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Collectible Cold War: An analysis of Wargame: European Escalation

It's not everyday when a Strategy game comes along that attempts to do something different. And with Wargame: European Escalation, it does several things differently.

Josh Bycer, Blogger

April 16, 2012

5 Min Read

It's not everyday when a Strategy game comes along that attempts to do something different. And with Wargame: European Escalation, it does several things differently.

Real Time Strategy games aimed at the macro level of play are few and far between these days. As most RTS games are aiming towards smaller scale fighting. Eugen systems last game: RUSE was an attempt at combining macro level strategy games with the ability to control the flow of information. Their latest title - Wargame: European Escalation attempts to be a middle offering between a RTS and the wargame genre. While the game doesn't succeed on all fronts, it does provide a fresh take on the genre.

The game's setting is the cold war where you'll be able to control both NATO and the Warsaw Pact units. The campaign provides a different twist, by being one of the few macro oriented designed games with persistent units over levels. The campaign also features a dynamic AI which doesn't follow the same pattern on each match. I'm going to come back to the campaign further down, as it's important to discuss the game mechanics first.

The best way to describe EE's gameplay is that it's between a RTS and a traditional war game. While all gameplay is handled in real time, concepts like flanking, morale, supply, and recon take center stage. Units lose morale base on the enemy fire coming their way, and fully shocked units will stop firing and try to retreat.

Every unit in the game consumes ammo and vehicles also use up fuel. Driving on roads is faster and uses up less fuel, but leaves units wide open to ambushes. Artillery units go through ammo fast, but can rain death from above on an area. The only way to keep units going is to use supply vehicles, which said vehicles can be resupplied by returning to a base or F.O.B. On smaller maps, supply is a useful afterthought, but playing on large maps, an army without supply can become dead in the water fast.

While there isn't a literal fog of war, enemy units won't be visible on the map without being spotted by your units. Recon units are vital for this role, having the furthest detection rating out of all unit types. Recon becomes necessary when dealing with areas with forests as units can hide within them.

EE definitely has a different feel to it from other RTS games on the market. It has a slower pace to it, as good recon can win the day. EE is also one of the few RTS that there is an emphasis on cover and defense. It's possible to set up defensive lines using cover and just hunker down. While the wargame mechanics are already enough to shake up traditional RTS gameplay, there is more to EE once players go online.

EE features an unlocking system for new units. As you play online matches and level up or win campaign missions, you'll earn command stars. Stars can be use to unlock either brand new units, or upgraded models of ones you already have. The flow online is that you're building a customized deck of units to take into multiplayer matches. You can have at most 25 unique units (upgraded models are not factored in as you must have the base unit included to use them) to use during multiplayer. There is a huge variety of units and too many to list here and the Collectible Card Game mechanic adds another great touch.

However, one of the dangers of the wargame genre is having a layer of inaccessibility due to the complexities at work. While EE does get around some of those complexities with the real time format, it unfortunately created a few of its own. The learning curve is on the high side for a RTS thanks to all the mechanics mentioned above. The game does very little to help the player learn it.

The campaign gives a few brief bullet points during the missions, but is really designed for people who already know what they're doing. For newcomers, playing the campaign is like learning how to pack a parachute while in free fall. The big selling point: the variety of units and deck building, is not only the least explained, but has the worst UI.

The armory - where you can view and add units to your deck was not designed for newcomers. You can't easily compare units to see how they differ, and the sorting system leaves much to be desired. There is nothing worse for a new player when learning a game, to load up and see dozens of names, stats and values that they have no idea what they're for. Due to the variety of units, having a complete guide for what counters what wouldn't have been feasible. However, it would have been good to include something to help players understand how to build their deck and figure out the unit descriptions.

Unless the name of the unit has something like "anti tank" or "anti aircraft" in the title, I wouldn't know what to use it for. There were several times went I bought units thinking they could deal with the enemy, to find out that they were the wrong counter for it. For people knowledgeable on Cold War armaments, they shouldn't have any trouble in this regard. However the lack of feedback and information does a lot to alienate newcomers.

While the pace of the game is largely on the slow side, combat happens fast. As units take critical damage and suffer equipment failure or a more advanced vehicle steamrolls over weaker units. The minimalistic design makes it hard to figure out what happened and what you could have done differently. Most likely, the best way to learn is to hopefully find a friend who can show you the ropes and provide input on deck strategies.

For a generic name- Wargame: European Escalation definitely succeeds at doing something different with the RTS genre. Not only does it offer a middle ground between RTS and wargames, but the CCG aspects help keep things diverse. Unfortunately with the learning curve, chances are most people may not stick around to learn all the nuances. But for RTS fans who are tired of having to work on their APM (actions per minute) and want something slower pace, this is the game for you.

Josh Bycer

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Josh Bycer


For more than seven years, I have been researching and contributing to the field of game design. These contributions range from QA for professional game productions to writing articles for sites like Gamasutra and Quarter To Three. 

With my site Game-Wisdom our goal is to create a centralized source of critical thinking about the game industry for everyone from enthusiasts, game makers and casual fans; to examine the art and science of games. I also do video plays and analysis on my Youtube channel. I have interviewed over 500 members of the game industry around the world, and I'm a two-time author on game design with "20 Essential Games to Study" and "Game Design Deep Dive Platformers."

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