Live your best life as a generalissimo
This week I got a behind-the-scenes look at the work Eugen Systems has put into his upcoming WWII strategy game. Division II Steel. From the start of the demo, when Game Director Alexis Le Dressay said they were looking to make the sequel more historic, I knew I was going to have a blast. What was revealed makes me think Eugen Systems heard all the issues I had with the first one Steel Division and handled it perfectly.
The demo (which was hosted by Le Dressay and Pierre-Yves Navetat, Eugen’s marketing and communications manager) focused primarily on the new features coming to the game. The core tactical gameplay will remain, but it is enhanced and supported by a dynamic new strategic campaign that will help players get a better idea of what it looked like in Eastern European war rooms in the summer of 1944.
Taking place along the Eastern Front, Division II Steel will bring the military triumph of the Soviet Union’s Operation Bagration to a Western audience that has not seen much praise for the Soviet offensive. The campaign began on June 22, 1944, the day Operation Bagration began. The operation was the Soviet contribution to the Allied effort in the summer of 1944 to end the war before Christmas by closing in on all fronts.
At the start of the operation, you are stretched out over a 1000 km front and push west towards Germany. The demonstration began four days after the start of the operation as the Soviet Union moved towards Minsk. Le Dressay, who played the demo, controlled four Soviet divisions which attacked two German divisions.
Unlike the first game, where you were just told where you were going and a briefing on the path of your tactical battle, Division II Steel Allows you to step into the shoes of a four-star general and move units around a map in a turn-based strategic mode. Units can all move at different lengths depending on their mobility and the terrain they are attempting to move through. Tours take up half of your available daylight, leaving you with two tours before the dawn of a new day. Since speed is the key, it is useful to move along the roads where the travel is the fastest, but this can expose you to stretching out your armies, unable to reinforce each other when encountering the enemy. .
In Dynamic Strategic Campaign mode, all units are labeled using NATO Joint Military Symbology. Because I’m missing a life, I can read these icons, but for others it can be a bit overwhelming. To make it easier for those who value social interaction over understanding historical tactical maps, each unit is assigned a rating in Assault, Armor, and Artillery. With these values, you can know which units to keep close to the front and which ones you want to lag a little behind. The best thing is that the choice is yours.
At the end of each of your turns, the enemy is allowed to move in response to your actions. A fog of war exists, so there may be enemies hidden in your sight that could ambush you if you’re not careful. You can send scout units, but in my demo, Le Dressay accidentally sent his scouts too far and they got stuck with possible reinforcements for half a day. Watching this mode play out reminded me a lot of tabletop war games and the popular WWII strategy game. Command burden.
As you move your units towards your objectives, you will come across enemies defending key points such as towns and smaller bridges. You can resolve these encounters by going into tactical mode and playing the battle as you did in the first game, or you can choose to automatically resolve the battle. Whichever method you choose, you can only choose five units to bring into battle, and when you can deploy them depends on how far they are from the battlefield.
Battles are still fought in phases, but unlike the first game where they staggered the phases according to the strength of the unit, depending on the strength of the unit. Division II Steel you can shoot any unit you want at any point in the battle, as long as they can reach the battle in time. So you could hypothetically lead with your strongest unit in the first phase to give the Germans a taste of their own Blitzkrieg, but that leaves them exposed to the overflow with no back-up to back them up. If you are overwhelmed in the first or second phase, the battle is considered a total loss and you may not receive your second or third reinforcements appropriately. With all this choice, you are given enough rope to hang yourself on and in the context of the strategy game, that is a beautiful thing.
Explaining why he wanted to introduce another strategic layer into the game, Le Dressay said, “You can’t make a very interesting tactical game if you don’t have a good idea of what’s going on at the strategic decision level. Another fan of the grand strategy genre, Le Dressay explained how frustrating he found the genre to have abstract combat mechanics and wanted to bring some of the genre into Eugen’s proven track record of tactical strategy. With this new implementation, it looks like Le Dressay and his team are on their way to war to create the ultimate strategy game by allowing you to apply your military knowledge at all levels of Operation Bagration.
As previously stated, there have been few changes to Tactical Battles since the current demo, but one big change is that you can now zoom in on your units to get a ground level view of the battlefield. This includes the ability to see historically accurate terrain and get a better sense of enemy lines of sight as well as give a very miniature tabletop feel. As we watched the Soviet tanks descend towards Minsk from a hilltop vantage point, I had visions of shouting at enemy AI over how I had read their book.
Another cosmetic change to the game is that there was a lot more detail in the character and vehicle models. Taking advantage of historic designs from both sides of the war, painstaking details have been added to the models to make even the most discerning miniature fans jealous.
To conclude the demo, Le Dressay recalled that the number one objective of this game was to make it a game for fans of military history. From the dynamic strategic campaign map using real maps from German military intelligence to the ability to make every available unit along the Eastern Front usable in multiplayer, Division II Steel is meant to bring history to life in a way that only games can do.
When asked about a possible release date, Eugen gave a vague 2019 release window, but made sure to mention that it wasn’t concrete. In the meantime, you can subscribe to the newsletter. How am I going to pass the time? Oh, you know, listening to this over and over while breaking my ushanka, wistfully dreaming of when I can actually get my hands on the game. Until then, comrades dasvidaniya!