By Joseph Luster
PUBLISHER Slitherine • GENRE STRATEGY • System PC • Available Now
Order of Battle: World War II is a game that’s been around for a while in one form or another, but it only recently cemented itself as a solid hub for a variety of WWII-related campaigns. What started out as a Pacific Theater-oriented outing is now essentially a menu to which you can add as many or as few additional DLC campaigns as you like. Its key strength, then, is customizability. Oh, and the turn-based warfare is pretty darn good, too.
With the free version of Order of Battle, players have access to a Boot Camp campaign and a sample of every other available campaign pack. This should be enough to let you know whether or not you’re interested in trying out something else from the ever-growing list of full campaigns. At the moment these consist of U.S. Pacific, Rising Sun, U.S. Marines, Morning Sun, Winter War, Blitzkrieg, and Kriegsmarine. New missions are added to the free sample list each time a campaign is released, so you won’t have to worry about missing any future fronts.
The name of the game in Order of Battle is the same as it was two years ago, and that’s a very good thing. Even as developer The Aristocrats has expanded its scope bit by bit, balance is still the series’ strong suit. Some strategy games favor raw power over strategy, but you can’t just overload your patrol with the most powerful tanks and expect to emerge victorious. Planning is key, and despite the game’s relative simplicity it’s very easy to get overzealous and find yourself cut off from the rest of your army. It pays to play patiently and work outposts into the mix as you traverse the map. Doing so will increase your range of supply and make survival that much likelier.
Not every campaign in Order of Battle is created equal, but you’ll find some interesting content within the overall downloadable add-on setup that you likely haven’t encountered before. If you’ve ever played a campaign that depicted Japan’s invasion of China, for instance, it must have been in a fairly niche title. That’s what Morning Sun does here, and though it isn’t the most exciting selection available, it’s intriguing for its place in history alone.
That historical aspect has become much more rigid as the game has grown, however. Earlier campaigns allowed players to turn the tide of war in an ahistorical direction, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. This news will likely please the real history buffs out there, but it can be a little deflating to perform exceedingly well only to face defeat because that’s what happened in the actual battle.
Order of Battle makes up for minor shortcomings like these with style and speed. The animated 3D units look great atop the grid-based 2D map, and there’s just enough detail present to suck you into the battles. Speaking of which, the battles are at their most exciting when they incorporate a mix of land, sea, and air combat. The challenge is just right during these missions, and they’re short enough to not be terribly annoying to replay repeatedly. You will ultimately get however much enjoyment you feel like investing here. With an assortment of optional campaigns to choose from without the pressure of playing any theater you’re not particularly interested in, Order of Battle serves up a nice à la carte counterpoint to some of the more demanding and hyper-realistic strategy games out there without sacrificing any of the smarts.