Eugen Systems have a reputation for making some of the toughest RTS games available. Unlike most RTS games where you are given a base to gather resources and build armies, the RTS games that Eugen makes requires you to earn your reinforcements immediately in battle, most of the time with little to no guidance. Eugen Systems have taken players previously to modern battles with their Wargame saga where the Cold War has become a blazing hot one. Recently they opened the battlefields of the 2nd World War once again with Steel Division: Normandy 44 where you would fight throughout Europe to determine the fate of the war. It gained praise for its great visuals, challenging gameplay and fans of the Wargame series were eager to enter the fray of WW2 once again. Now Eugen Systems have opened the Theater of War on the Eastern Front pitting the Red Army against the Wehrmacht. It’s time to determine the fate of Mother Russia with Steel Division 2.
Steel Division 2 takes you to the Eastern Front, where the Soviet Army is defending Mother Russia from the merciless German Army. Like the first game and other Eugen Systems RTS games, your goal is to use your army and dominate the opposition. You don’t have the benefit of building a base and replenishing your ranks like in Company of Heroes. Instead, you begin with requisition points which you can use to purchase starting units. You place these units anywhere on the battlefield before you deploy them and start the battle. As with the last game each battle is broken into phases where you must capture various points on the map held by the enemy. The number of requisition points for buying new units you earn depends on the phase of the battle and how many points you have taken. The unit roster is staggeringly large with different kinds of infantry and vehicles at your disposal if you’ve got the strategic skills to earn them. The battlefield is gigantic, covering approx. 150 x 150 kilometers. As is a common trait with many of Eugen Systems’ games, Steel Division 2 is notoriously difficult. You can’t just point all your soldiers towards the enemy and tell them to attack. There are complicated mechanics like unit fatigue, morale, vehicle integrity and others which will affect how each battle ends for you or your opponents.
The entire battlefield is lit up with ordnance from every direction blowing apart vehicles, buildings, trees, infantry, everything. You’ll be storming an enemy position with your men and driving them back in a successful attack, only to discover that another enemy force is firing at you from miles away. Fatigue, morale, integrity and other elements of battle affect how your troops fight and how you’re able to quickly adapt new strategies and tactics in a heavy firefight when the going gets tough for your men.
As far as graphics go, the game looks great. Considering the grand scale of the game, everything on display is very impressive to look at. The first Steel Division was already a great looking game and this new installment improves on the visuals drastically. Units have strikingly high detail, the scenery is vibrant with nice special effects to give the visuals a more cinematic flair. Deafening gunfire echoes throughout the battlefield with an energetic musical score driving the action also.
Big additions include the army general mode which takes shades from Hearts of Iron 4. You start with a massive campaign map based on actual operations which took place on the Eastern Front. Your units are positioned on one side of the map and the enemy on the other. You are given objectives to capture strategic points on the map which you can resolve through real-time battles. There are also historical battles where you fight single matches based on the battles of the Eastern Front. Multiplayer, however, is where you’ll really be sinking your teeth as there are a plethora of options to vary each playthrough with your friends.
With great-looking visuals and sound and an emphasis on grand scale warfare, Steel Division 2 should have easily taken the WW2 RTS crown from Company of Heroes. However, the good that this game offers is buried under frustrating and confusing design choices that will undoubtedly turn away players who don’t have the patience to work through the mechanics of this game, which is a shame because the challenge and complexity of this game is the reason why there is a large following of the Wargame series.
The learning curve for this game is far too steep. There’s literally no guidance, no demonstration, no explanation how anything is supposed to work in this game, which is a common trait in many of Eugen Systems’ titles. You’re left on your own to figure out how the requisition points work, how to command soldiers and just how to play the game. Even when you’re in battle you’ll wonder what the hell is going on as you see your territories disappear without a clue of what’s happening. You’re fed messages saying your defense lines are crumbling but you’re not told enough to respond accordingly. Your jaw will drop on your desk as you try and fathom how a single enemy tank is able to scare off 4 of your own or how one enemy infantry squad can hold back a dozen of your own. The army general mode is perhaps the most complicated mode in the game but there’s no guidance on how to interact with the campaign map. You’re fed way too much information early on with a horrendously detailed user interface and no idea how to use it.
Battles are very fun to watch and take part in, but they can get also very repetitive. Even if the battlefield is gigantic with numerous possibilities, you’re literally carrying out the same objective over and over again. You have to take an enemy position, hold it from your opponent and repeat the same procedure somewhere else. You might switch things up a little by using different units and tactics but it’s a case of sending troops over there and fight somebody. What makes it difficult is the fact that nothing about what’s happening is being explained to you.
This game is only going to appeal to RTS players who have played Eugen Systems’ previous titles like the Wargame series and the previous Steel Division, or for those looking for a very challenging RTS. Challenge is good to have in a game, but throwing new players into the deep end without so much as a hint of what to do is not good game design. The UI is confusing, battles are confusing and this game is pretty much confusing. If the game explained more about how to play then one might have had a more enjoyable time with it. If you’ve been following the Wargame series and the previous Steel Division, or if you want an RTS game where you learn via trial by fire then, by all means, pick this up, just know that your battles won’t be easy.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Steel Division 2 for the PC provided by Eugen Systems.