Wargame: AirLand Battle – Initial thoughts on sportsmanship, playing how you want to play, and criticisms
There are a suspicious amount of cynical tacticians considering how huge and dynamic a sandbox this is. War porn for the masses, so why the cookie-cutter tactics?
Throughout our coverage of Wargame: AirLand Battle, I’ll be bringing you updates on the new features and my impressions of the game right up to release. In this installment, I want to talk about a very generalized impression of the tactics and ethos employed by players to win. I won’t go into much detail about the exact units used, so much as the direction and orchestration of what the community considers to be the perfect win. This is an opinion piece.
You can read my initial preview of the title, written back in Feburary, where we were introduced to the game, and got to talk a little bit about it with the man behind the series, Alexis Le Dressay. Find that here.
Some of you might already have watched my first 1v1 video of the game, which you’ll find embedded below. I think a nice way to begin this piece would be to straighten out a few things regarding this video. Already I’ve experienced hard-core players from the Wargame series criticizing the tactics I employed: “No logical tactics were used”. I won. You can’t get much more logical than that. In all seriousness, the purpose of this video was to bring you an unplanned and completely organic “every-man” presentation of Wargame: AirLand battle. Wargame isn’t just a series enjoyed by hardcore league players, and we’re not covering the title from that perspective. It’s as simple as that. We wanted to jump right in after only a single warm-up battle, and give you what should literally be considered our first impression preview of the early beta.
As stated, we’re going to bring you a 2v2 and hopefully a 10v10 recorded match in the future. None of them will employ the community favorite tactics, and I’ll explain why in a moment. Check out the video below if you haven’t seen it. (Actually, for those of you who criticize my level – whilst that’s irrelevant because it was a first impressions – you should note that we have multiple copies of the games across multiple accounts, and we were already aware of the mechanics and changes from talking to the developer).
On to the topic at hand. My absolutely biggest pet hate in gaming is cookie-cutter tactics. I hate it when MMO players obsess over the most efficient, most perfect builds – and I hate it when an RTS has quite clearly the right way to do things, and the wrong way to do things. European Escalation suffered in atmosphere because it became apparent quite quickly that the best way to win was to forget that what you are playing is a heavily authentic, incredibly beautiful and atmospheric war game. According to the numbers from Le Dressay, EE employed 300 units, whereas AirLand Battle has 700, ish – yet you had to use them this way, and to do things that way, otherwise you were doing it “wrong”.
The number of units at your disposal means that this RTS is the perfect candidate for explorative and dynamic play. If you want to see what happens if you take a risk with a Harrier, or mishandle a Stryker as an experiment, you should be allowed to do that. Units are not essentially rock-paper-scissors, although clearly ammunition types are. League players will of course employ their finest tactics, but the rest of the community should not feel pressured to simply follow the pack. You have all the tools at your disposal to work out exactly how you like to play, and laterally adapt to the tactics employed by your opponent.
If every opponent, or player, is using the same tactic developed by the communities hive-mind, then every game will seem quite drole. That’s a crime when Eugen Systems have given you the tools for such dynamic engagement. Use them. It’s supposed to be fun.
So, onto my impression of what I’ve seen so far.
This is a good example of something I was worried about before the game launched. When EE launched, matches were unpredictable and dynamic. Less units were employed, and more armour was used. Quickly it became apparent that, since infantry comes with armour of sorts, and generally costs around 100 or so points less than armour, it’s more efficient to pump out infantry. Because of this, many people pumped out as much infantry as possible, and simply scattered it around the map, sending men in the meet into the middle. Matches subsequently became a matter of hiding your men in the trees, and sending their transport in as either a scout or a suicide mission. The points for each armoured unit with infantry were so low that the gain for the enemy was negligible, since they would invariably send something in the direction of your own men hiding in the trees, who would recapture the points by destroying that insurgence. How boring.
For the uninitiated, I’m the blue guys on the right. My point score is relatively low, and I am not following the cookie-cutter tactics employed by my other two, very competent companions. A league player would say that I’m playing very badly. Indeed on paper that might seem to be the case, but I flanked the entire match, captured ECHO’s FOV, destroyed his command vehicle, and frightened them into a surrender. I didn’t win us the game, but with the overt sense of threat from the left flank, and my surprise insurgency from the right, the game was ours.
My point is that efficiency isn’t fun. Playing for the win at any cost isn’t fun. Unless you’re league players fighting against each other, I’ve found that you’ll probably be facing the same unimaginative insurgence of infantry units almost every time. Because of the amount of cheap AA infantry on the map, planes are – so far – hardly used.
At this stage in the beta, I’m worried that Eugen Systems haven’t made enough of an effort to stir the pot. I’m perfectly aware that the community are quite happy with the way that they’re playing, and how the game is made, but it’s such a shame to waste potentially endless tactical possibilities on the same dynamic every match. It’s almost a sandbox type environment, and at the moment it seems most popular to simply hide a scout around the enemy base, meet at the middle with infantry, dot a few AA over the place, and then just wait it out. I’m not entirely convinced it’s as intelligent as it is effective. It’s brute force, but there’s no real strategy.
It reminds me a little of how in Company of Heroes, the standard tactic for multiplayer matches was to artillery with the US, and tank rush with the Germans. Those two options were generally the only two methods of securing a win against players who employed that method. If the Germans tank rused, you had to defend and artillery, and if the Americans decided to sit and artillery, you had to rush them with tanks. Of course, gamers didn’t have to do that, but it was up to the imagination and creativity of the opponent. This is a much larger, and more open environment – the possibilities are endless. It’s war porn, and I genuinely feel as though the fun of the Wargame series should come at least in part from creative play, regardless of whether you win or lose.
Many of you will scoff — of course you should do whatever you can to win! — well, winning is great, but doing so of your own accord, with your own tactics, is much more rewarding. I may not play as you’d like, but I have won the games you have watched. What does that say? “Well, you wouldn’t’ win against a league player!” Of course I wouldn’t, but what does it matter? Let’s take it down a notch and fully explore the potential of AirLand Battle in the beta, and stop being concerned with mathematical efficiency.
There is a contradiction in some of the criticism I received; the idea that I left out some of the features. Well, you can’t expect me to play how you want me to play, and still show you all the features. In order to show you everything, I have to play the game laterally, and allow mistakes to be made. It’s silly to say “there were no logical tactics used,” and add “you missed out a lot of features of game-play” in the same sentence. “Logical tactics” are logical insofar as they are meta-efficient within the game mechanics themselves. They’re not logical tactics so much as the use of certain strategies is logical to secure a victory*. I’m trying to have fun; winning is a bonus. That’s been going well for me so far.
(*It’s illogical to put a crap ton of cheap infantry in a bush and then attack face on against an equal force for a long period of time where your victories are negated by your losses, although that seems to be the primary tactic employed. It might work, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it logical. It all depends on the criteria for a satisfactory victory you set yourself. For instance, I’m only happy if I am victorious through my own experiments and methods of winning. I don’t want to adhere to set ways of doing things, I want to engage my brain. In that vein, it would be illogical for me to employ such a tactic since it would damage the quality of the victory. Winning “at all costs,” to me, is crude!)
What am I talking about? Let’s use an analogy. There are two ways to solve a Rubik’s Cube: you can either work it out in your head, or learn one of the many algorithms; “a list of well-defined instructions for performing a task from a given initial state.” There’s a propensity to suggest that ‘logic’ implies intelligence, but in actuality the algorithmic method is only reiteration. Learning how to win shouldn’t be the focus – figuring it out is the fun part.
Whether you like it or not, AirLand Battle is aesthetically authentic, dynamic, and enjoyable. It’s an accessible game, and everyone should get their hands on it. Throughout my coverage, I want to promote the game to RTS players from all walks of life – none of my work is a tutorial, and none of it is about how to win. The truth of the matter is that most ‘pug’ style matches are against people who aren’t strategic geniuses, there is room for some lateral game play… room to… have fun.
I assure you, I know how I am expected to play, but if I am helping to secure victories, you shouldn’t worry too much about it! Let’s have some fun!
- PCGMedia are covering the game laterally until the release of the deck system
- We’re concerned over the lack of imagination due to community pressure to do things a set way
- We find it interesting that you can still be a “bad” player, and win 90% of your games:
- Simply because you pick your own units, and your own strategies — be imaginative!
- Planes are hardly used due to pockets of infantry AA
- Infantry is overused due to the relatively cheap cost:
- Which makes games quite drole and tiresome
- Playing with friends, and experimenting, is definitely more fun at this stage
- There’s a concern that new players will be put off unnecessarily by pressure to work a certain way
- The default decks are actually a good thing for the game at the moment, since they force people out of their comfort zone:
- Which is a step towards testing the potential dynamic of the game
- The term “logic” is apparently synonymous with “my way of doing things”
- However, you can still experiment, have fun, and still win:
- The community frown upon that, in our experience
Expected future coverage
- 2v2 recorded match
- 10v10 recorded match
- Once the deck system is unlocked, a full written preview piece on the beta and state of the game
- Final initial impressions before launch