Steel Division 2, is a historically accurate, World War 2 themed, real-time strategy game. You’ll find many WW2 themed games out there but few that put so much effort into making their game as true to the actual event. Steel Division 2 is also one of the few games where the accuracy of the source material does not get in the way of enjoyment, which by itself is no easy task.
Steel Division 2 had me commanding massive numbers of troops over vast battlegrounds. I was formulating strategies, scrapping what I thought up and drawing up an entirely new plan of action, calling more reinforcements, screaming at the dots on my monitor to return fire or take cover, feeling totally overwhelmed, and rejoicing when I finally achieved victory. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride, but one I am fortunate to have taken.
Steel Division 2 is available on Steam right now in various packages.
If your World War 2 history is a bit shoddy then consider this a Spoiler alert. The Nazis lost.
Steel Division 2 is set before the end though and focuses on the Eastern front of Europe during the time Russia had to push back the German forces. Although there’s much to be said of WW2 during this time, the story doesn’t really play a role in the game. They have added a campaign of sorts, called Army General, where you can replay significant battles from history from either side. Selecting one of these battles gives you an overview of what went down as well as an overview of the available forces you’ll have at your disposal.
Historical accuracy is a key component in this game. My history of WW2 is not entirely up to scratch so I’ll take the word of experts when they say Steel Division 2 got this part nearly bang on. Yes, there will always be some discrepancies, especially considering the vast amount of data injected into this game but overall you’ll need to look real hard to fault Eugen Systems in this regard.
My first complaint, and there aren’t many, is the fact that only the German and Russian factions are available unless you owned the first game in the series, Steel Division Normandy ’44. Alternatively, you can purchase the remaining 4 factions through DLC, a practice which I detest but has nevertheless become very popular in the industry. By adding all available DLC’s you nearly double the price of the game which amounts to around $80 for what is essentially still an indie game. Yikes! However, I would suggest starting with just the base game until you really feel you need something more. You’ll understand why in just a moment.
Let’s get down to the mechanics, strap yourself in because there’s quite a bit to discuss. Being an RTS game, you command your troops from an omniscient viewpoint where you can see the entire battlefield. If you’re playing one of the campaigns then you’ll be offered a set list of troops but when playing a skirmish you can spend your Deployment Points on any units you wish, after which, you can place them at any strategic location on your side of the battlefield. These Deployment Points regenerate during battle allowing you to summon reinforcements as the game progresses.
Setting up before a battle can become a game in itself. Not only are there several unit types including infantry, tank, anti-tank, anti-air, artillery, support, reconnaissance, and aircraft, but each unit comes with a whole list of specifications that will make each better suited for specific missions. Your units don’t just come in a series of power levels ranging from weak and cheap to strong and expensive, you have to consider what type of weapons they have, how far can they accurately use those weapons, what’s their penetration depth, how much ammunition do they carry, what’s their movement speed and fire rate, and a whole list of other things. Getting to know these units is absolutely exhausting, and if you unlock all factions, there’s over 600 of them!
But wait, it gets better. If you feel up to it, you can put together your own Battlegroup which you can customize for each battle. You’ll start with a template of sorts which resemble a real group of soldiers from history like Germany’s Elite 5 Panzer Division or Russia’s 3rd Guards Mechanized Corps. This will determine how many units of each type can be included in your Battlegroup, some will focus on mechanized units like tanks while others will include more infantry and aircraft.
A match has 3 phases, each lasting 10 minutes, and you’ll have to decide which units are available for deployment during which phase. There’s only a set number of each unit available, a number which increases if you add said unit to a later phase. Adding a German Tiger tank to Phase A, for example, will only allow you to deploy 2 units, but this increases to 8 if you make the same unit available in Phase C only. Additionally, you can use higher ranked units which will obviously be stronger but will include fewer troops. Finally, you have leader and commander units which provide a morale boost to nearby allies, making them fight as if they were of a higher rank.
Oh, we’re not done yet. Some units come with the option of 2 ammunition types. The Russian IS-1 Komroti, for example, has the option of including 50 x 85mm AP shells which comes with higher penetration and accuracy, or 25 x 85mm HE shells which deal a massive amount of blast (area of effect) damage. Finally, you can select your transport vehicles. When calling infantry to the field, they don’t just run in, guns blazing, they get transported in some form of vehicle and can then get unloaded where you need them if the transport doesn’t get destroyed first. But which transport vehicle do you want? The DZHIP Jeep is quick but includes very little in terms of armor, while the M2A1 truck has better armor and includes a machine gun but sacrifices speed. The number of options is staggering, and we haven’t even gotten to the actual fighting yet.
Back to the battlefield. The object of the game is to have more of the control points in your territory than your enemy when the time runs out. Your territory is indicated by a boundary line that moves dynamically depending on which side exercises the most amount of pressure in that area. Since both sides can constantly call for reinforcements, this results in a constant back and forth battle where the one with the best strategy and unit control will come out on top.
Now, let’s look at the unit types. Artillery units are fantastic because they can fire rather accurately on the enemy from extreme range and are therefore difficult to kill. Tanks have tremendous firepower and also have great range, as long as they have line of sight, so they are useful in large open areas or when positioned on top of hills. Infantry get killed easily when exposed so they work best when sneaking through forests or taking cover inside buildings. Support units could include a machine gunner with better damage output than your average infantry but less mobility, or a supply truck which is used to restock your artillery and mechanized units with ammunition and can even repair damaged tanks.
And don’t think a damaged tank just keeps on fighting until his health bar reaches 0, oh no, tanks can be damaged in a multitude of ways like getting transmission damage which makes them immobile or having the turret get stuck so their fire rate and accuracy suffer. It’s a similar story with infantry who can become suppressed when fired upon meaning they hide away for protection and don’t return fire. If further pressure is put on them then they’ll surrender outright, or if conditions improve they’ll resume fighting as before. Aircraft can do a lot of damage anywhere on the map but after attempting a mission they’ll need to return to base to refuel and repair if they weren’t shot down by enemy anti-air.
Don’t forget the different strategic orders you can issue. You can order your units to move normally, or Fast Move which is quicker but lets their defenses down. Auto-cover has them hide as soon as they make contact with an enemy and Efficient Shot has them only engaging if their accuracy is above a certain percentage.
The sheer amount of options available is completely overwhelming so you need to be ready for a very steep learning curve. This brings me to my main complaint of Steel Division 2, the lack of tutorial. How can Eugen Systems make a game this detailed and complicated but not include a guide for new players to learn how things work. I spent several days buying aircraft without knowing that I actually had to select their icon and issue an order before they’ll appear.
I also didn’t understand why some buildings changed color and eventually figured out they had infantry hiding in them, I also didn’t initially know that I could hide infantry in buildings. I had no idea what the purpose of a supply truck was until I watched someone else’s gameplay video who used them to resupply his artillery. This is the type of frustration that will have new players give up after only a few games and never return, which is a real shame because once you get to grips with all of this, Steel Division 2 becomes a fantastically good time.
I’ve mentioned how staggeringly detailed this game is. There’s enough data to have you reading up on units stats for days, so the historian at heart will have a blast. Those who are not particularly interested in things like the penetration depth of a Geman Panzer tank will definitely have a tougher time getting into this game but believe me when I tell you that it’s worth the effort. Things get even more interesting when you set up a skirmish game which allows for up to 10 players on either side. This should make for some noteworthy battles, although if your graphics processor isn’t worthy it’ll end up as a puddle of zinc and silicone.
The graphics engine is nothing short of spectacular. Initially, you’ll have an overview of the entire battlefield with mere icons indicating where troops are located. Zoom in and you can see the facial expressions on your soldiers and the spare wheels and fuel canisters mounted on the side of your tanks. I don’t think I’ve ever taken so many screenshots while doing a game review and it was a shame that I couldn’t include them all because I want people to see how breathtakingly beautiful this game is.
The sound department has done equally well, adding some dramatic instrumental numbers to set the tone for each battle and whenever you select a unit or issue an order, the unit’s response comes through as if you were communicating via radio. The units communicate in their native language which gave the game a great sense of authenticity. I don’t even care that I couldn’t understand a word they said.
One change I would like is the ability to deploy multiple of the same units at a time. Whenever you summon a new unit, the unit menu collapses entirely and you have to go through everything again to summon another. This is merely an annoyance in single player as I usually pause the game when calling in reinforcements but this is not possible when playing against other humans.