WWII Online: Battleground Europe 1.34.9
Set in World War II Western Europe, WWII Online: Battleground Europe is a brutally realistic MMO featuring hundreds of towns and cities in a huge, zone-less map where battles rage for days and campaigns for weeks.
When it comes to the world of massive multi-player games, fans of genres outside of RPGs have had to be jealous and pretend they didn't care. Although many action-oriented gamers may have barked, "Bah, those are crap!" --Greebus, I know deep down they have been wishing they could bring a couple thousand people into their Tribes 2 universes.
Throughout the decent amount of hype that World War II Online generated in the months preceding its release, I have often wondered if this would be the game that provides a multi-player environment for my intractable friends. It is finally here and has been for several weeks, but the launch left much to be desired, giving the developers ample time to fix some of the bigger bugs while also giving me time to get deep into the opening part of the war.
Let me explain.
The developers of World War II Online had a wonderful concept: take the massive multi-player sides of Everquest, Ultima Online and Asheron's Call and place them into an environment that is familiar to anyone, anywhere. Completing such a difficult task would take an extraordinary amount of skill. They would have to blend a technologically advanced game engine with addictive play mechanics to keep gamers happy.
Everquest and Asheron's Call had to tone down the graphics a bit in order to accommodate for the large number of people that would be traversing the server. World War II Online, although offering many instances of graphical prowess, won't shine quite as bright as games with a limited number of multi-player outlets.
Although my initial response to the game was fairly lukewarm, the longer I put myself into the role of a soldier at war, the more I began to conform to the engine. I started noticing how gunfire and explosions look intimidating in the distance. Structures and vehicles, after a hard assault, will be left smoking in the rubble. The transition from day to night is subtle, and it can be quite beautiful. The tanks and gunners are quite detailed and offer a look at the last bit of scenery many soldiers might have been able to see.
On the downside, some of the environments are quite unsightly. The infantry, from when they are in front of you or when you can only see their hands, are extremely low on polygons. Thankfully, the vehicles and aircrafts don't seem to have that same issue, but that doesn't save the buildings. While they take damage and offer a way to identify war-torn towns, they often look like cardboard boxes, resulting in bland textures. In addition, the game has such profound aliasing problems that running without aliasing resulted in a plethora of staircases.
On the plus side, the game ran quite amazingly. Although I heard complaints from the mouths of my teammates from time to time, I was able to run at 1600X1200 at 32-bit color with QuinAA, using the GeForce 3 rig. I easily averaged 50 fps. When you consider the large number of players, the seemingly never-ending world and the different types of vehicles, it is easy to justify the trade-off.
Also, there were a couple of situations where I was quite amazed at the engine. I was heading toward a town in which I had no business, and I decided to try to tough it out. Flooring the accelerator, I flew past the opening bridge and the Nazi flag. Reaching the end of the town, I breathed a sigh of relief as a bullet threw a cloud of dust a foot in front of my Bedford. The air pierced by the bullet didn't sound too shabby either.
In order to portray realism, WW2O doesn't offer a soundtrack. Instead, it relies on the matter-of-fact depiction of what it may have sounded like. They did a great job.
Although there are a couple of instances of repetitive sounds, most of the time you will enjoy everything coming out of your speakers. Traveling from one town to the next is often a little nerve racking when the faint taps of ground fire grow into pounding warfare. These not only provide a way to identify where you shouldn't be, but they add to the tension of the moment.
Ambient and non-combat sounds offer a helping hand to the realism factor. Like the rest of the MMORPGs, you will often find yourself waiting for something, whether it is daybreak or a ride, just listening to the sounds of night. Hey, it happened in Saving Private Ryan.
The only thing I found lacking were the screams of friendly and enemy wounded. While I don't want to be morbid, screaming soldiers are a part of war would have added to the realism.
I must say that I would have preferred the Tribes 2 approach to controlling infantry and vehicles to the more strategic approach that WW2O presents. Instead of just walking like you would in any first-person shooter, aiming and firing, you have five different walk positions, and ready, aim and fire controls. The same thing happens when you jump into a vehicle. Nothing is ever simple enough to allow the casual gamer to jump in and play. Instead, as I learned, the gameplay manual will have to be open until you master the intensive and often confusing control interface. That, coupled with the fact that the vehicles switch to joystick control, is two hairs lower than frustrating.
All is not lost, though, thanks to a keymapper option that can change these settings. After you get used to them, they become a little more ... understandable. While they never feel as fluid as more simple configurations (I would much rather just point and shoot), the controls mimic the painstaking tasks it takes to attack in war. So it is hard to say that the control is extremely difficult because more times than not, I was pretty satisfied with the handling. Aside from the infantry control, I am extremely happy that the controls for tanks aren't as complex as they were in Steel Beasts, and the aircraft isn't as difficult as MS Train Simulator.
A HUD will be present to offer a little help with the interface. While not as informative as many others, it barely takes up any space on your screen. Situated in the lower-right corner, you have a view of your compass, health meters and physical status. While it may seem a little lacking at first, rest assured; it displays the information that you need.
Maybe one of the most glorious things about World War II Online is the fact that throughout weeks and months of gaming, the things you do will affect the end result of the war. The game begins, and the time after the initial assault of the Nazi forces has already passed. Now you can either assist the Allied forces or help the continuing onslaught of German forces.
You begin the game with the World Screen, viewing a globe that presents the available theater, which is represented by a yellow rectangle. This will take you into the Theater Screen. With varying levels of zoom, you can focus in on the different nations of Europe and see by whom they are occupied. From here you can also join and set up missions (if you are high enough rank) for others to take.
After you decide where you want to go, you will be presented with the vehicle screen and a list of every role you can assume. Usually every position you would want, aside from the aircraft, will be listed. Certain information is listed about the available types of armor and weaponry will be accessible as you go up in rank.
When you join, you will surely find that unless you work as a team, you will not enjoy your experience. Traveling from a tranquil Allied town into a place where a little action can be found will often take over fifteen minutes. Therefore, you often will be screaming out for a friendly transport, and that isn't always easy to find. This is a serious problem with WW2O. Without thousands of people to play on one server, it is easy to get lost in the hundreds of miles that the developer has included. However, if good missions are mapped out by someone with a high rank, you should be able to have a number of enemies on your hands. The ranking system should offer fans of RPGs a little sweetness since the longer you play, the less restrictions you will have. You will be able to command other players, pilot new vehicles and become a more valuable asset to your "country."
World War II Online is, without a doubt, a military game fanatic's dream come true. It offers an unprecedented virtual battlefield that I can only see getting better. However, if you aren't ready to wade through the various troubles that have plagued that game, the depiction of realistic warfare or the trade-off for many people with lowered graphics, you might not want to rush out for this one until it gets cleaned up a bit. I will update this review shortly to reflect this and add details that I may have left out.
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