Order of Battle: Pacific – In review
I’ve been playing strategy games for most of my life, however I’ve never really had much luck with the more tactical titles – when real-time strategy and turn-based strategy introduced me to their tactical cousin I was dumbfounded. Dumbfoundedness gave way to just dumbness however, as the games had stripped back on the base building, to instead focus on a more true and realistic simulation – one of supply lines, limited resources, and noticeably varied troops. I was stumped, my defensive, patient techniques of setting up bases, or cities, and bottlenecking foes until I outnumbered them was gone. Gradually I’ve become more comfortable with the concept, but to me Slitherine- and Aegod-labelled titles always embodied what I was most concerned with about the ease of play… so why not jump straight in?
Order of Battle: Pacific, is dedicated to the Pacific theatre of World War II, with the tutorial ending with reports of an attack on Pearl Harbour, and the bundled USA campaign starting with you trying to rally defenders during that critical, historical assault.
As you’d imagine, from that start date, the title covers the different disciplines of the armed forces: infantry, armour, navy, artillery and air force. You can even mechanise your troops, having artillery deploy in half-trucks, or other vehicles, to speed their movement around the battlefields.
Between those different types of combatant, each of the units available – over 500 across the existing two factions – has different strengths against certain types of unit. This information is displayed clearly in game in a simple manner, showing the effectiveness against the 18 states, or types, of foes. It sounds complicated, but the information is always present, and combat predictions are shown before you actually engage the enemy unit.
It actually makes for a very fast, and efficient turn-based title, even when commanding tricky beach landings, or moving up several groups of troops for pincer attacks on vital targets.
Most of the missions in the title revolve around massive fields of combat, with the map divided into hexagons – which will be familiar for anyone experienced with the Panzer General series, or Civ V. The terrain plays a massive part in how combat plays out, with roads and railways usable to speed along units, and woodlands and hills actively driving forces into dangerous spots.
Naturally you are playing offensive in most of the missions of the game, and as if the entrenched enemies camping the more defensive spots of the map were not enough to make you need to think more strategically about your route to the objectives, there’s also a supply system in place, which dominates your push into enemy territory, but also serves as a fantastic, quick indicator of your progress over the map.
As your troops progress from their supply ships, or friendly territory, they paint the outline of the hexes, pushing a literal zone of control further into enemy territories. This is more than a visual aid though, as it also indicates where the flow of support would be in real conflicts.
What this means is that, if you send a bunch of troops up ahead, and they are out ahead of the pack – be it through enemies breaking the supply line, or them just being too far afield – their combat effectiveness will falter, and they will become weaker over time. This is definately something to watch, as enemies will wait in ambush, or move to retake positions should you leave them unguarded – if you spread out your troops into several groups (as I frequently did) you’ll find yourself occasionally fighting to take back your territory, and restore your supply line.
There are ways to boost your injured unit’s numbers/strength – for example you can reinforce by using a supply currency that you unlock by pushing forward into enemy zones, capturing objectives, and defeating foes. There are two ways to reinforce: a rushed – expensive – way which is effective when besieged, or in enemy territory, or a slower route that is more effective when there aren’t enemies in proximity.
That said, tactical, safe play is recommended because that same currency can be used to revive your dead critical troops, or summon reinforcements (buying more troops for deployment) which affords you the chance to form up a second front – or quickly form up a formation of bombers to assist troops in a more physical manner. The way it works emulates late-to-the-scene reinforcements well, as they have to follow the same rules of deployment that the starting troops did.
Each mission has a main objective as well as several, normally timed, secondary objectives. These objectives actually assist the campaign as it progresses – for instance, capturing all airports will stop a group from reforming and attacking in later missions. This was a really pleasant addition to the game as it encouraged being thorough by emulating the affect those actions would have on an ongoing conflict – it was a really nice touch.
Between missions you earn hero characters, officers who can be assigned to units to strengthen them with abilities, and you also unlock specialisations which focus and alter your troops – with each faction having 10 available, but only being able to chose 5 as the campaign goes on. Both of these are nice little features which add a bit more variety to playing as the factions, and are more than enough of a little edge to draw out combat long enough for reinforcements to make it, or to win a fight where you might have lost.
While the USA/Allies campaign of the game follows the more historical route – as everyone well knows – the Japanese route takes you down a pretty fantastic what-if situation which ends with the successful invasion of Australia.
Gameplay is smooth, and the animations on the units attacking each other are well made, maps look fantastic, with no obvious repetition within levels. There’s a lot to like when it comes to the visuals of the game, which is great because the information areas of the screen don’t use up too much area.
As for the fluidity of the game, you can have multiple animations playing out at once, quickly ordering a troop to attack, clicking another, and repeating. The game has already played out the maths of your attacks before the animation triggers, and this means that you can actually order your squads to finish off fleeing foes before the game has shown them retreating to the tile. It’s great that the game works like this rather than locking moves behind the animation, however the enemy turns do not apply the same logic, so it’s quite common for enemy turns to drag as enemies out of sight take moves which won’t affect you for several turns – and your intelligence wouldn’t have been able to predict.
The game operates two layers at all points, the aerial layer, and then the layer the boats & ground forces occupy. This exists for the obvious reason of allowing planes to attack ground and naval forces (as the game has a non-stack system, because… reality people.) There is an unfortunate weakness in this however, when controlling a unit on the ground, you cannot move under an aerial enemy as to capture a point, or even just reposition. It’s a problem which affected me several times, all of them as I was moving to capture something.
That said, watching your engineers flamethrower an encamped enemy, while your artillery bombards them from a safe distance, does make up for it. As do moments like the final level of the tutorial – a beach landing turning into a wide countryside capture, supply lines broken by the enemies, and then a second front of my infantry landing in the same turn, 7 units in all, on the beach to restore the supply lines, and move up to eventually complete the push on the city.
In addition the three campaigns (one being the well constructed boot camp), there is also 4 player mulitplayer which has multiple modes including one wherein you are working with the other humans against AI, as well as classic VS modes. There’s also a well made scenario creator, with a drag-drop WYSIWYG designer.
The game is also open to user created mods – and there’s already a full-conversion Battle of Britain mod. The potential for this is vast, and even the core map of the game is a lot wider than the Pacific theater involved – whether this is expanded on by the devs with even more DLC, or left to the fans, is yet to be seen.
Order of Battle: Pacific is a solid tactical game, which is surprisingly easy to pick up, and is efficient in it’s handling of information in a way that even a TBT game rookie could put out a decent fight. There’s still a great gap between what I consider Strategy, and Tactical games, however this is a step towards building that bridge, from it’s vast, varied units, down to the – rarely covered – theater that it is set in.
Stay tuned as we have a follow up piece to this coming soon which covers the Morning Sun DLC for the game which launched earlier on in the month. You’ll be able to read it [here] once it goes live.