If you've ever read about the events of World War One, you'll know full well that it was a particularly bloody, gruelling and brutal slog. That isn't to say other wars weren't also equally bloody or gruelling. Still, the battle of attrition that was trench warfare, combined with the utter incompetence of the leaders of near every country within the war, made World War One particularly horrendous. The Great War: Western Front looks to tackle the war's overall strategy and battlefield tactics while incorporating a sense of the homefront.
During my time at Gamescom, I attended a presentation of The Great War: Western Front with members of developer Petroglyph Games (Conan Unconquered, Command & Conquer Remastered Collection), those being Senior Designer Chris Becker and Audio Director Frank Klepacki. They made clear that their aim is for this to be as truly representative of the first world war as possible, including licensed footage, music and more.
As the name should indicate, The Great War: Western Front takes place on the western front. That would be the northwest front in France. During theatre mode, you'll get the overall front, with the map divided into a grid of hexagonal tiles, highlighting critical locations within the theatre of the war and the frontline as it stands at the moment. You've got the choice between the allies and the central powers, but either way, you will find yourself pushed to the limit.
Why? In addition to managing your units and the frontline, you'll also be deciding your progression of technology. Furthermore, there is a critical element in 'National Will'. Should your national will drop to zero, you'll be driven out of the war by the people at home - much like what happened with Russia during the actual events. This is also the case of the enemy, drive down their national will, and you can claim victory - rather than the ultimate triumph of capturing the enemy's capital.
When it comes to the tech tree, this is one place where The Great War: Western Front can have you determine the direction of the war as you see fit. There are multiple paths to go down, from improving weaponry, focusing on espionage, or giving yourself more tactics to use against the enemy and give yourself an advantage in the battles. Death from Below was selected in the presentation, giving the option of having units dig under a trench and planting a bomb to demolish the enemy's trench before you attack. If you're not sure what I mean, watch the film Beneath Hill 60.
As you progress through the months and year, you'll come across surprise events that impact you both at home and on the frontline, depending on your decisions. For example, Petroglyph showed me one which had you decide what to do with the rising shellshock cases. You can choose to either proper research treatment at a monetary cost or do nothing, giving you a loss of national will. Understandable, as people at home see the horrors of shellshock and its effects on people.
I saw that preparation is vital regarding the RTS mode of The Great War: Western front. To be expected when it comes to the real world, but most games will give up some information or even do a lot of the planning for you. Once you decide to fight, it starts with a month-long setup phase, giving you a chance to get fully prepared for both attack and defence. You'll be digging trenches and communication lines, setting up balloons offering sight over the battlefield when raised, digging under the enemy to plant that bomb, putting down weapon emplacements, and deciding where your units will go.
Naturally, the enemy will have the same time and options available to them too. Both of you also have the chance to sabotage enemy planning, calling in air support in four different variations. These allow you to control the air, take out enemy balloons, run bombing missions on enemy trenches, or strafe any enemy that ventures out of the trenches.
Once set up, the battle Petroglyph played in the presentation began with the Central Powers attacking the left-hand side of the map. As they marched forward, using the woods as cover, they started taking fire - highlighting the dangers of heading through no-mans land. Eventually, they got to our trenches, resulting in hand-to-hand combat. Ultimately, the attack falters, the overwhelming firepower from our defences beating the enemy back, allowing us to go on the attack.
The tunnel we dug beneath the enemy's trench, and explosive planted, is used. An explosion cuts off the right-hand side of the enemy's line from the left; it destroys the communications line and trench, removing any cover and slowing down any supporting movement the enemy can make. Three tanks and the regular units move forward under the cover of an artillery barrage. Once the battle is in earnest, the specialists are sent in, avoiding fire thanks to the Central Powers already engaged in combat. The aim is to capture just one minor point.
Rather than fight and risk even more casualties, Petroglyph decides to end the battle, calling a ceasefire. These small goals and gains are in keeping with the game's setting, but you always have the option to push and drive for more. Of course, should you lose the fight, you lose units and national will. Taking this one point raised our national will by 20, a significant amount according to the devs. The hex didn't change ownership, though, and what is interesting is that I was told there is permanence. The crater you caused with your undermining of their trench? That's now there for the rest of the game. You will be fighting on battlefields multiple times, attacking and defending.
The Great War: Western Front is probably one of the most exciting games I saw at Gamescom. I wish I'd had a hands-on with it, but it's early days - with a predicted release of 2023. Aesthetically, it looked good, it sounded good, and it looked to play good. However, it will be even more interesting with a more tactically astute enemy - the Central Powers had no chance after losing most of their units in a foolish attack.