WARNO is a new RTS developed by Eugen Systems who brought us games such as the Steel Division series as well as the Wargame series. One thing to keep in mind, this is an Early Access game so there are a lot of things still being worked on as of this review. Before going into this game, please understand that there is a pretty steep learning curve, it’s a thinking man’s game and not something you can jump into and expect to be good at especially if you’ve never played any of the Steel Division or Wargame series.
The game is set during a Cold War that has erupted into full-blown World War III. In it, you play as either members of NATO or the Warsaw pact in a 1989 Cold War that has gone hot. Just like Eugen systems’ other games, WARNO places a special emphasis on realism: real sounds, realistic graphics, and tactical considerations that look similar to the real thing. What you get is a battle simulator that looks and sounds amazing—but is still a little rough around edges. Currently, the only game mode is capture the flag, with each team fighting to take over selected regions of the map and hold them to gain victory points. To do so, you must have a command unit within its borders and not let enemy command units enter. As time passes, you will also build up reinforcement points that can be used to requisition more units to the battle. Infantry can be used to ambush vehicles or fight in cities, tanks fire heavy weapons to pin down and destroy targets, and helicopters and planes rain heavy fire from the sky. Other units like artillery, anti-air, and logistics all have their own uses as well, and a well-rounded strategy is necessary to find victory. To oh so kindly help you learn those strategies, the AI enemies have no problem smashing everything to pieces.
The joy of any strategy game is learning how to win, and WARNO doesn’t pull its punches. The AI teammates and opponents are very good, and even on the medium difficulty you will find yourself being brutalized for any slip-up. As your vehicles explode and shells rain down on your suddenly unprotected infantry, you start to think of different methods to avoid that same situation. As games pass and you grasp the mechanics of the game, you start putting together pushes, retreats, and ambushes to divide and destroy enemy formations. Going from being utterly crushed by a machine enemy to eventually overcoming them is a sweet victory. However, seeing the score screen and realizing your computer teammate was the real winner might sour it.
Even though the game doesn’t have much content at the moment, what is there is polished and enjoyable. The graphics pop and seeing smoke and fire from a recent burning battlefield can be a sombre reminder that any victory is hard-won. Explosions look great, and it’s just as rewarding watching an A-10 Warthog fire a mini-gun as seeing a huge artillery barrage. While the user interface is somewhat bulky and has a very utilitarian look, it readily displays necessary info and will put previous Eugen Systems players at ease.
I knew going into this game that it was still an early version, so there is more to come. With that, I might have expected at least a few helpful tooltips or pop-ups, but WARNO just drops you in. With a well-done tutorial, it should be much easier for your average gamer to pick the game up. Now, it also feels like there is a slight balancing issue between the primary factions. The US has much less powerful anti-tank units than the Russians, though they have superior air power, which can prove an annoyance.