War… war sometimes changes ever-so-slightly.
I’d like to applaud the developers of Order of War for trying to up the sensationalist ante on the WWII real-time strategy genre. I don’t mean that sarcastically: The Wargaming.net-developed, Square-Enix-published Order of War is saturated with attempts to make individual moments resonate with a more casual audience, without forsaking the tactical depth that creates a loyal following of RTS fans. Each of the 18 missions (divided into two campaigns – one American, one German) is brimming with dynamic set-pieces, varied objective types, and a shifting focus that appear to be attempting to convey that this is a new breed of strategy game, intended to create a unique experience.
[image1]Order of War sets itself apart from other RTS titles by its single-player campaigns. Every mission is divided into a series of objectives, each of which might involve anything from directing an array of forces at multiple targets to directing the fire of a single small group strategically. You move through key moments in a huge battle, all the while controlling groups of units rather than micromanaging individual troops. In this way, you’re always kept feeling like everything you do counts, and that you’re at the heart of an epic conflict. This is further enhanced by a cinematic camera that, when activated, zooms into the fray, giving you a close-up of the consequences of your choices and accentuating the feeling of command.
At the same time, common tropes of the genre are held (I mean, besides the infuriatingly generic title). Controls will be familiar to anyone who’s played a strategy game in the last ten years – left-click to select, right-click to issue orders, and a selection of modifiers that can be accessed either via hotkeys or an elegantly unobtrusive user interface. The upgrade system adds a layer of complexity, though it is equally as familiar. In a nod to either the potential Japanese audience (given that this is a Square Enix game) or the old-school strategy audience (given that this game appears to be trying to please everyone), there’s an option to pause the action and parcel out orders, emulating a turn-based game scheme.
The problem is that Order of War doesn’t go beyond run-of-the-mill strategy-based action. The relatively quickly-paced shifts in setting are bereft of any sort of emotional development or polish in presentation. The cinematic camera is a double-edged sword: It adds a welcome relief from the static top-down view, doing an excellent job of immersing you in the action, but also shows off the limits of the graphics engine. As detailed as the animation work is, the seams are more apparent because of clipping issues and small graphical glitches. Annoyingly gruff voice-over work and a soundtrack that takes a page from the most banal side of "triumphant classical orchestra" don’t help draw you into the experience.
[image2]The streamlined aspects of the single-player campaigns that might attract those unfamiliar with real-time strategy games prove to be major issues in multiplayer. The lack of depth is disheartening. For instance, the developers have chosen to eliminate a "Fog of War" effect, which would normally hide your enemy’s movements and allow for surprise maneuvers. While this is a boon to the solo game–it increases your sense of omniscience and keeps the pace moving briskly–it completely precludes an entire layer of strategy one would use against human opponents. Though the multiplayer still remains fun, it loses its luster in contrast to games (say, Company of Heroes) with more varied multiplayer modes and better community support.
Although there’s no small amount of ambition on display, It’s readily apparent that limited production values and adherence to tried-and-true methods cause Order of War to fall short of its target.