Michael Eckenfels, 28 March 2021
It’s been about six years since I’ve looked at any of these major-league computer wargames; the last one was a review I did of War in the West back in 2015 or so, and back then I actually liked the game. It was incredibly detailed but wasn’t quite overwhelming as, while there was a lot of units, there wasn’t a metric hot mess of units (which is a scientific phrase that indicates an astronomical number of units), at least not to the point of being awe-inspiring.
I never played the original War in the East for exactly that reason: too many units, too much to keep track of. Back in the day, this kind of detail would have kept me up at night, excited to try the next turn. Specifically, I’m talking about the old SSI title, Second Front: Germany Turns East. I make comparisons to that old game (which came out in 1990) because I spent a lot of time with it back then, and it was probably the last time that any huge amount of detail in a computer wargame did it for me.
click images to enlarge
In War in the East 2 (hereafter called WITE2), you can play solo as the Germans or Soviets, or play against a human opponent, either hotseat or PBEM (how quaint!). There’s a lot of options for setting difficulty, options, and preferences, which I won’t go into a lot of detail with. This is a first impressions piece, not a full review.
There are ten total scenarios/campaigns you can play – three “full-map campaigns” that are meant to simulate the entirety of the Eastern Front, and seven smaller scenarios ranging in size from a tutorial centered on the battle of Velikie Luki in 1942, to larger scenarios such as Operation Typhoon and the Destruction of the Southwest Front.
Each scenario/campaign selection gives you a decent overview of what to expect, though I imagine if you’re coming anywhere near this game, you already have a plethora of knowledge on the subject of the Eastern Front. Still, it’s nice to have this info to get your bearings, as it were, to what is expected in each option the game offers.
As you can imagine, the level of detail is staggering in this game. You not only need to control the ground elements of your side’s struggle, but also the air elements. Though, thankfully, you can let the AI handle much of the air campaign’s heavy lifting through “AI assistance,” though you do need to assign priorities to them to give them an idea of what you want done (such as ground support, air superiority, etc.). I think you can actually set each and every individual sortie that you’d like to, but considering on the first day of Operation Barbarossa there were well over five thousand, unless you’re a masochist you probably want to let the AI do some of your dirty work.
An Events log shows up throughout your game, giving you information on the happenings in and around your frontline, as well as other things that might be cropping up throughout the rest of the country. For example, if you’re playing Germany, events in France can impact your situation on the Eastern Front. This gives the game much more of a deep feeling, making you remember despite your handling of this monster front, there is a greater world out there that can, at times, directly influence what goes on in your neck of the woods.
The Velikie Luki scenario is a great place to learn the depth of this game, as there are not a lot of units to manage (air or ground), and the scope of what’s required is much simpler. Once you have this scenario down, you can handle the larger ones.
And the larger ones can be…larger. This last screen is taken at max zoom level and is the start of Operation Barbarossa. Since this is the start of the turn, the various air units are highlighted.
If you zoom in, you can see much more detail with the air units. The Germans are ready to dish out some pain.
Here in the massive Stalingrad campaign, the Soviets get to a rip-roarin’ start right off the bat. This is another of the three huge campaigns, as you can see; you’re responsible not just for the Stalingrad front, but for every other inch of the Eastern Front, as well!
It doesn’t take long for the Germans to get isolated, here.
The amount of detail is fascinating, as even in this Air Planning screen in this Stalingrad scenario, you can see a lot of resources the German side can tap – though unfortunately, they’re mostly Axis Allied air units. Like the German ground units, actual good units the Germans can use here are few and far between, or are on the wrong side of the cauldron.
Here’s some more on the events in the game, so you can see from some of the headlines that events in North Africa and Western Europe (to name but a couple of areas) impacts what happens to your world here in the East.
A little more on the Air side of things – the detail goes down to the individual planes, as you can see here.
After you execute your Air directives, you’ll see a results screen display in the lower right corner, showing how many sorties were flown and the overall losses experienced.
Want more detail on how well the Air Execution Phase went? There are reports for that.
Want more UNIT detail? Here we are in the Operation Typhoon scenario, checking out the Das Reich SS Motorized Division. Bask in all the details you might possibly want, such as knowing there are two damaged 37mm PaK36 AT guns, but 62 others ready for service.
Other units carry as much detail, too. Here’s the 87th Infantry Division, complete with unit sigil.
Conducting attacks is pretty simple, fortunately; you just click to select and click to attack. Unfortunately, the tutorial isn’t step-by-step, so when you’re learning you’ll need to have the manual handy. At 520 pages, the PDF can be daunting, but the TOC is pretty well organized and there’s always the Search/Find feature when you’re looking for specific keywords.
Those of you that want a hard copy book, my hat’s off to you, because this is what wargame manuals are supposed to be…pretty, hefty, full of information.
Here, the Germans had 92:1 odds against their opponent. You may see odds much higher (I saw 152:1 at one point). These kinds of odds tend to come at the start of scenarios when units are best supplied and strongest; later, it might be difficult to dredge up these kinds of stats.
Here, German infantry have torn a huge gap southwest of Moscow in the Operation Typhoon scenario, and Das Reich has shot through it like a bullet. Supply is a consideration in this game and it’s my understanding this has been improved in this version of the game.
If you’re interested, this is a screenshot from Germany Turns East (1990), mentioned at the start of this impressions piece. Pretty good detail, but WITE2 lets you pretty much count rivets on each tank (not really, but kinda).
Needless to say, graphics have improved in 30-some years, though the point here is not to compare this to Germany Turns East.
Rather, you’d probably want to hear about how this game differs from the original WITE. The only thing I can do here is reiterate what the developer says about these changes. Since I never played the original WITE, and it’s been a long time since I’ve played War in the West, I don’t have much of an impression to give here.
Suffice it to say the developer says WITE2 is a “complete overhaul and improvement” over the original game. There is a forum thread with a few long posts dedicated to the exact changes, which you can look at here
Some of the more interesting aspects (to me, anyway) is the logistics system being touted as much more realistic, with a finite capacity on rail lines and in depots. Also, weather has been made more variable, and poor weather can hamper frontline operations, but it is not as “overwhelming” as it was in WITE, making me wonder how oppressive its effects were. The air war is totally revamped, partisans don’t appear on the map (but do appear in a Soviet Union Garrison Theater box, where the German player can allocate security forces to try to clamp down on that). There’s much more at the link above, if you have the original WITE and want to know more.
Since I cannot speak to those differences from personal experience, I can say what my initial impressions are of WITE2. This is some legendary stuff, to be sure…lots of units and detail, many different scenarios and campaigns, AI assistance to deal with massive air war efforts, interesting supply rules (you control the priority and location of depots and your HQs’ priorities, so while the computer handles much of the calculation efforts, you are responsible for placements and how to divvy up the trickle), and so much more.
There’s SO much more that I cannot really do it justice in a first impressions piece. If you enjoy grand strategic wargaming on your PC, have an affinity for the Eastern Front historically, and don’t mind getting lost in a good amount of detail, you’ll absolutely love this game. The ‘detail’ part is important, because high-level gamers need not apply; this is truly a behemoth of a game, but one that will grant hundreds of hours of entertainment.
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