Steel Division 2 Review

Far more complicated than Steel Addition.

There was a time when tank puns took up around 40 percent of the word count of most gaming publications, whether they were actually writing about tanks or not. It was a dark time, and we are still very much dealing with the ramifications today. Some games journalists of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s are still in rehab. For this reason, I am pleased to announce that despite its subject matter, this review will contain absolutely zero puns about tanks.

Steel Division 2 is an intense experience, with levels of depth bordering on overwhelming. It’s a WWII RTS focusing entirely on territory control and tactical play. There’s no base to build, no headquarters to manage. Units are paid for with supply, which gradually ticks up throughout the battle. Victory is achieved by occupying more control points than your opponent – very Battlefield, albeit on a much grander scale.

After the initial wave, which can be placed anywhere within your territory, future reinforcements must drive across the map from the reinforcement line. Particularly slow units might take a few minutes to reach the frontlines, so careful planning is required to ensure that the cavalry actually arrives on time.

Three game modes make up the bulk of play, available either against the AI or online. The standard Skirmish mode starts opposing armies quite a distance from each other, whilst in Close Quarters mode the battle lines are virtually overlapping at the start. This intensifies the start of each skirmish, but neither are radically different from each other after a few minutes.

Breakout is a much more defensively-focused game mode, and is definitely my favourite of the three. Here, one side owns the entire map, which they can reinforce with bunkers, trenches and cannons. The other side must capture as much as they can before the timer expires, aided by the fact that their reinforcements are only moments away.

Positioning is crucial. Units in Steel Division 2 can fire much further than in most RTS games and damage is modelled accurately against armoured units, most of which are far weaker to attacks from the sides or the back. This makes it easy for an entire squad of tanks to get caught out of position if you weren’t paying attention.

Combat is therefore naturally very micro-intensive. Units will fire intelligently at enemies they can see and retreat if they become overwhelmed, but to truly take control of the battlefield you’ll need to get your hands dirty, making sure each unit is positioned with the best possible field of vision, equipped with the right type of ammunition and, ideally, supported by a well-hidden supply truck. Stealth is a big part of the strategy here, with buildings offering line-of-sight cover and infantry units able to sneak through dense woodland to surprise enemies from behind.

All of this is powered by a seriously impressive roster of units. British, American, Russian, French, Canadian, German and Hungarian forces are all available to use. Players can choose one of the many historically accurate divisions to bring into battle, or create their own battlegroups. Every tank, cannon and infantry squad has its own strengths and weaknesses, with considerations such as armour piercing vs high explosive rounds making all the difference in combat.

Each should be carefully studied and combat-tested for the best results. These battlegroups can then be used in skirmish mode, or the game’s multiplayer component. It should be said, even in pre-release beta the online community was pleasingly active, with multiplayer matches never more than a few clicks away at the time of writing.

The level of visual detail on offer is just as impressive as the technical stuff. The player’s view can zoom from a tabletop-style representation of the entire map down through the clouds of smoke and artillery fire, through the tracer rounds and treetops to follow an individual infantryman marching through the forest. Each vehicle and weapon is – to this layman’s eyes at least – accurately modelled, with gorgeous battle effects making every encounter a visual treat. Unfortunately, such moments are fleeting in the heat of battle, making the replay function essential for a bit of war photography once the battle is done. And, like, studying tactics and inventing strategies, I guess.

Aside from Skirmish mode, the single-player experience is rounded out with a Campaign mode and a series of historical battles. Campaign mode puts you in charge of multiple divisions on a wider world map, with a particular goal to achieve by a set date. Battles here can be fought in full or auto-resolved, with the types of unit available depending entirely on who happened to be there at the time.

The most glaring omission from Steel Division 2 is the complete lack of a tutorial or any kind of training mode. Jumping straight into a game as a new player is overwhelming, with my first few attempts ending in a swift and confusing defeat. Luckily, the game’s YouTube community is fairly active, with plenty of information available to help fill the gaps in my knowledge. I found it helpful to pretend the game was turn-based, pausing frequently to issue orders until I figured out enough to get by in real-time. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t disheartening at the start, however.

Steel Division 2 is a rich and complex strategy with plenty to offer those who can put the time into learning its intricacies. The fact that it’s so detailed makes the lack of a tutorial even more frustrating. Yet, I must admit, once I ‘got it’ I was having quite a lot of fun. I’m still yet to win a multiplayer match, and with the fanbase that developer Eugen has built up, it seems unlikely I ever will. If you’re already a fan of their work, you’ve probably already bought this. If you aren’t, but you are the sort of person who likes to wade into the thick of things, you’ll find that climbing the difficulty curve is far from a tankless task.

[Reviewed on PC]