and planes – but that’s the reality of how the game looks because that’s how you will play it.
The game is beautiful in its own way, but the screenie close-ups aren’t fair to what the game truly plays like.
This bad habit of showcasing aspects of games that aren’t relevant really upsets me as it tricks players into buying something that doesn’t look like what is shown. I also hate cinematic trailers btw. So this will be the first and last close-up you’ll see in this post:

Steel Division 2 – I was excited but slightly skeptic at the same time.
There were a few good reasons for that.

Steel Division 2 picks up where Steel Division: Normandy 44 left off. Instead of hitting the beaches of Normandy in operation Overlord, this time you’ll be fighting its eastern counterpart, Operation Bagration.

Eugen Systems has been developing this engine for quite some time now. The game shares similarities with one of my favorite games of all time:
A magnificent war tabletop-like game called R.U.S.E.
Man, I wish I had this blog when R.U.S.E. first came out back in 2010!

I promise I won’t spend this article talking about the oldie.
The truth is that most of the game mechanics present in 2019’s Steel Division 2 were already present in 2010’s R.U.S.E…. as well as every game in the Wargame series.

The 3 rules of war: location, location, location.

Steel Division 2 features a GIGANTIC war map where you’re able to scheme, plot and outthink your opponent using clever unit maneuvers and critical timing for moving your troops. 

The game demands that you think in advance, that you prepare for all possible attacks and counter-attacks. It demands concealment, ambushes, suppression and quick battle-critical decisions.

As a general, you focus on securing key locations on the map. It’s simple: the more you have, the more likely you are to win the battle. To achieve that you need to put boots on the ground.

Occupy and fortify villages with your infantry units. Place anti-tank guns at the main roads and anti-air units in the forest. Support with long-range artillery and have a couple of big, heavy tanks ready to flank any attacking force. Fuel and repair your planes to help push back the enemy.

Yet, you’re going to lose this fight. Sorry.

You forgot to place your recon units where they can spot the enemy at a distance. 

The enemy force advances towards the town.
You know they’re advancing as they slowly push the red line that splits the map between your sector and the enemy’s.

You don’t know what’s coming your way so you move your tanks towards the enemy. BAM! They’re blown into tiny pieces by the enemy tank destroyer. You can’t even see it as it is too far away and your recon units are nowhere to be seen. The enemy rushes towards your position. Once they’re in sight of your anti-tank gun you realize they actually have no tanks and your gun is useless at this point. 

Too late to fall back.
A number of storm infantry rushes towards your anti-tank gun and quickly take care of it. Your infantry units are holed up inside the village houses and are able to effectively suppress the enemy infantry. Enemy artillery falls on your units and it completely destroys their hideout. As a final act of despair you send your planes to destroy the enemy artillery. Unfortunately, they’re shot down by a couple of enemy anti-air units hiding in the woods.

The inevitability of war

The truth is that Steel Division 2 feels a bit pre-scripted in the sense that it is hard to bounce-back once you’re losing a match. The story of the match is mostly written during the first 15 minutes of it.
Efforts to change that are often met with resistance. It is pointless to throw new units to lock your position as they will take too long to get there. 

Your allies won’t help you. They’ve got problems of their own – and due to the size of the map they’re too far away to be of any help. In fact, it kind of feels like your allies are mostly just cosmetic.
Fortifying and defending a position tends to be easier than to attack an enemy outpost, but you can’t defend forever. The enemy will eventually score.
This inevitability of battle actually forces you to keep adjusting your tactics. You will now need to use choke-points for ambushes and to support your troops with a different mix of units. Hopefully, the enemy won’t be prepared for those.

Good timing and a plan for falling back is most times a requirement and a prelude to a successful counterattack. A counterattack victory is glorious but oftentimes happens due to the enemy spending all of their units before the battle timer runs out.

Fighting time

The Phase system splits the match into three timed phases where you’re able to deploy different types of units. It allows you to set up your forces in any way you like during each phase, allowing you to carry more units and more experienced ones as time progresses. You lay out your own strategy as a tabletop card game.

You will decide how many tanks you’re carrying into battle, how many artillery pieces, planes, snipers, but also which vehicle is transporting them and which weapons are they carrying.

This breathes new life into any stagnant fight. It ultimately forces players to re-adjust their tactics to fight the new enemy units.
Even if daunting at first (when you just want to rush and play the game), it becomes the key to your strategy. Something uniquely yours to surprise your enemy with.

One-man army

The game truly shines in multiplayer, where battles are dynamic and unpredictable. Even though communication is lacking and, in most public games, pointless.

Singleplayer, however, lacks that.
The AI is very slow and very predictable.

Matches seem to last for hours. It seems like both AI sides are just too polite to hurt each other. 

The most exciting single-player feature is the Army General maps. In this game mode, Real-time battles are just a fraction of a much larger turn-based conflict. Akin to the likes of a Total War campaign map, you’re able to move your armies in a large conflict map and fight the battles in real time. This however is a brand new feature that still requires some polishing. 

The UI lacks context information and it is unclear how units move and which units will fight in a battle. The missing tutorial is also a major downside. The fact that real-time maps are always the same (instead of being dynamically generated based on the campaign map) is also a downside.

I would love to see Hearts of Iron sized maps of the whole conflict and being able to truly wage war at a continental scale. However, these maps only represent a few hundred square kilometers. Due to the scale of the units on the map and how fast they reinforce, you’re not really able to plot a major flanking or bubble maneuver with your units. Instead you’ll see a blob of units spread along a slowly-moving borderline. The fact that you’re forced to reach a destination within a limited number of turns also prevents you from planning a massive invasion.

Afterwind

This game tires your brain. In a good, albeit costly way.
I really enjoy playing just a single match per day. 

The constant need for micro-management at a massive scale and battles taking longer than 30 minutes (up to 2h in single-player AG) really tire your brain and I usually turn to a brainless shooter like Battlefield V afterwards.

To be fair, Steel Division 2 doesn’t feel like a brand new game. It is very similar to other games being developed for the past 10 years by the same company. However, its game mechanics are solid and it feels like there’s plenty of different battle strategies to explore. The complexity of war and the tiny victories you get in each battle makes it very enjoyable. You’ll feel that losing a match can be very enjoyable if the battle was fair.

Steel Division 2 is a realistic and complex combat representation that really forces you to think ahead. 

The learning curve is steep.
Especially if you’ve never played any previous games of the series – or if you wish to become an expert and keep track of all the stats and micro-manage each unit. 

However, the massive scale, beautiful graphics, detailed and accurate combat systems and the dynamic multiplayer, make it one of the best and most realistic games of its kind. 

Just don’t expect to have your hand held in war.

I would value this game at 60€ if you’re a war enthusiast, 25€ if you’re a Tropico 6 player and 15€ if you prefer non-RTS games. 

Popcorn Score:

I’ll see you on the battlefield!
-ViLa4480


Tropico 6

Tropico 6 – Guess Who’s Back!

The red carpet is set, the people have been groomed, the rebels silenced.
All is ready for your speech, El Presidente!

With Anno 1800 on the very near horizon, Tropico 6 has just released.

With its unique serious-but-silly tone, Tropico 6 sets itself apart from other city-building and management games.

Take a vacation from the polluted, traffic-ridden, industrial metropolises in Simcity or the cold and way-too-clean streets of Cities: Skylines.

Come to Tropico.
Now! -Or else.

Welcome to Tropico!

Eyes in the skies to “protect” your people!

If you’re new to Tropico, let me explain why you need to try it out:
‘Dictatorship is just a rude label.
You have been divinely appointed to guide your people… but now you need to stay in power. By any means necessary.

Things get trickier over time, as each and every decision you make tips the 8-sided scale of your people’s support towards a certain faction. If you appease the communists with a shiny new school, the capitalists will surely dislike the costs it imposes on your budget and might even rebel.
Ah… do not worry Mr. El Presidente, bribery is still an option, and there’s plenty of jail cells available in your island!

Draw tourists to your beautiful nuclear powerplant!

The game becomes more and more complex as you play it. It steadily grows the number of actions you’re able to perform, the number of buildings available to build, and the number of factions present. This level-up scalability keeps things fresh and interesting, even for experienced players.

Shiny, sweaty engines & bananas

The landmark game in the city-building genre has a brand new game engine – and it looks amazing. It allows for even prettier graphics, which have always been key to the Tropico series.

This is Tropico 6 – the banana-republic simulator!

One of its major improvements is the new archipelagoes system.
El Presidente is now able to expand his godly benevolence to nearby islands.
This new iteration also adds true multiplayer features. There might be some concerns over saving 4h-long multiplayer games. However, the prospect of having an archipelago run by several dictators with different ideologies is quite thrilling.

A lot of the game has changed but the essence is still there. You get to run a beautiful Caribbean island whilst struggling with famine, poverty, explosive cigars, religion, rebellions, allegiance to foreign superpowers and rivalry with Caribbean neighbors. You are still able to turn your island into a religious commune or a capitalistic intellectual haven.

Why bother making new landmarks when you can steal them instead?

The introduction of world landmarks (that actually serve a purpose), raids, and the expanded trade options feel like all previous Tropico DLCs have been added to this new game for free. It also seems like it has plenty of room for new, solid, expansions.

The combat system is still bad, as it has always been in the series, but they’ve added plenty of new buildings, factions, and abilities, which keeps things interesting.

Final speech

Tropico 6 does not set itself apart from the series.
We wouldn’t want that anyway – but it does a few things very well.

The game is really fun to play and explore. New and experienced players will enjoy the type of complexity and progression it provides – and it feels like a substantial upgrade to previous iterations of the Tropico series, without changing its core concepts. Even though it seems like there’s a bit of “soul” missing to the game, it still gets my vote and I can’t wait to play more.

Popcorn Score:

5/5 Pops – a solid score for a solid game that orders you to go play it. Now.

If you enjoy this soviet-era funny-but-not-so-funny approach, you might be interested in checking Papers, Please: The Short Film! Go check it out now!

If instead you would prefer to support this blog and get Tropico 6 at a discount price, buy it through here!

I’ll see you at my speech,
-ViLa “El Prez” 4480

Kingdom: Two Crowns logo

Kingdom: Two Crowns …One and a Half?

This is my first review post on this blog. If you guys would like to know more about how I started this epic journey check out PLANTING A SEED.

A mighty Kingdom

Kingdom: Two Crowns has just been released earlier this month and I decided to give it a go.

Kingdom: Two Crowns is a 2D side-scrolling “kingdom-builder” game. The kind of satisfaction you get from playing a tower-defense game, mixed with the satisfaction you get from playing an exploration game like Terraria.

Being insanely addictive, this game uses very smart and staggeringly simple game mechanics which I am able to describe in three sentences: 

  • You’ve got a bag of gold coins.
  • You buy improvements to your fort.
  • You survive waves of enemies.

Ah. But things are never this simple.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Splitscreen

Building and growing your fort means expanding your borders further into wild,unexplored territory. This not only means that trees will have to be mercilessly cut down, but also that other, harder decisions must be made:

-Will you destroy a homeless person’s shelter to expand your fort into fertile lands?
-What about the trader’s hut that regularly supplies you with a huge influx of coins?
-Will you spend all your money building new walls or instead hiring more archers to protect your current walls?


Decisions, decisions…

Know thy land

The game is a great exploration adventure game however… even though you can’t deny that there is a huge amount of geographic exploration to do… Let’s be honest and recognize that most islands in the game all look very similar and that the game mechanics never really change much throughout the map.

Nevertheless, what really drives the player to keep “exploring” the game is the huge amount of “interactibles” – mysterious statues, strange meteorites, portals and a never-ending list of upgrades to your fort that grant you game-changing special abilities.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Statue

Line of succession

Having bought the previous Kingdom: Classic and the sequel Kingdom: New Lands  I must say I was a bit skeptical about buying this new version. The reason for that was that when I first bought Kingdom: New Lands I had two reasons to buy it: First, I’d like to support the developers who had previously created such a simple and cool game. Secondly, I was also looking for new content and new interactions that would expand my experience of ruling a very 2D kingdom.

However, I must say I was a wee bit disappointed with Kingdom: New Lands since it was being promoted almost as if it was a standalone DLC.
-Does that make sense?
Nope.

It is basically the same game as Kingdom: Classic being resold full-price with an added expansion.

The problem wasn’t really that the expansion was bad. The problem was how it was being sold as something truly new – which it wasn’t since the new mechanics that were introduced weren’t really that different from the base game and many of the changes were merely cosmetic.

Don’t get me wrong: any expansion to this great base game is welcome – but paying a full bag of gold for a new DLC is …bittersweet.

Just one more crown…

Kingdom: Two Crowns Scary night

Along comes November and the video announcement for Kingdom: Two Crowns and I couldn’t be more curious. 
A developer starts by explaining that he was watching a player stream (not me, unfortunately!) with his girlfriend and that at one point one of them said “I wish we could play together”… the developer’s heart melted and so he decided to make that wish come true in Kingdom: Two Crowns.

This was huge news for me!
I love coop games.

…And I couldn’t miss the opportunity to play one of my favorite games with my usual test subject (A.K.A. my girlfriend).

What a great idea.
Then I saw the 20€ price tag.

Here we go again?

I’m not a cheapskate – but I don’t like paying for the same game three times either!
If they had added new cosmetic content I’m sure I wouldn’t have bought it… but coop… My only weakness… How could I resist? How could I?!

Yeah, I bought Kingdom: Two Crowns.
After an insane amount of time spent tackling screen-resolution, UI and gamepad issues I proudly decided to demonstrate to my girlfriend that I had finally managed to remove all blockers and smash all bugs and went to Mordor and back to get the game ready and working!

“It’s ugly.” – she said.
She does that. She has a way with words.

After convincing her that pixel art is actually an art form and not a technical limitation of the game, she conceded that she would allow me to play with her. I often get the feeling that I’m dating my cat.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Splitscreen

One crown. Two crowns.

The King and Queen of Choulândia were now crowned and ready to cleanse this Kingdom of all evil minions roaming the land.

Until I died in the first 3 minutes of gameplay.
Then we got desperately poor.
Then we decided to restart the game.

BUT THEN the Mighty Kingdom of Choulândia arose from the ashes, prospered and grew in size! We had thick stone walls, fertile farms, an army of archers!

Then my Queen bluntly said: “I’m bored.”
She does that. She has a way with words.

…Usually that tends to happen within the first 5-10 minutes of playing a game. So the fact that we were playing for almost two hours before she said that really struck me as being a great compliment to Kingdom: Two Crowns.
I was truly having fun playing with her!

We got to explore a new island, got some diamond-like gems and started building a new ship to come back home with our bounty.

We had to stop there.
But I can honestly say that I had great fun playing Kingdom: Two Crowns with myself and with my Queen and we had some good laughs with very poor fort-building decisions about building walls at the exact time that the enemy is attacking.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Sunset


Locking the gates

Overall Kingdom: Two Crowns is an amazing game for playing as co-op or single-player – especially if you’ve never had the chance to play one of the previous versions.
It is extremely addicting, fun, with a lot of content to explore and a great Christmas Gift for your soulmate (as long as you get to play with him/her).

However, the slightly steeper price for the content that has been added might not be entirely adequate if you’ve played the previous iterations since it feels like a small DLC rather than an entirely brand new game. I’d value this at 15€ for returning players, instead of the standard 20€, and despite the price point and the lack of apparent new gameplay mechanics at the start of the game, I would still rate it 4/5 pops due to its replayability and blunt fun factor.

Popcorn Score:

This is my first review post on this blog. If you guys would like to know more about how I started this epic journey check out PLANTING A SEED.

I’ll see you in-game,
-ViLa4480

Interested in this game?
Click here to get a discount for Kingdom: Two Crowns.