Wargame: AirLand Battle: opening a box of virtual chocolates

The raciest thing you'll ever see on this site
The raciest thing you’ll ever see on this site

 

Wargame: AirLand Battle is the upcoming sequel to Wargame: European Escalation, a Cold War-themed fusion of two genres: the RTS and the beer-and-pretzels wargame. EE was one of my favourite games of last year, and despite its beta status (1), AB is shaping up to be one of my favourites of this year, too.

 

AB’s appeal begins even before the first shot is fired. In AB as in EE, players start by choosing the units they will take into a match, and then grouping these into a “deck”. However, where EE offered “only” 361 units, AB offers a whopping 826! More units are not necessarily better, but here it works for two reasons.

 

First, as in EE, there is a real, geeky thrill that arises from the presence of so much Cold War military hardware. If you can think of a piece of period kit, it is probably in the game. In fact, even if you can’t think of it, it’s probably in the game. Ever heard of an AMX30B2 Brennus (2)? Neither had I, until I played AB.

 

Second, it adds more “interesting decisions” to the game. There might be 826 units in AB, but there are far fewer deck slots to go around, so players have to pick and choose from the smorgasbord on offer. This was a strength of EE, too… but AB adds an additional layer of choice – players can accept restrictions on their unit selection, in exchange for bonuses. The more stringent the restriction – say, “only Danish units dating from before 1975” – the bigger the bonus. In other words, do you want to be a jack-of-all-trades, or do you want to specialise?  Each option has strengths and weaknesses. My NATO “kitchen sink” deck – US Marine riflemen, French and Swedish tanks, West German armoured cars, British and Canadian aircraft – is more balanced than my pure USMC deck; but in exchange the latter receives veteran infantry, prototype helicopters, and a couple more deck slots. True, some choices are more interesting than others: my hat is off to anyone who can win with nothing but the lightly armed Royal Marines. But all the same, army customisation is a good metaphor for this game: while its roots in EE are clear, from there AB has grown both bigger and better.

 

Next time, I’ll discuss the battles themselves. See you then!

 

A finished deck: USMC ground forces supported by F-14s, A-6s, A-7s, and F/A-18s. Note the absence of any tank newer than the M60A1...
A finished deck: USMC ground forces supported by F-14s, A-6s, A-7s, and F/A-18s. Note the absence of any tank newer than the M60A1…

 

(1) In addition to the usual beta issues (balance, the odd bug, etc), the beta is also PVP multiplayer-only; the finished game will add single-player and coop modes. As such, I presently can’t assess the single-player game. All units also begin unlocked for the beta, whereas I am pretty sure that the full game, as with EE, will progressively unlock units over time.

 

(2) An upgraded version of the French AMX30 tank.

 

Wargame: AirLand Battle is due out on 26 23 May. Preorder customers gain access to the AB beta, and owners of EE receive a 25% discount on Steam for preordering.

 

The above comments are based on a preview copy supplied by the game’s publisher, Focus Home Interactive.  

 

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2 Responses to Wargame: AirLand Battle: opening a box of virtual chocolates

  1. Josh says:

    I think it is time to dust off the credit card once more, especially seeing as I never bothered with the first.

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