Steel Division 2 Preview – Opening Up the Biggest Front
Steel Division 2 is a bit of a misnomer. As the sequel to Steel Division: Normandy 44 where you, as the name implies, had you take control of a division within a specific battle. It was a tactically sound, in-depth look at some of the biggest battles during the invasion of Normandy. Eugen Systems have moved this to an even grander scale, giving you the control of the full Soviet army during Operation Bagration. Steel Division 2: Steel Army would sound just a little strange.
Steel Division: Normandy 44 only launched last year. In such a short time you wouldn't be blamed for fearing a sequel was a simple cash in. This couldn't be further from the truth. Going by the demo I saw, the developers have pushed themselves to take Steel Division 2 to a whole new level.
Putting it simply, Steel Division 2 has added a whole new layer of turn-based strategy to the game. Rather than focusing on a set of specific tactical battles, there is now an overall map featuring the whole area covered during Operation Bagration. This 'dynamic strategic campaign' map, as they call it, is where you control the whole of the Soviet army. Each of your divisions is represented, for you to direct as you please. It allows you to recreate Bagration if you want to, though you also have the option to expand and improve on the Soviet deep battle strategy, making the campaign your own.
Eugen Systems, with the first title, was proud to bring forward a 1:1 scale for all the battles. One soldier quite literally equalled one soldier. This was impressive in itself on the scale offered there, they've now taken this to a whole new level. As with the first game, this is also on a 1:1 scale. The impressive aspect is that the number of troops is no longer in the tens of thousands, now in the millions. To be precise, over 1.25 million for the Soviets with around 350,000 for the Axis.
Driven by a want for realism, Eugen Systems had a researcher with a PhD in military history go into the full depth of the campaign and the units themselves. Steel Division features over 600 historically accurate units, spread across a host of divisions, including 18 new ones. These divisions have also been painstakingly researched. If a division had 4,000 tanks in real life, it will have 4,000 tanks in the game.
It's the use of the campaign map that looks to truly add and expand the game in a new direction. While I didn't personally get a hands-on with the game, A member from Eugen Systems played through a number of turns while guiding me through these changes. While you're on the campaign map, each turn you take equates to a single day and the three-stage aspect from the first game has been refined. As you direct a unit towards a battle, you'll be able to see at what stage the unit will actually reach the battlefield - you know exactly what reinforcements you'll receive and when, letting you plan accordingly.
Of course, each division has a set range based on a number of factors, just to further complicate matters. If you're travelling on a road, your range is naturally extended. Off-road, it shrinks. Further off road and in more complicated terrain, such as a forest, and what seemed like a reasonable range is suddenly dropped to a level that your path seems as though it'll take forever. Of course, the units that comprise the division also impact on matters. Tanks have a much further range than infantry but are slowed to a larger degree in forests. They also have limitations with fuel, necessitating a sound supply line and secure depots.
Understandably, there are only so many units you can take to the battlefield. To be precise, a maximum of 5. Otherwise, you'd likely find it cluttered and nigh on impossible to navigate. The maps you actually fight on are, understandably, randomised. Your direction in the campaign naturally dictates the battles you fight. The game has a number of pre-built maps and will match up the geography of the area, picking the most appropriate map to ensure a high level of accuracy. There will, as with the previous game, be some specialised maps that cover key areas - the Minsk offensive is a potential example.
That's if you even want to go into the battlefield. The campaign map has, to make a comparison, a Total War feels about right. Much like the Total War games, you don't actually have to participate in a battle. You can always auto-resolve if you think it's a foregone conclusion, fancy your odds or simply can't be bothered taking the reigns in the up-close-and-personal tactical maps. Knowing the fantastic battles you could have in Steel Division: Normandy 44, and the level of detail here, I'll be fighting every battle.
Fighting the battles won't only be for the fact that I get to ensure the army follows my tactics, but also to watch what will be one of, if not the best-looking strategy game of the year. During the demo, I was shown that you can now zoom in to an even closer level than in the previous title and that everything has been made with that much more detail. Before you even get to the units, everything from foliage, to buildings and of course the effects of battle on the land, structures and foliage.
When it comes to the units, though, it's never looked better. Each unit has every little detail modelled and animated perfectly. Even basic infantry have the same attention to detail. It looks as realistic as you could want a strategy game, generally one you'll be looking at from a high enough position that these little details become non-existent. From what I was shown, it's the effects of the battlefield that will be all the more impressive. Watching the muzzle flash from a tank as it rolls towards the enemy, seeing the effects of a bombing run on the horizon. It has the potential to be one of the more atmospheric and engaging strategy titles around.
If you really fancy looking at your units up close and personal, without the hassle of enemy fire, explosions and the risk of death, there's also an armory. Featuring the same high-definition model used in-game, you can look at every little nook and cranny of the units within the game. For the enthusiasts among you (and me!), accurate statistics will also be shown on these units. Everything from the weight, speed, range and more are highlighted in the armory. Looking through this at all the units will also help you, giving you knowledge for the campaign and multiplayer.
I wasn't shown anything about multiplayer during the demo. However, when I asked about it I was told that the game will feature 10 vs 10 multiplayer and there have been improvements to the deck building system that directs your units within multiplayer. No real details were given about this, sadly, but it'll certainly be something to keep an eye on.
At the moment there hasn't been a release date set for Steel Division 2 beyond it being sometime in 2019. This also marks the first time that Eugen Systems are self-publishing a title and I was told that they are unsure if they'll look at early access. Eugen Systems have proven themselves time and time again with titles like Act of War, R.U.S.E, Wargame and Steel Division. Steel Division 2 looks to continue this trend and it could be their most detailed and most expansive release yet. It can't come soon enough.