“…another strong competitor entering into the turn-based strategy craze.”
Dogs of War Online is an online multiplayer turn-based strategy title coming soon from French indie developers Cyanide; the people who brought you recent popular titles such as Of Orcs and Men, Bloodbowl and Impire. This upcoming free-to-play title is currently in part of its beta testing stages, but has enough active content from which to get a good taste for what can be expected from the final release. With the current popularity of turn-based strategy titles, this is one of the best but arguably most risky times to put out a title such as this. With competition on the market such as the incredibly popular XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the Warhammer universe-inspired Space Hulk and numerous other titles fitting the genre, Dogs of War Online is going to have to prove that it is something special in order to hold its own. The game may have already found its way onto the Steam marketplace, but if it is to truly succeed then it needs to find its way into the hearts of gamers too. So does it stand a chance at doing this? Read on and see what you make of it…
Dogs of War Online takes place in a fantasy world. Players from around the globe can form a personalised company using units from one of the several different armies on offer in the game, and fight others in a variety of different types of battles in order to show their dominance. In the current beta form of the game, only the deathmatch battles are playable, however two others can be seen to be on the way. These game types will certainly add variety to the game and set it aside from some of the others in its competitive market. The first of these is a simple king of the hill game type, which speaks for itself in terms of the objective. The second is a VIP mode, which works similarly to the similarly named game types in titles such as Halo. Your squad has a designated VIP target, as does the opponents. You must attempt to protect your VIP while at the same time aiming to eliminate the opponents in order to win the battle. The variety on offer here is a pleasant one to see from a turn-based strategy title, and it shows that more thought than simply how units are to fight has gone into the game’s development.
Before you jump into fighting the Internet however, you are of course going to wish to learn how to play, and Dogs of War Online happily caters to this wish. When you start the game you are offered a set of three tutorials to learn both the basics and some of the more in depth and intricate workings of the battles you are about to enter into. The first and second tutorial teach you simple and pretty standard manoeuvres and rules of combat. These include movement, melee and ranged combat, battle stances and the different types of units you can command. The third tutorial shows off some of the games more unique features however, such as curses and abilities which can be cast by the different individual units which might make up your own or your opponents squads. As a whole, playing the game is quite simple after you have played these tutorials through, and is just in-depth enough where there is plenty of variety and tactical thinking at play to keep the game interesting. These tutorials also only take you about half an hour to complete, but successfully teach you the rules of combat which you need to know in order to get fighting online.
To give you a basic idea of just how combat plays out then, here is a breakdown of the general rules and layout of play. The field of battle is set out in a serious of hexagons, each of which counts as a space. Some spaces contain cover which can provide a defensive bonus to squad members adjacent to them, but otherwise units are free to move across as many spaces as their individual statistics permit. The turn-based nature of the game works unit by unit rather than player one followed by player two. In other words, you may move one unit and make an attack but then your opponent may move one directly afterwards; you do not move your whole squad at once. You may only move and attack with each unit once per turn, with a turn being the period in which every unit on the battlefield has been activated. There are several specifics to what units can do in a turn, such as further movements to sacrifice an attack or charges if a unit has an enemy in direct line of sight. Ranged attacks can be made across the battlefield, but based on distance and cover the chance of hitting the opponent can be higher or lower respectively. Spells can also be cast by some units, as can curses, and these have their own very specific effects.
Some of that might sound quite complicated, but it is impossible to describe the full workings of the in-game battles to you due to the uniquity of each unit and each company that players will have the chance to use. The variety of unique units is surprisingly good for a turn-based strategy game, with more than a simple melee, ranged and magic character on offer. Each different army in the game has a number of units to choose from in order for you to build your own perfect squad, and there is a good chance that every squad that a player controls in the game will be unique to each other players whom they might battle. This level of uniquity means you can have fun playing with and perfecting YOUR squad, and make the game and the battles which you take to your own. While customisation is not the core of strategy games, it certainly adds a greater level of depth and player-friendliness to the game by taking away the limitations which other games often create.
There are no fatal flaws in Dogs of War Online which are instantly recognisable or even noticeable after some time playing, however the game is, as would be expected of any game in its beta stages, not entirely perfect. Some elements such as imperfect coding for text can be ignored as simple unfinished development elements. For one, the textual elements in the game are quite small, and by quite I mean very. The tutorials are very helpful at the start of the game, but I felt like I should maybe have acquired a magnifying glass before I jumped into it. This may be a known issue which will be improved upon by final release, but it is something worth mentioning. Equally, the textual elements were made even more difficult to bear due to some slight translation errors, or in some cases no translations having been made from the French development language of the game at all. Presumably the language barrier posed here will have been eliminated by the game’s final release, but it was difficult to get around not being a French speaker myself.
In terms of more significant elements of the game which hold room for improvement, there are one or two which were particularly made note of in my mind. Firstly, the graphics of the game are not quite at the same level of some of its competitors. Many a strategy title these days will allow you to zoom straight into detailed and beautiful battles, however the character models and animations of Dogs of War Online felt a little more basic than this new expectation. The map designs and artwork in the game are very nicely done indeed, but these elements were not quite at the same level. The second area in which the game could improve, and possibly the easier of these two areas to improve at this stage, is the menus. Between battles with other players you are left with several menus to navigate in order to view world rankings, customise your squad, buy new soldiers and bonuses with your in-game money, or search for a new fight. There was quite a lot to look through and try to understand, but sadly no tutorial took you through this part of the game. There is some help on hand if you click a question mark on the screen, but not enough to genuinely teach you what you should be doing. If you can work the menus out then you will be well on your way, but some players will likely struggle with these systems.
As a whole, Dogs of War Online looks like it has the potential to be another strong competitor entering into the turn-based strategy craze. The systems of the game are easy to learn and in-depth enough to stay interesting and keep you playing. The helpful tutorials which start you off are quick, easy to understand and still manage to teach you everything you need to know in order to jump into battling online. There is some room for improvement in areas, but perhaps most notably some kind of tutorial or teaching system for the in-game menus between battles would be a pleasant addition to the game’s final release. Otherwise the few minor issues which exist are easily solved and would expected to have been by the time of the final product’s launch. Fans of turn-based strategies can look forward to this title and given its free-to-play nature can also look forward to giving it a try without worrying about losing out on their hard-earned pocket money. Will Dogs of War Online make it in its competitive marketplace? Only time will tell of course, but it looks like it should stand a good chance!