Men of War 2 is absolutely brutal. Even if you’re familiar with the confusingly numbered real-time strategy (RTS) franchise up until this point, something about Men of War 2 makes survival feel like an even trickier proposition.
If you haven’t played an RTS before, RTS titles task players with controlling a force in real-time to try and achieve an objective. Often this involves combat. In Men of War 2, it involves fighting inch by bloody inch for several different objectives.
NME got to spend several hours with Men of War 2 and the biggest learning was that life is, not cheap, because you’ll constantly be trying to scrounge up more of the manpower resource to send more units into the brutal whirlwind – but always in constant danger.
There’s a lot that can kill you. Your regular infantrymen will have a rifle that’s perfectly capable of killing any other soldier, and many have an anti-tank grenade that can frag an entire squad or take out a tank. Mortars deliver death at long range, a machine gun or anti-aircraft gun could wipe out a squad in the blink of an eye, and proper artillery is horrifying, turning everything in the target area into nothing but meat, wreckage and smoke.
You quickly become completely densensitised to the bloodshed. You’ll shrug as a crack squad of commandos gets obliterated. That’s not that it doesn’t sting a little bit as your heaviest tank dies to a single entry-level footsoldier, but you’ll often just shrug and send in the next wave.
In a lot of ways, this feels like the Men of War sequel people have been clamouring for since the original Assault Squad. While I only got to play multiplayer, while previous Men of War games have just given players entire armies to start battering each other. Here the offerings feel more balanced, mostly thanks to the fact that the three armies (the Americans, Germans and Russian forces of WW2) each have different divisions that favour different playstyles and have a sort of rock, paper, scissors set of strengths and weaknesses.
This makes playing the game’s multiplayer a little more focused. At first I played against another journalist while we were both coached by another developer, both of which who were playing artillery companies to assist us while we worked the game out. Later, I found myself returning to my Men of War comfort zone, alternating between the American and German infantry forces and using special forces troops to rush and recover enemy emplacements or set deadly traps for the other players who were often playing the armoured divisions.
During my playthrough I saw – but wasn’t allowed to select – additional divisions that seem to mix things up even more: an airborne division, or a special expeditionary force. I’m in the dark about what they could contain, but I’m excited to see how this plays out. but for now the nine different options I got to choose between felt diverse enough, with each delivering a different selection of toys to play with. During the battle armies will slowly progress through phases, with armies starting at phase one – light tanks, armies and lighter artillery – but then when you get to phase three you’ll be throwing artillery barrages, bombers and special forces troops around willy nilly. Because every army is created inequal, these divisions will peak in power at different times. It keeps the tension high.
No situation is unwinnable: a scary artillery piece can be strafed by an airstrike – a Men of War first – or just squashed by tanks. The different multiplayer modes offer a few flavours of symmetrical and asymmetrical combat, but ultimately you’re just capturing different coloured squares. It’s useful because Men of War 2’s combat is crunchy and it requires a lot of thought, so the battles being a simple “go here, kill the enemies” means you can just focus on the good stuff.
Right now, Men of War 2 seems like it’s in a good place. It’s a thoughtful update of a series that, while popular, was feeling long in the tooth. Men of War 2 feels fresh and interesting and it’s a real looker too, with shiny graphics helping that brutal warfare look extra gruesome.
Men of War 2 might be keeping its combat in World War 2, but in every other way Men of War 2 looks set to drag the franchise kicking and bleeding into the modern day.
Men of War 2 is planned for release in 2023.