Not for the feint of heart
While 1C’s Men of War wasn’t exactly the biggest strategy game in 2009, it certainly made an impression on fans of the genre as a solid budget-priced title. MOW: Assault Squad is a stand-alone expansion that puts more of a focus on the multi-player aspect of the series, with over 30 maps, as well as the ability to make your own custom maps. There is also a set of skirmish maps that make up the single-player portion of the game, all of which can also be played online with up to 8 other players cooperatively; this makes the less-than-standard price look very reasonable for newcomers to the franchise.
Similar to other small and hardcore communities on the PC, Assault Squad is already one of the hardest games to break into online I’ve ever played, mainly due to the fact that this is a sequel and has very little in the way of explaining every little detail in-game. The tutorial levels and the skirmish mode itself is mainly to teach you about the units, and to really learn the basics you’re going to have to do a bit of reading. Fans of games like Company of Heroes will be able to jump in just fine, but there are certainly some things unique to the Men of War series that sets it apart. In particular, the way the battles feel like they’re on-going and somewhat independent of just the decisions you make is very different to the simple squad-based gameplay of COH. Also, there is far more control over each individual unit, with each one have an inventory of items, multiple stance changes, and being able to directly control how you fire through line of sight.
Men of War: Assault Squad’s AI is relentless, and most of the missions I played with the computer were very difficult. That said, the ability to play online with other players can help make these missions incredibly fun, and while there is definitely a certain level of difficulty scaling, it doesn’t seem quite as unfair as when you try to solo a mission. Some of the maps are incredibly huge and can take over an hour to finish, making it necessary to be in for the long haul when you start a map with 7 other players. As far as I can tell there isn’t really a way to steamroll through the AI either, and it really requires dedication to learning all of the small details for each map, making Assault Squad a difficult game to recommend for those that want a fun, more casual coop experience like Dawn of War 2.
As for the competitive multi-player, having no prior experience with the franchise I jumped right in and found myself getting defeated badly. The Men of War community has been beta-testing the multi-player component of Assault Squad for months, meaning that you’re not exactly starting at square one with everyone else. That said, playing through the skirmish missions can help you learn a lot, and most of the same tactics and strategies that apply to beating those missions will seemingly work against human opponents as well. There’s a lot of customization when creating a match, and some of the more fun matches have been small maps with just vehicles or small groups of soldiers.
For the low price and the sheer amount of content, Men of War: Assault Squad is certainly worth a look if you’re looking for something more tactical and polished than what’s on the market. It’s not very pretty and doesn’t sound amazing, but the strong gameplay really won me over, even without having played the first game and its expansion. It’s different enough from the competition that you won’t feel bored with more of the same, and there’s the benefit from all the playtesting it’s received over the last few months that are going to give you a very polished end-product.