Peter Robbins, 28 September 2023
Hex Of Steel developer Valentin Lievre and his brother are well under way on their next indie wargaming hit, Beasts Of Steel. You’ll see why I call it a hit-in-the-making soon enough as I meander through its latest Beta Preview. Keep in mind as we walk through this Beta program, (as if it needs to be stated) please take all of what we show you with a slight grain of salt, as these are work-in-progress UI and renderings.
Now, to the first thing I really like about Valetin’s beta. Everything works, and works relatively flawlessly. We’ve found occasional bugs as a beta testing team, but Val really prides himself with not letting anything be released into the beta without it working pretty damn well; and it shows in that we’ve only found really small issues if that. Enough of my jabbering on its qualities, let me show them off a little.
First, my from the hip review of Beasts Of Steel would be:
What if Hex Of Steel and Hell Let Loose had a beautiful baby, this would be it.
Beasts Of Steel is an ambitious mix of both hex-based traditional wargaming and first person shooter approach tactical wargaming. You could say, the best of both worlds, but does it mix well? Yes, so far from what we’ve seen in this beta preview, its rock solid. And can only get better with time.
Hex Of Steel is quite nearly a perfect indie computer hex-based WW2 wargame. I’ve talked about it on my personal blog over here and here a bit recently. Its one of those wargames that you know a true grognard who also loves approachability as a quality of gaming took on with full force. It really felt like a wargame that a developer made for themselves first and foremost. And I think that is key in a good game. They took what they love and applied it to a wargame, then shined it up quite a bit as a resulting wargame, and voila, a brilliant game.
Now, that same attention to visual and feature detail Val put into Hex Of Steel’s operational level hex-based wargame, he’s put in with the help of 3d modeling by his brother, and voila, yet again, a classic wargame in the making. The deathmatch / FPS / tactical layer of when units merge is on par with War Thunder, and World Of Tanks level of approachable detail, without all of the micro-payment hoopla and bull-muck-ery.
The main quality that sets Val’s games apart is Feature Detailing, as well as Approachable Detail.
Both of which are the qualities I most admire in wargames. They need to be fun, but suspending of disbelief if-you-will. Give me a “feeling of fidelity” over learning to cold start a Sherman tank (though that of course would be cool to know how to do). To each their own though, I grew up with the simulators of the 80s and 90s, so, to each their own with the new gum bleeding edge simulations.
The Campaign Level
click images to enlarge
Above is the main menu of the Beta Preview for Beasts Of Steel. Keep in mind please as we stroll through this, that this is setup very much as a beta test sandbox for the time being. This may very well not be the final form of the menu system. Now, what each of these point to is absolutely fully working, and this is a true beta format of the game engine. It is not an alpha, like some previews I’ve been privy to are at best. Absolutely everything seen works. And that is a breath of fresh air when attempting to beta test the ENGINE as opposed to the content. There will be much more CONTENT in the way of developed Scenarios of starting conditions for campaigns for example. We will have a quick follow-up interview with Val within two weeks to clarify many of the points I’ll make in this article, to allow for clarifications as (and if) needed.**
This first go at Campaign, I choose German as Player 1, and USA as Player 2, then I click on the AI checkbox to ensure the Player 2 side is taken on by the AI. As shown below. You also select the Year and Month of the campaign, which I’m assuming (will chek with Val during our conversation) limits the vehicles, infantry types, and tanks accordingly.
In the above, you see the campaign sandbox map. In the full game, this will be frontline dependent upon the scenario chosen. I’m assuming. Again, some assumption here as this was for now designed as a quick way to test functionality, and not as a full blown beta of the campaigns that will be provided as templates upon release.
The above is showing the mechanism to placing units that have been “bought” in the Train Units mechanism. We’ll show a bit more of that in better pictures later in this article.
A few more shots from this quick dip into Germany as Player 1 are below.
Again, very similar to Hex Of Steel, but improved in its interfacing a bit. The counters are a little crisper in presentation. I don’t think the Info overlay has everything added to it yet, will confer with Val on that during our interview chat. Long story short, the Campaign is intended to be Hex Of Steel, only better. Hex Of Steel was already awesome (see my article links at top of this preview) so it can only get better from there.
And above is the magic sauce of Beasts Of Steel. As units merge into the same hex, their exact compositions become the class of infantry and vehicle types that are allowed in a deathmatch tactical level server first-person session. You’ll see more examples of that tactical level further below as we move to that area of the game.
Here is another quick Campaign example, this time with USA as Player 1 and Germany as Player 2 (AI) enemy.
Above, a similar starting sandbox formatted campaign map is present. In the full release, this will be a front appropriate full campaign map of an appropriate area to the campaign scenario starting file.
Now, we’ll roll through the available bought unit types, just as a cursory look through what is already in the game in the following slideshow
Above you can see that the selected quantities of units are all in a basket, then you then click the [Purchase] button to actually buy them with accrued resources (“money”).
If it ends up anything like Hex Of Steel, you’ll also have to pay for fuel to move everything, and use up your resources to repair and or upgrade units over time as well as “buy” occasionally some new units that are likely to only be able to show up after a certain amount of turns.
Speaking of a delay in time, you can see how many turns it will take before the purchased units become available to deploy on the campaign map. As I progress the sandbox campaign turns forwards, more of the units become available drop onto the map in specific entry hex points.
don’t forget you can click images to enlarge
The above shows you once placed, how much fuel will be used to move that entire grouping of units to another nearby hex in the campaign.
In the above screenshot I’m showing that once you group for example several quantities of air units onto one hex. If you want to treat them as an overall named group or formation, you can freely do so. This is a nice feature. You can make combined arms “units” this way, which will help in potentially a future Modern adaptation of Beasts Of Steel (nudge nudge, wink wink, Val, please extend into modern combat arms), as units in near future warfare are always being recombined in different ways experimentally.
And then, boom, as they merge, a new tactical level combat match is generated.
As you can see the AI bought a ton more than I did just for example sake. I’ll ask Val in our interview how the AI auto determines what they may buy if you are playing the campaign solo.
The Tactical Level
This is a simple interface in place at this time. I don’t know if it will be spruced up any by release, but its fully functional and its intuitive for now. Here I’m just setting up a Solo deathmatch server locally, with AI additional friendly and enemy units that will auto join the match. I don’t know the exact algorithm involved on how the units are chosen and added over time, I’ll be sure to ask that of Val as we have out video interview soon.
Here I’ve added myself as an M1 Sherman tank, and press E to start its engine. Then basically WASD level controls for movement forward reverse and left and right turning. While the controls may be simple, the reaction of the tank as far as real-time simulator goes is actually quite good. It doesn’t just GO, it takes an appropriate amount of time for the engine to kick in and get the beast of steel (see what I did there) moving.
Some more tactical shots in a slideshow, with me driving around in an M2 Lee from my USA campaign I was playing around with further above.
reminder: you can click images to enlarge
And yes, many different airplanes and bombers are included! This is an awesome aspect of this wargame.
The Tactical Control Settings (Gallery)
And below is an interface which I honestly need to check with Val represents, as I’m gathering that you gain experience in each class or type of infantry, vehicle, tank, or plane and perhaps you unlock upgrades at each level. This portion did not have much functionality in the beta sandbox version of the game. More on this in our impending interview.
Beasts Of Steel is ambitious, but it has all of the parts it needs for success. Its foundation of the previous work from Hex Of Steel; improved upon at the operational campaign level, and the addition of extremely well modeled and large variety of units to control in the first person tactical layer, and Val has a hit on his hands in the makingl. Go ahead and make sure to wishlist this in Steam after reading this, as then you’ll know when it finally reaches its early access or fully completed versions. I’ll be sure to ask Val in our interview how they intend to do the final release. I hope you enjoyed this quick dip into Beasts Of Steel. Its a great game and I think it will end up with a large following.
As if you can’t guess, I’m a beta tester for the upcoming Beasts Of Steel. I’m also an avid player of Hex Of Steel, the previous wargame developed by Valentin Lievre studios. I think that indie wargaming titles such as both of these deserve better press, and honestly, deserve a big name studio to pick them up. These are solid, professionally designed wargames with great functionality. I think you will like the upcoming Beasts Of Steel, and in the meantime, go get Hex Of Steel, as its the best kept secret in wargaming on the planet. Its really good. Grab it now.
Additional Screens, Just ‘Cuz
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In a realm where strategy’s the deal,
Beasts of Steel took the battlefield wheel,
Tanks clashed with might,
In the digital fight,
A wargame where metal hearts appeal.
With circuits and gears, they’d reveal,
In the binary dance, they’d congeal,
Fire and fury ablaze,
In this digital maze,
Beasts of Steel brought the gamers’ zeal.