Steel Division: Normandy 44 in the test - breathless through the battle

Author: Martin Deppe
Date: 2017-06-02 12:52:00
Hundreds of soldiers on the battlefields at the same time, fierce skirmishes around the Normandy bridgehead - and we are right in the middle of it all: We didn't have a second to breathe when testing the Steel Division. Great!

Steel Division is less staging the actual invasion of the five stretches of beach than the fighting in the hinterland and the days after D-Day. For example, in a mission in which the landing on the German AND allied side is fought out by AI troops, while we steal our own units from widely scattered gliders, infiltrate the German supply lines, crack artillery positions and take out the notorious 8.8 mm cannons, so that our allied tanks are not shot down near the beach.

Realistic? Yes - but not excessive

Let's stick with "far-reaching": Steel Division plays differently than many of its genre colleagues simply because of the more credible gun ranges. Here tanks fire several hundred meters in a clear field of vision. This means that the game still does not cover realistic distances (a real tiger had a combat distance of up to two kilometers, against stationary targets up to three), but that would also be at the expense of the fun of the game - who wants to go over several screen lengths helplessly dismantled?

A good compromise between playability and realism, which also underlines another strength of the game: Steel Division does an excellent job of combining strategy and tactics. We can zoom far out of the detailed battlefields at any time, for example to bring larger troop contingents to the front. And zoom in again, for example to advance individual infantry squads, to align anti-tank positions, to coordinate mortar fire.

Stress test for strategists

Because tactical procedures are so important and we often fight in several places at the same time, we are constantly under constant stress in the Steel Division. We have to act and react, optimize and decide all the time. The game gives us a lot of leeway. For example, we can set an infantry squad to use their rifles, but not the MPs - this way we save ammunition for later hand-to-hand combat with automatic weapons when advancing to an occupied village. This is not always absolutely necessary, but those who like to have everything under control will of course be happy with it.

The moral system, however, is really important. Losses, explosions close by, shelling in open terrain - all that pulls the nerves of soldiers . Steel Division is one of the few games in which soldiers not only withdraw in panic, but even surrender when we get close enough. This, in turn, can be used to capture abandoned ammunition transporters, for example when we fired rifles and MPs earlier instead of saving ammunition.

Also great: Each of the two warring parties has its own control zone, recognizable by the blue and red background of the respective map, which moves fluidly and dynamically. If we advance with tanks or infantry, for example, our territory moves with them. A scout or a fighter, however, does not move this boundary. We can weaken opponents through skillful advance, because on enemy territory their morale sinks even further, up to surrender. But that doesn't always work: Paratroopers, for example, are used to operating behind enemy lines, they don't care.

We're building an army

With so much realism there is of course no base building to quickly reproduce a few Shermans. Instead, we work with points that we can generously pump into the starting army of a mission - or only sparingly, in order to later order reinforcements depending on the situation. Because every mission is divided into three time phases (reconnaissance, first battles, actual battle), and we are not allowed to send in all types of troops in every phase; many tanks, for example, are only allowed in phase B or even C.

That also requires a lot of tactics : At the beginning of the mission, only invest in two scouting teams in order to strike all the more concentrated later? Or do you want to rely on several infantry squads to quickly conquer villages and entrench yourself? This ensures exciting matches, especially in multiplayer battles with well-coordinated players. The division into phases is one of the biggest innovations compared to the Wargame series, in addition to the world war scenario of course.

On the other hand, we find the three campaigns comparatively weak, which only dry four missions. After all, there are always secondary objectives here, such as intercepting enemy supply convoys. The individual scenarios with AI allies and opponents, which we can put together ourselves, are more exciting, especially since we can give each AI team its own AI strength. A real strategist kit , so to speak.