When it comes to portraying historical events in video games, none have been used as often as the second World War. It’s the well that never runs dry for a game developer. A grand global conflict, a vile villain and heroic individuals, and a wealth of stories from which to glean. The impact and ripples from 1939-1945 are still felt to this day. One genre in gaming that relies heavily on historical global conflicts is the turn-based strategy niche. With Strategic War in Europe, the team at Wastelands Interactive attempts to show the scope and scale of the war and give the player the ability to reenact or dramatically change history, without requiring the quick reflexes of a first person shooter or real-time strategy title.
Those familiar with turn-based strategy games on the PC such as the offerings from Paradox (Hearts of Iron or Europa Universalis series) or the more popular Civilization series from Sid Meier should feel comfortable with the basic offerings of SWIE. Even those who come into SWIE from a primarily tabletop strategy background such as Axis & Allies will feel at home. The game offers a number of historical starting points during the span of WWII and the gives the player the ability to take control of any country that was involved at the start point. Fancy a go taking control of Finland and assisting Poland against the ever growing German aggression? You can if you like. Though personally, I’d stick to the major nations with their deep war chests of resources and political power. It makes for a much more entertaining experience.
All the staples of a historical turn-based strategy game are all there. Production points, movement points, and units and forces represented by icons and numbers…lots of numbers. The downfall of SWIE is the interface design when one attempts to interact with this virtual board game. More than once I found myself lost in a series of sub-menus searching for an option to use a particular action I needed to implement. It’s not that they don’t exist (they do), it’s simply an off putting process that will scare most away from a title that has a sound concept and potential.
The tutorial is another point of contention, since it has little help to offer when it comes to explaining the deeper mechanics. Sure, you get the bare minimum required to move a unit, attack a unit, and launch a game but its a quick push out of the nest after that and you’re expected to figure it out as you go. One screen in the tutorial even suggests that you should seek out advice and further instructions on the developers forum which is not a great endorsement of your tutorial. Especially for an smaller strategy title without an active and robust community their to support new players. I also saw multiple references to a manual for the game but my Google searches and visits to the developers website came up empty. I just want to understand you better game? Why are you making things so difficult?
In the end, I believe there is an audience for turn-based historical strategy games on Steam and with additional work with the user interface and tutorial, Strategic War in Europe could be a suitable introductory title for those afraid of the deeper and more complicated systems of other titles in the genre. Yet, if the player is unable to understand the basic systems and interface of a strategy game, it’s unlikely they will offer it the time it needs before turning away in frustration.
You can purchase Strategic War in Europe on Steam for $14.99.