The Great War: Western Front Preview – A Rare RTS WWI

As I write this, the wikipedia article “List of World War II video games” includes more than 1000 items. But the prequel that ends all the prequels, World War I, doesn’t even have 200 games to talk about. In fact, The Great War: Western Front might be the first World War I RTS worth mentioning in the modern era. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but neither was the Battle of the Somme. And the way it simulates early 20th century war feels surprisingly realistic without dragging things down to snail speed.

When I think of World War I, especially the Western Front, I immediately think of trench warfare. And, indeed, it’s a key ingredient in how The Great War’s battles play out. Each skirmish begins with a setup phase in which both sides can place and upgrade trenches, deploy gun and machine gun nests, and deploy troops along the line. This draws from a pool of common supplies that are also used when the clock starts to order bombardment and call in reinforcements.

The interesting trade-off here is that troops are cheaper to deploy during the setup phase, but deploying them early means they can take damage from the enemy’s strategic level siege artillery before battle begins. There is also the important consideration of the amount of supplies to spend on setup and the amount of reserves to use during battle. When I really do my best from the start, I often find myself running out of shells long before a convincing breakthrough is reached and have no choice but to call for a ceasefire.

And appropriately, that’s how a lot of engagements will end – with the attackers deciding they can’t make any further progress with the resources they have and resolving the stalemate. Each territory on The Great War’s strategic map has a certain number of stars that must be removed to capture it, and removing a star requires a decisive “Great Victory” from the side. this or that side. So you will most likely have to fight in many battles that result in inconclusiveness. But every small victory affects the progress of the campaign.

Play lonely Fife

Territory is important, and capturing enemy capitals is one way to win as an Allied or Central Power. But each side also has a resource called the National Will that shows how prepared the host nations are to continue the war. If you continue to suffer horrendous casualties in every battle, even as you are gaining position, you can weaken the National Will faster than your opponent. And if either side ran out of troops, they would lose the campaign. Therefore, it may be wiser to wait for the enemy to come to you in most cases, as the attacking side will usually take heavier losses.

And make no mistake, a frontal assault with infantry is generally a bad idea. I watched entire regiments melt in seconds, even against conscripts manning a trench when we were far outnumbered. As a result, most battles (at least until you unlock the tank further down the tech tree) will revolve around clever use of artillery. Smoke bullets and rolling barges could provide cover for advancing armies. Targeted bombardments and air shells can soften trenches before you attack. Even light artillery can reduce fire to prevent trenches from effectively returning fire when you get close.

And once you’ve got a foothold in your opponent’s network of trenches, it’s a much simpler fight. The bloody hand-to-hand combat will benefit the better trained side or simply have more numbers, ending the final stages of the battle as you make your way through the maze of trenches and bunkers for victory points and if you are Lucky, staff command of the enemy. However, even a partial victory or stalemate can serve a larger strategic goal. For example, attacking from many sides will tire the enemy. So a smaller exploratory attack, followed by a larger attack from the next province can be quite effective.

French green fields

I didn’t go far enough in the campaign to really get a feel for how it all comes together in the long run. It seems the supply system will be key, as simply being able to sustain the shelling longer than the enemy is often the deciding factor in some of my battles. However, I was looking at a scenario that took place long after the war, in the spring of 1918. And advances in technology made a big difference.

Fully upgraded trenches unlocked later in the war cannot simply be cleared using standard cannons anymore. Dealing any significant damage at long range relies on gas attacks and more expensive shells. Observational balloons can provide views over large areas of the battlefield, but are vulnerable to aircraft attack, meaning you’ll need to defend them with your own trump card. And of course, once the tanks appear, everything changes. They cannot occupy land on their own and simply parking them in front of a trench makes them very vulnerable to grenades. But they serve as excellent cover for infantry and make frontal combined armed attacks quite possible.

From what I’ve seen so far, The Great War: Western Front is shaping up to be a very authoritative World War I RTS game with a focus on authenticity and a campaign centered around capitalizing on maximize even the smallest wins. You’ll be able to see a demo I played as part of the Steam Next Fest starting next week.


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