Monday, May 28, 2012

Impressions of Red Orchestra 2

Steam recently held a free weekend event for Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, a multiplayer FPS set in the eastern front of WW2. I'm not normally one to enjoy competitive shooters, but considering my fond appreciation for the work that developer Tripwire Interactive puts into its other online shooter, Killing Floor, I thought I'd give RO2 a shot. And then I was promptly shot to death. Many, many times.

The core concept behind the Red Orchestra series is to create more realistic military shooters that rely more on teamwork, tact, and strategy than the run-n-gun bravado of more popular franchises like Call of Duty or Battlefield. The pacing is much slower with a greater emphasis on using cover and moving strategically across the map to occupy zones and choke points. For new players, there's an "Action Mode" with all of the full gameplay features, tweaked to make it more action-oriented, and there's also "Realism" and "Classic" modes for more unforgiving, tactical gameplay. 

Even understanding the basic tactics (run from to cover to cover, don't leave yourself exposed, survey the terrain before moving), I still spent most of the free weekend being killed instantly by hidden players. Consequently, a lot of my time in RO2 amounted to pure frustration as I carefully planned my every action, only to die without any chance of survival or retaliation. On the other hand, I found it incredibly satisfying whenever the tables turned and I was the one gunning down hopeless players from a clever vantage point. 

As inexperienced as I was, I could tell there was a lot of room for personal improvement, and I really liked the map design and the general feel of combat. Playing with a lot of fellow newbs in Action Mode, I didn't get the best sampling of the strategic gameplay, but I could tell how much of an impact it has on the game. So even though I was really, really frustrated with the game at times, I decided to take the plunge and buy the full experience. More of my impressions after the jump.

Besides the different gameplay modes (Action, Realism, and Classic), there are also a few different match types to play, the two main ones being "Firefight" and "Territory" matches. Firefight is RO2's terminology for team deathmatch, where the goal is simply to kill the enemy team until they're drained of all their reinforcements (the limit on how many times teammates can respawn), or to have a higher kill count by the end of the match timer. Territory matches involve attacking, holding, and defending various zones of the map, with the goal being to capture each territory, or to earn the most points from attacking or defending territories by the end of the timer.

Trying to shoot Soviets in the Axis campaign, while taking heavy damage.

The Territory mode is where most of the strategy comes into play, because you have to decide whether to spread your forces out handling different zones, or concentrate your forces on one location. When attacking a zone, do you try to divert the enemy's attention and then flank them, or just overwhelm them with sheer firepower? Taking up strategic positions in the map is far more crucial, since you need to be able to defend a zone from multiple different attack angles, so there's often a lot of "cat and mouse" gameplay involved.

One of the biggest issues I had with the free weekend is that the single-player tutorial was completely locked out to free players, so you had no way of learning the game mechanics except by jumping straight into a match and figuring things out as you went along. That's part of the reason I found the first hour or two so incredibly frustrating, because I really didn't know what I was doing. I took it upon myself to read a few basic guides, but there were still crucial gameplay elements that I never fully understood (or even realized that they existed) until I'd bought the full game and played the actual tutorial.

The other prominent issue I noticed is that an overwhelming majority of matches I played heavily favored the Axis team, because it seems to be more popular than the Allied team. Whenever I join a match, I always pick whatever side needs more help, and nine times out of ten, the Allies had fewer people or had a dramatically lower score. It was pretty frustrating always playing on the losing side, but I didn't want to contribute even further to the already poor balancing by joining the already over-powered Axis side. 

Prepare to see a lot of this: More people on the Axis side with way higher scores.

I really wanted to get into the Classic Mode, but whenever I tried I found myself in a league of veteran players who really knew what they were doing. I could tell, because as you play you accumulate honor points, which contribute towards some sort of rank which is displayed next to your name. New players start out at rank 10, and most of the people I was playing with in Classic Mode were rank 30-60. So they obviously had way more experience than I did, also evident by the fact that they knew all of the good camping spots.

So I spent most of my time in the Action Mode, because that's what a majority of the official servers were running, and what a majority of fellow newbs were doing. I fared much better in Action Mode, but it was kind of a flip of a coin whether I'd be the badass, top-scorer on the Allied team, or just be stuck with really bad luck and contribute next to nothing to the team. There were some matches where it seemed like no matter what I did, I stood zero chance against my enemy, and it's in moments like those that I feel compelled to keep playing and to get better. 

There's obviously a lot about the game that I don't properly understand yet, but I'm looking forward to experiencing the learning curve and appreciating all of the finer details that this game has to offer. Hopefully the playerbase will remain consistent now that more people have been introduced to it through the free weekend, and with Tripwire now planning free content updates.

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