WARNO preview (PC)

The strategy game genre has always been strongly interwoven with the PC platform, and right now we have WARNO as a promising new title that’s being developed. It’s already out on Steam’s Early Access platform, and we took a look.

What we know

Paris-based developer Eugen Systems is a familiar name among fans of real-time strategy games, as they’ve been almost exclusively focused on the genre for about two decennia now. After their Act of War games they developed R.U.S.E. for Ubisoft – one of the better examples in the genre for consoles. They then created the Wargame series, as well as two Steel Division games. Their latest project is WARNO, which recently went into Early Access.

WARNO, which stands for Warning Order, blends Eugen’s signature attention to real life details with an alternate history setting in which the Cold War is about to derail into armed conflict back in 1989. On one side there are the NATO-allied forced of Germany, France, the UK and the US, facing off against the Soviet and East German forces. As an era that I have (unlike WWII) actually lived through, it’s fascinating seeing some of the units of that time see the action that they thankfully never did in real life, showing us how destructive the advances in warfare technology would have been.

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History buffs with an interest in military conflict are going to be especially pleased with how many different units Eugen is putting into WARNO, from tanks to helicopters and from allied soldiers to Russian Spetsnaz special forces. The current build only features a portion of what will eventually come to the game, but they’re promising over 600 units – all of which can be inspected up close in the game’s Armory.

The final game will feature four campaigns as well as a number of single and multiplayer modes, the latter including 10 vs 10 battles across. Eugen is estimating that it’ll take them six to eight months to get the game to its 1.0 version, but is already saying that development will continue after that moment as well – something they’ve done with previous games as well.

What we saw

WARNO has already been released in Steam’s Early Access program, so we played the same version that’s available to the general public – our impressions are based on the version that was live prior to the 68032 release that came out on February 8, which added two additional divisions to the game: NATO’s mechanized 8th U.S. Infantry Division and the Warsaw Pact Soviet 39th Guards Motorized Rifle Division.

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What we thought

Games like WARNO definitely put the ‘early’ in Early Access, but we can already see the potential for the game – as well as the influences that stem from Eugen’s previous games. The general flow of the gameplay, which is best described as real-time tactics, is not too unlike that which was introduced a decade ago with Wargame – with turn-based elements that set the gameplay apart from games like Command and Conquer and other RTS games that came after it.

WARNO – like other Eugen games – also features deck building, but the main thing is the shift from World War II to the end of the Cold War, which suddenly went hot. Not only is it interesting from a historical perspective, it also opens up tactical avenues that just aren’t there in a WW II-era game and feel like fiction in most other strategy games. Having access to guided missiles is a big one, as it really makes you reevaluate what to do with your tanks – who are suddenly far more vulnerable unless you pop smoke screens to confuse said missiles.

Air-based warfare also feels multi-layered, with the speed of each aircraft making a big difference in how they can maneuver across the battlefield – but also factoring into how long they can stay there. The game also accounts for the fact that these aircraft can’t just take off from the battlefield, but will require travel time if they’re to back you up – so that airstrike you wanted five minutes ago might not be a good idea now that the enemy units are dangerously close to your own troops.

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Control zones are more important this time around as they’re actually a victory condition rather than just part of a shifting frontline (like they were in Steel Division), which feels like a change for the better as it makes it less clear which side is “yours” and lets you catch the enemy by surprise – especially in multiplayer settings.

Audiovisually, WARNO feels like a step forwards from Steel Division 2, especially when you look at all the detail that’s been poured into the maps. The game looks gorgeous, and when you zoom in on the action the tanks move through the scenery with a thunderous roar as well. You have to look past a rather convoluted user interface that needs some streamlining, but once the action gets going WARNO is one of the best looking strategy games around.

Something else you need to look past is WARNO’s current technical state, because although the visuals are excellent there are a lot of bugs and the game launched with very little content – making it hard to see the grand scale of things that Eugen is going for. Based on the developer’s earlier work you can see what they’re going for and there is tons of potential here, but if you’re looking to jump in and play a somewhat rough version of an otherwise full game then you’d be better off waiting – WARNO has a few months to go, but should see regular content drops and fixes during that time.

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