Steel Division: Normandy 44 Brings the RTS Genre Back to World War II

The World War eras are making a comeback. After years of modern and futuristic titles, players are finally ready to go back to these historical time periods. In the RTS genre, we have Steel Division: Normandy 44, a World War II game from Eugen Systems (R.U.S.E.). With the goal of putting players in a historically accurate setting, Steel Division has a lot to prove. We got to check out the game at GDC 2017, and though we only got a small taste of what Steel Division has to offer, it’s already nailing the historical accuracy.

Eugen, a French studio, has done their homework, accurately studying the different infantry, vehicles and tanks to deliver an authentic experience. It’s impressive just how accurate the models are and an inspection mode allows you to get up close and personal with each. Even more impressive are the maps, which have been digitally recreated from photographs taken by the U.S. Air Force at the time. They’re all 1:1 and it’s extremely impressive.

Of course, none of the accuracy matters unless there’s a fun game to play. While the demo was hands-off, Eugen did walk me through many of the game’s main mechanics. Steel Division focuses heavily on planning and outsmarting your enemies. You play as the commander of a historically accurate division on either the Allies or Axis, and what division you pick will determine what type of units you can take into battle. The demo pitted the 101 U.S. Airborne Division against the German 116 Panzer Division.

Every match begins with a planning phase where players can place down different units, send them to specific places on their side, and prepare for the onslaught. In the demo, the presenter set down recon units to go and scout ahead and planted infantry behind some cover. When both players are ready, the match begins.

This particular mode was all about territory control. Both teams start with 50% of the battlefield, and from there it’s a constant tug of war until someone wins. Steel Division is a very tactical game that requires players to understand the map and their units strengths and weaknesses. Infantry caught out in the open are dead meat, but those hidden in bushes and buildings stand a better shot at surviving. Of course, cover isn’t permanent. Buildings can be blown apart by artillery, sending infantry scrambling to escape the wreckage. There isn’t any terrain deformation, though.

What’s most exciting about Steel Division is how it bucks genre conventions. There’s no resource management whatsoever. Units are purchased with requisition points, which are doled out at a steady rate. However, increasing the amount of territory you gain can increase the number of points earned. In the demo, both sides started off earning nine points each.

The other significant change is the units. Each division only has a certain amount of units that can be taken into battle. Every unit played comes from a pool that you create before the match. There’s no healing, and there’s no generating more units. Every unit lost means you could one step closer to defeat. It’s intense and emphasizes just how important positioning and strategy are in this game.

This intensity stretches into the game’s solo modes. Three campaigns follow American, German, and British divisions from the war, and the results of each campaign match do carry over into the next one. You start with a set number of units in the first mission, and it’s up to you to carry them through every mission. Losing a lot in a mission will make things tough in the long run.

Regarding content, Steel Division comes packed with a lot. There are over 400 units for players mess around with, a wide range of battalions on both sides and a handful of maps. Multiplayer matches can host up to 10v10 matches and there’s plenty of different tactics players can accomplish together. For example, Eugen described a scenario in a 2v2 game where one player built their battalion to focus on attacking and the other built theirs to support them specifically. Eugen expects many strategies like that to pop up once they get the game in player’s hands.

Steel Division: Normandy 44 doesn’t have a release date quite yet, but we do know it will release exclusively on PC.