Contrary to Gaines, I’m not a big competitive online FPS player. In fact, I’m quite frankly horrible at them. However, there’s a few games in the genre that I’ve lately enjoyed; the first one was Heroes & Generals, but lately it’s been Verdun 1914-1918.
Both games are still in development and still have a ways to go before seeing a final release. However, they both contain elements that makes it so that even someone as unskilled as I am at FPSs can still find both games enjoyable.
On the surface, Heroes & General is a fairly standard “capture the objective” FPS. Players begin as riflemen and, through excruciatingly slow leveling up, can work their ways up to tankmen, fighter pilots, airborne infantry, or snipers. While often exciting, most of the gameplay involves capturing and holding objectives. However, if a player progresses enough, he or she will eventually reach the level of General, and this is where Heroes & General differentiates itself in interesting ways.
During campaign play, players are essentially pawns with which Generals get to play. Generals will set the major campaign objectives, decide which battlefields are important, and set the forces they’re willing to commit to the assault. This means that if Generals haven’t assigned any armor to the fight, your tankman cannot participate in the upcoming battle.
It also means that Generals can dynamically affect the result of battles. Your side is losing because all its infantry is getting mowed down? Assign more squads to the fight! Those tanks are wrecking havoc? Add some aircraft to harass them. When everything goes well, battles in Heroes & Generals are beautiful things. My crowning moment was probably defending an objective by myself against successive waves of enemies before being reinforced by mechanized infantry units. Seeing that Jeep arrive with it’s mounted .50 caliber machinegun was quite a relief.
Verdun moves the action to the smaller scale by focusing on the trenches of the First World War. It’s also a “capture the objective” type game, but in this setting it makes sense because the whole dynamic of trench warfare involved capturing and holding enemy trenches. Gameplay is separated in waves where each side alternatively attacks and tries to take each others’ trenches. The action is made more exciting by the maps, which are roughly designed as long diamonds. The game starts in the middle of the diamond, so the trenches are wide and no man’s land is vast, but the more successful your assault, the more you’ll be facing narrow trenches and an ever decreasing no man’s land.
The game is heavily squad-based, so much so that XP is awarded primarily if you fulfill your role in the squad as opposed to killing other players. Are you the squad leader? You’ll then be buffing your squad-mates, acting as a forward spawning point, and calling down deadly barrages on the enemy trenches. You’re playing as a rifleman? Then it’s your job to pick off enemies as they pop their heads up to see what’s happening. You’re a gunner? Then brace that Lewis gun and provide covering fire for the assault teams. A bomber? Rush those trenches and throw in a few grenades before wandering in.
At one time I was playing a Lewis gunner and holding down the right flank of our trench. I was mowing down enemies, pinning them down and effectively stopping their assault on my side of the trench. Suddenly, my screen turns fuzzy and green: an enemy CO had called down a gas barrage on my position. I didn’t want to die, so I had to put my gas mask on, but being in the thickest portion of the gas cloud, my vision was now seriously hampered. I continued firing away for effect, but eventually an enemy soldier managed to sneak past me in the mists and bayonet me from behind. Good times.
There’s two things that make Verdun unique as far as I’m concerned. First, you not only gain individual XP but also squad XP. This means that, the more consecutive games you play with the same people in your squad, the better your squad gets by unlocking various upgrades. That barrage your CO calls down might only be a single mortar shell at squad rank 1, but by the end of the tech tree, it’s a full blown creeping barrage.
Secondly, I mentioned that killing enemies doesn’t provide the most XP in the game. It does, however, do something very useful. Killing enemies provides time. Mechanically, every 30 enemies killed during your own assault phase extends your attack wave by a few seconds, which can come in very handy when you’re trying to capture an enemy trench. If anything, it reinforces the squad-based gameplay: you’re not racking up an awesome kill score for yourself but rather to give your team a few extra seconds with which they can capture the trench.