Men Of War 2 doesn’t do anything by half measures, as I discovered during a recent tussle with its online multiplayer modes. Whereas Relic’s recently released Company Of Heroes 3 will let you pick from its four broad faction types in its WWII RTS battles, Men Of War 2 takes a much more granular view, offering up 14-15 different unit types for each of its three playable nations. That’s a dizzying array of infantry, tank and artillery battalions to choose from, and that’s before you account for all the individual nuances between its Soviet, USA and German army types. Throw in seven game modes across several different maps, and it’s a veritable strategy smorgasbord to stuff your face into.
Crucially, though, everyone gets access to some sort of tank, which let’s face it, is always going to be the MVP of any WW2 strategy game, and probably the sole reason why we’re here in the first place. As Men Of War 2 heads into its first open multiplayer tech test on Steam today (running until March 27th), here’s my full report of my mildly doomed multiplayer tankventures in its Combat, Front Line and Incursion modes.
Whatever battalion you end up going for in Men Of War 2, you’ll always get a mix of different units. They’ll be mostly based around the specific unit type you choose, but as a match progresses, you’ll also unlock two additional tiered echelons in that battalion that give you access to more powerful units – many of which come in the form of tanks or air strike support in addition to boots on the ground soldiers. You’ll still need to make sure you’ve got enough command points banked to bring them onto the battlefield, of course, but the added variety plays a crucial role in the escalation of each match. After all, more units doesn’t just open up the number of strategic avenues available to you as a player, but the arrival of bigger, beefier units on the opposing side also gives battles a climatic ebb and flow as each team adapts and counters what’s trundling down the front lines.
Even with three tiers to each battalion, however, you’ll only ever be in command of a handful at any given moment. Most units require a hefty number of command points in Men Of War 2, and I maybe only had two or three units on the field simultaneously in each of the three modes I played. With such a small band at your disposal, communication with your teammates becomes absolutely essential, as this is a game that really relies on coordinated attacks and strategies to get the most out of your limited units.
I was, admittedly, not great at actually vocalizing the vague plans that were forming at the back of my head in the heat of the moment, and (with extended apologies to my long-suffering teammate on Men Of War 2’s publishing team) it quickly became apparent that simply chucking units at a problem wasn’t really going to cut it. I look forward to digging deeper into each battalion’s strengths and weaknesses once the game comes out in full later this year, but yeah, I can also tell it’s going to take a lot of trial and error even now.
“There’s no one ultimate unit,” Fulqrum Publishing’s marketing manager Michal Černoch tells me. “A tank might be a complete beast that’s hard to take down – it can take a lot of punishment and dish it out as well, of course – but it will have a very narrow field of view, so if it’s not accompanied by infantry or other support, it’s easy to sneak up on it, shoot it, or throw a grenade at it from behind. You always have to react to the situation and prepare a plan.”
Those plans could potentially get quite large and involved, too, with Men Of War 2 offering up to 5v5 multiplayer matches. You can set the mode, team size, maximum troop level, eligible armies and battalions and difficulty level in the Settings menu, and there are also two additional Spectator slots people can hop into as well. Once you’ve picked your team, it’s time to select your troops. As you’d expect, you can have any combo of battalions and nations on your team – although having a mix is always handy so you can cover more ground.
Having said that, our first match – classic Combat – was an all-out German tank fest. Each side had a 1st German Tank Regiment, which is home to some of the heaviest tanks in the entire game, Černoch tells me, and an accompanying support unit – artillery for us, and infantry for team B. Černoch describes Combat as your “basic team deathmatch mode”. Victories are awarded for eliminating enemy forces, and each side is supported by an AI-controlled defence force who help defend your front line. There’s also a short preparation phase before each match kicks off in earnest, giving you a few vital seconds to call in your first units and cast an eye over the battlefield.
The map we play on is the Borovaya River, a lightly forested arena with its titular river slicing diagonally across its flat, muddy fields. Cover is sparse here, but there’s enough height on the surrounding terrain to set up a good defensive position on a hill overlooking a shallow ford. It’s a spot that, in mere minutes, will become absolutely littered with exploded tank carcasses and burned out machine guns as we stake out our respective battle lines, but first comes the gradual march up the map, and yes, Černoch wasn’t kidding about my tank’s miniscule line of sight – a long, but very narrow wedge directly in front of its cannon. Artillery, meanwhile, punctuates the fog of war with large, circular viewpoints, as do the lightly armoured support vehicles that accompany them.
Much like 2009’s original Men Of War, troops can stand, kneel or crawl to try and evade incoming fire, and they can also barricade themselves by building sandbag walls and barbed wire, lay down mines and, in quiet moments, even build themselves some firing nests that are more heavily fortified. You can also put them into cover individually or as a group – handily indicated by white silhouettes onscreen to show you exactly where your troops will position themselves behind trees, fences and stone walls and the like – and you can use the mouse wheel to spread or tighten these formations as you see fit. The big difference for this 2023 sequel, however, is that you can also take direct control of each unit, moving them with the WASD keys and even zooming right down into first person to fire and aim – as was detailed in our extensive report when Men Of War 2 was first revealed.
With tanks, this lets you zoom right inside down its firing sights, and keyboard shortcuts let you switch between different ammo types to break enemy armour more effectively. Aiming with the mouse also makes targeting individual components a touch easier, too, and what you lose in overall battle awareness is, I think, made up for by that finer degree of control in the moment. Losing that peripheral vision can be quite devastating, though, as I’d often only be able to get one or two shots in before I got angry warning signs saying my own tank was under attack and that my driver had died in the ensuing explosion. Oops. As such, you’ll need to strike your own balance between direct and traditional RTS controls, but based on my limited time with it so far, there’s definitely a lot of fun to be had in figuring it all out.
We didn’t win our river side tank pummelling, alas, but we came much closer in the next mode I tried: Front Line. Here, your individual territory lines are visible on the map, showing how much you’ve conquered versus the other side. Your AI reserves can help push this forward, but they have a separate line to your own – and it’s only by pushing forward together that you’re able to win. What’s more, you can only capture territory using infantry in this mode, so having one of those battalions on your side is absolutely essential. No all-out tank fest here, alas.
Another interesting wrinkle to Front Line, however, is that every so often your army’s commander will also set you additional objectives in this mode, such as capturing flags points and attacking other important points on the map. Pushing (and holding) the line has always been one of my favourite mode types in RTS multiplayer games (thank several years of Supreme Commander lunch time matches for that), but these special objectives were just the extra little bit of spice the match needed to sustain 30-odd minutes of intense tank and infantry jostling.
The map we were playing on, The Winter March, also had lots of great choke points and difficult bits of terrain to conquer as well, with ridges, hills and brittle tree cover providing plenty of high ground to try taking pot shots at soldiers dug into trenches in the basins below. There were a lot of places to hide, but look closely and soldier boot tracks could be seen weaving across the snowy plains. Similarly, machinegun fire left big, melted holes in the ground, and trees were uprooted on their sides where they’d been bulldozed by tanks. And like the Borovaya River, the picture only grew more dense with carnage as the match progressed, telling a layered and messy story of bad decisions and strategic dead-ends. And it was utterly brilliant fun.
The final match we played was Incursion on a map called The Coast, which sees one team attacking to capture as many points on the map as possible while minimizing casualties, while the defending team must hold onto those points as much as they can, losing 200 points for every position lost. Here, territory can be captured by infantry as well as certain types of field gun and armoured vehicles, and both sides once again have AI-controlled forces as a handy back-up.
We very nearly had an all-out tank war with this one – our side had one tank and one artillery versus the other side’s double tank combo – and dramatic doesn’t even begin to describe it. The sandy beaches and rural farmland got absolutely demolished in our fracas, but we also got absolutely mullered in the face of the team B’s beastly Tiger and Konigstiger double tank whammy, which are two of the heaviest and most durable big metal boys in the entire game, Černoch tells me. Even with my own heavy tanks on the field, they needed several shots (and additional tanks, and air strikes, and grenades) to take down, but it was pretty thrilling all the same. Handily, entering direct control and mousing over those monstrous tank lads did, in fact, give me a breakdown of their strengths and weaknesses in a little tooltip – not that I was in much of a position to do much about it, necessarily, but it was a welcome concession in the heat of the moment to have that information in front of me so that I could, if I have the right units, try a more effective strategy against this all-powerful behemoth.
Still, even though I only got to sample less than half of Men Of War 2’s eventual multiplayer modes, these three alone are plentiful evidence that Best Way’s WW2 RTS is shaping up to be fighting fit for its eventual deployment later this year. If its single player campaign is half as compelling as these multiplayer modes, Company Of Heroes 3 will almost certainly have some hot competition for this year’s best WW2 strategy game. To see the game in action for yourself, head on over to Steam to join in Men Of War 2’s multiplayer tech test now.
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