Tuesday, 12 September 2017

My Usual Spiel - Verdun, Finally some proper trench warfare

Release date: April 28, 2015
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: M2H, Blackmill Games
Developer: M2H, Blackmill Games
Engine: Unity
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Modes: Multiplayer Only

Verdun, one of the bloodiest battles of The Great War and an appropriate name for the most realistic WW1 shooter out today. It was my housemate Brok that first introduced me to it, the game was curiously released in the shadow of Battlefield 1 yes even a year before it came out there was a lot of talk about the new Battlefield game would be going to the World War 1 front. When I first saw game known as Verdun I realized that this was actually a much more realistic first person shooter then Battlefield will ever be and decided to give it a go.

The treacherous Front lines
Verdun is set in the midst of the First World War and as the title says specifically the western front from 1914 to 1918, it features many of the famous battlegrounds of the time including Battle of Champagne, The Meuse-Argonne Offensive and Fort Douaumont itself. The game has a heavy squad focus rewarding you for teamwork and especially rewarding players who play in the same squad regularly, it features Realistic World War 1 gameplay: Authentic weaponry with realistic bullet physics, skill based weapon handling, gore, poisonous gas with a claustrophobic gas mask experience, realistic gore and artillery barrages. The “Frontlines” game mode is true trench warfare that forces you to attack or defend in tandem with the enemy. Each side fights over a turn-based frontline map that consists of multiple sectors that can be captured by either side. Staying true to the typical attrition warfare of that time, both sides attack and counter-attack each other in turn, so you will be forced to defend each captured sector of trenches. The goal is to capture the enemy‘s HQ sector in order to win the game.

The trenches of Argonne, I think I had HDR on at that point.
Verdun it looks the part too right when you load the game you’re in a trench with some classic WW1-era music playing on the stereo and the whole setting feels very true to the era. Though the menu is a bit confusing in the way you choose your gamemode first i.e. the most prominent mode: Frontlines. You need to join a squad first and then it loads you into whatever map that squad is in, and then you also have the option of “Playing Now” which is bloody annoying cause I keep accidentally pressing it twice and it jumps into the first available squad which wouldn’t be a problem apart from the times it dumps you into servers with no players. There are various other modes including: Attrition which is basically team deathmatch with a ticket bleed and Rifle Deathmatch which is pretty self explanatory. The only offline mode is “Squad defense” which pits you against waves of NPC opponents that are pretty damn stupid, they often run right past you then all crowd at the objective and whoever was lucky enough to go the machinegunner class gets to mow them all down, it was all quite ludicrous but anyway we didn’t play that mode much.

The Game mode screen with the map of the western front
In Verdun the main game is Frontlines, and you join a squad in either the Western Powers or the Entente, you have a role within the squads themselves which are in the nation’s language so are often hard to decipher. The squad roles are called various different things depending on which military you are fighting for but usually encompass a Sharpshooter who has access to Sniper Rifles, a Bombardier who has access to grenades, traps and other explosive devices, a Machinegunner and an Officer. The officer is different as he usually only carries a pistol but has various abilities including being able to issue attack and defend commands and the ability to be a forward spawn point for the team. Officers also have special abilities such as the ability launch artillery strikes, mustard gas and recon planes to reveal enemy locations. Playing Frontlines restricts the areas that you can move around as when you are defending you are forbidden from running forward of the trench area and when you are attacking and there are obviously edges of the map you cannot go like every other game. In all of the maps there are capture points and capturing these within a certain time allows you to move forward and eventually capture the enemies main base and in turn the enemy can “gain a foothold” and capture the area back if they have enough soldiers in the area similar to  the tug of war trench warfare of WW1 with a shifting frontline.

A basic display of how the Frontlines mode works, one side attacks, the other defends and the rest is hotsory :D

Verdun seems to focus a lot on Squads which are based on historical units such as the British Tommies and the German StoƟtrupp, the squad levelling system is quite confusing as you can only level up the type of squad you are in. So for example the Canadians are an Assault type squad therefore have more assault type weapons and the officers can launch gas attacks at the enemy whereas the French Chasseur Alpins are a Recon type squad with sniper rifles and espionage abilities and officers have the recon plane ability. Additionally to this the squads have Abilities and Progression trees which are sort of like a tech tree in a game like Age of Empires, as you level up you gain additional abilities such as better sprint time, reload times, spawn times, weapon efficiency etc and also the officer abilities are upgraded from more lethal types of gas to bigger artillery rounds. Playing the same type of squad regularly with the same people is the best way to level your squad abilities but sadly if you play on your own this is almost impossible as there are 7 types of squads and you’re always playing with different people.

The Squad Ability Tree
Confused yet? So now we get to your personal progression system. In the past you obtained new weapons and equipment by levelling up your specified squad role in order to obtain more equipment i.e. rifleman role would unlock the scoped rifles. But now as per this post by the developers , everything is done through the ‘Career system’ In this mode you have a personal career level with 77 as the max level and you obtain 2 career points per level so as per the diagram below you can use your career points to open up the different types of loadouts for your squad role. These new unlocks are not inherently better (i.e. tier 3 may not be better then tier 2) they just give more options of equipment for your role.

Picking your squad Specialisation
Once you have all this stuff worked out it’s time to actually play the game! It’s pretty self-intuitive, it’s your regular WASD keys to move and you can also crouch, prone and sprint, and the shift key also allows you to hold your breath when aiming which is quite useful when trying to shoot enemies from afar and I keep forgetting to do it. There is also keys for grenades and your gas mask, and yes you can jump. When playing the game it’s very important to play the objective and help your squad by performing your squad role correctly, the abilities of your class may give you the chance to earn additional points. For example the machinegunner will get more points for assists and the sniper more points for longshots and of course running ahead in a gung-ho approach really does not work. When attacking yes you have to move forward but your best tactic is to conserve your sprint power and run between cover and shell holes and inch your way to the front, this is especially true with the Officer class as you can act as a forward spawn point right near the capture point.

Playing as an Officer and Machinegunner on Artois with my friends Brok (Ya Gramps) and Tyler (The Barron) towards the end we encounter mustard gas unfortuantely.

The fighting in this game true to real life is brutal, almost every rifle and machinegun in the game can kill a player with one shot to the chest or head, so everyone is running around with the itchiest trigger fingers ever. A split second could be the difference between you seeing and shooting your opponent to them doing the same and damn is it alternately gratifiying and infuriating if you make the shot or fall face first into the mud and fall you will, successfully getting a bullet into someone while they run through the dirt and watching their body slump onto the ground is one of the most satisfying sights ever in contrast to the Battlefield series where you have to riddle them with bullets or get a headshot before they go down. What makes things worse is that all of the colours blend into each other with the gritty realistic scheme and environment and the character models look very similar so often you don’t know it’s an enemy until it’s too late especially when you are changing factions with different uniforms all of the time so thank god for friendly fire being off as more than once I’ve fired at a random shadow in the darkness then realizing it was a teammate. Some of the best moments I’ve had are as the machinegunner and racking up lots of kills with the rapid fire.

I try out sharpshooting on the Picardie map, I swear I had a scope on but the movie oddly doesn't show it.

The environment and setting of Verdun are all top-notch, all the locations have that gritty WW1 feel and the attention to detail is incredible. I actually only realized after a while that I had the gore turned off by default, and when I turned it on boy was there a change, there were body parts being blown off and soldiers screaming and writhing on the ground and oh that was more like it. The various historical maps looked great too, from the barren trench laden Argonne to the heavily wooden Aisne. Some of my favourites included Vosges which was set in a sparse rocky pinewood forest and Champagne which was the only night map and prime example of heavily entrenched forces, with that map you had two choices, run through the deep trenches as they wind around or risk running along the top where there is a high chance of being shot or getting tangled in the barbed wire and boy is there a lot of it. Flanders  is probably one of the hardest maps to move forward as it’s caked in mud and water and there is barely any cover. Moving through these environments feels great and you really feel like you are part of something compared with other FPS games where you are in a team but it’s still every man for himself.

Playing the night map 'Champagne' with my friend Brok, there were only a few players in this game.

The graphics in Verdun are very crisp and realistic looking, there is so much detail in the player models and the maps, the trees the branches the leaves the rough terrain, everything is modelled true to the era, I can run the game at ultra setting with no problem so it’s very optimized as well, even when it’s raining. I play everything on Ultra but leave off the fancy features such as “High dynamic range” “Depth of Field” “Ambient Occlusion” and all that stuff that’s supposed to make the game look better but just downs your FPS, High Dynamic range actually look pretty cool but it makes the sky to bright and the dark bits too dark, I still leave anti-aliasing on though I know have a 1440p monitor now. The sounds are good, rifle shots sound great and so do the explosions and the whistles from the officers, there isn’t really any music apart from the excellent authentic tunes coming from the radio In the menu screen and the squad intro music when you join a squad depending on which type of army you are in .

I try out Sniping in the Wooded Vosges map
 If you were to ask me which game I enjoy better between Verdun and Battlefield 1 it’d be a hard choice, Battlefield 1 has many more features and classes and of course vehicles but that’s not what this game is about, It would be nice to be able to be a medic in the game though. Of course BF1 is a bit arcade or generic FPS and has arguably been the same game since Battlefield 3 just with a different skin. Verdun you can tell has been made specifically to be as accurate as possible to the trench warfare of WW1, the kills are so much more satisfying then BF1 and you congratulate yourself on each one. Playing Verdun with friends is great especially if you play regularly, there is enough content in there including maps, weapons and classes to keep you busy for a while. Verdun is the best modern WW1 game out there that I know of and fills a void that is missing from Battlefield 1 which glosses over trench warfare in its entirety and If you’re a fan of first person shooters at all then you should give it a go at least once. When I’m sick of all the constant explosions and planes and tanks rumbling all over the place I know where to go to


Verdun official trailer

I’m happy in my hole.

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