The Good: Outstanding graphics. Clean, simple interface
The Bad: Minimal strategy involved.
The Ugly: Nothing in particular.
I completely understand that it’s becoming harder and harder for a game to distinguish itself in the RTS genre. Requiring less engine-tweaking than a high-end FPS and less character and plot work than an RPG, it seems that anyone with a gaming development dollar to spend uses it to crank out an RTS. The consequence: titles mix and match game elements becoming sort of inbred cousins of one another, some of which are viable, and some of which result in an unfortunate cleft pallet or webbed toes. Order of War falls somewhere between greatness and carnival freak. No one is going to applaud it, but likely no one is going to avert their eyes either. It’s a mediocre, pleasant action-y title, heavy on the RT, light on the S, with a peculiar frantic multiplayer which will likely appeal to some people (but I must admit not me in particular).
Welcome back to WW2, a war that, thanks to an unbelievable prevalence of video game coverage, has seen easily a hundred times the electronic deaths that the war actually did. Most people who play OoW will probably say that it plays like World in Conflict lacking as it does any resource gathering or base construction activities and (like WiC) there are resource points that can be used to call in reinforcements during play. WiC and OoW also both have a similar camera viewpoint. To me however it feels a great deal like Total War, only without the 4X overlay, because you control entire armies of hundreds of soldiers (the game claims up to 1,000) as opposed to the perhaps several dozen of WiC.
Entire battalions of tanks or heavy infantry are under your control, and you choose how they position themselves, what ground to defend and which direction to face. The nuts and bolts of the actual battle – the grenades and the heavy machineguns and the shooting – that all gets left to the units themselves. Many RTS titles recently have a “hero” unit with special abilities that have to be activated by the player; OoW has none of that. The game lacks (and I choose that word specifically) any fog of war. You know where the enemy is and what type of units there are at all times. It reduces the game to rock-paper-scissors as you have to keep your tanks away from his anti-armor, use heavy infantry and armor to flank his armor, etc. I’m not exaggerating when I say that much of the game is just planning out the rock-paper-scissors thing, setting your units in motion, and then just swooping the camera around and watching the action. In that sense there is very little strategy to OoW – the game picks the battlefield, the number and type of units you have to use, and even for the most part where they appear on the map, and all you can to is choose when and how to approach the enemy.
OoW contains American, German, and Soviet forces (though the Soviets can only be played in multiplayer). The different sides are for the most part cosmetic with the exception of a few specialized units on each side. The American campaign consists of nine missions that took me about 6 hours to complete. Campaigns are structured in what I can only describe as an unusual broken narrative, with several sub-missions with different groups of units under your command that often seem disconnected until the near the end of the mission when the disparate threads come together. Going into the mission you don’t really know how long or short they are, so you try and preserve each unit, only often to find that you didn’t really need to be so careful – that each sub-mission provided you with plenty of units to do the job. I’m only a couple of missions into the German side of things, but I’d guess it’s the same length, leading to about 10-15 hours of single player action after which you can replay any of the single player missions that you’d like, take on the computer in skirmish maps, or go multiplayer.
Lacking fog of war, the multiplayer takes on a particularly frenetic pace. There is a single multiplayer variant (about half a dozen maps presently available) which involves capturing key points on the map. As you know where the enemy is at all times, there’s no surprise of where he’s going, if he’s going to swarm or if he’s going to create some type of ambush. In fact, going turtle isn’t really an option at all as the enemy is going to see you doing it and steal all the key points you’re not defending. So multiplayer games are a clickfest of units scrambling out onto the map, capturing points and moving on as quickly as possible, trying to control choke points and build up resource points to purchase reinforcements until one player has an overwhelming force. It’s fast paced, I’ll give it that, but it doesn’t really come across as much of a strategy game, and is honestly not my cup of tea.
OoW is about as good looking as any RTS of this style that I’ve seen. From the opening narratives to the cutscenes using the game engine to the combat itself. You can zoom all the way in and watch individual soldiers fight, or zoom way out to encompass an entire battlefront. The interface is exceptionally clean and well organized. I blew past the tutorials and had no trouble whatsoever intuiting everything I needed from the interface to play the game. It doesn’t hurt that most of the commands are standard RTS style and the vast majority of the grunt work, so to speak, is handled by the troops themselves without your help. Explosions are nicely thunderous. While I’m sure the game contains music, I really can’t tell you anything about it. It’s sufficiently military. I just seem to be playing my own music more and more while gaming unless there’s some dialog I’m afraid I’m going to miss, which mostly means for anything except RPGs, and not even for all of those.
I think as a player who gravitates towards the more complex RTS games, that OoW is a little light for my tastes. It’s almost arcade-like, perhaps appealing more strongly to FPS players looking for a change of pace than the average RTS player. The lack of fog of war and resource stuff narrows the possible strategies that you would choose to employ considerably, and I miss that flexibility. I miss, if nothing else, that uncertainty about where the enemy is and how many enemies I’m up against and what he’s up to. OoW is a shuffling and redealing of RTS game elements that I believe have been found in better combinations elsewhere.