The Great War: Western Front is a new and unexpected attempt to have accurate WW1 real time strategy gameplay. In development by Petroglyph Games (Command & Conquer: Remastered, Star Wars: Empire at War) and published by Frontier Foundry, it largely succeeds with its aims but is held back a little by some control and performance issues (some of which were fixed a couple days into the demo period). If these can be resolved and the gameplay holds up for multiple campaigns, this will be the most engaging real-time WW1 strategy game we’ve had to date.
Offering a mix of thrilling turn-based grand strategy and real-time strategy combat across one of WW1’s crucial theatres of war, players will take direct control of either the Allied Forces or the Central Powers as they seek to relive or redefine history. In this demo, Commanders will lead the Allied Forces through a section of the game’s tutorial and campaign, before leading them in a Historic Battle – The Battle of Passchendaele, which provides the perfect opportunity to trial their tactics. Getting WW1 trench warfare to be fun to play is no easy feat. It’s already considered the most horrible warfare humanity has engaged in, but that reality also hasn’t easily lent itself to fun gameplay as long periods of suffering in trenches punctuated by charging into machine gun fire in no man’s land is hard to make fun.
The Great War: Western Front has made a very admirable attempt at it. Whenever you blow that whistle to send your lads out into no man’s land, you know you’re going to see hundreds of them die right in front of you. If you don’t manage your artillery and other preparatory work adequately, it’s going to be thousands of them dying. A content creator I follow felt that the recent aptly named Nuclear War Simulator from Matrix Games was confronting, but this brutal meat grinding warfare is far more confronting to me as people have already suffered through it and continued to do so for years. The game doesn’t go too far in either glorifying it or criticizing it, just presenting it as it was – with a healthy dose of hindsight.
Taking the role of both Theatre and Field Commander in a way pretty closely resembling Total War, you are given both high-level strategy and low-level tactics to engage in. Do you focus your production on more tanks, do you reinforce your whole line, do you spend enough on intel to try to focus your forces in more useful areas, how do you develop your research? And when in battle, do you try to reduce supply usage for the sake of the whole war effort, or do you go all in and spend days saturation shelling the enemy to weaken them? How many men do you trade to preserve supplies or to achieve objectives? Can you do better than they did historically, or will you too start to see casualties purely as statistics?
This game came out of nowhere and if the issues seen in the demo are fixed, the game has long term replayability value like other great entries in the genre such as Company of Heroes, Total War, and Starcraft. Petroglyph has had a rocky history, with some high-highs and some moderately low-lows, I really hope they can pull this one off because it has a lot of potential to not just be a great game in its own right, but also do justice to a war that’s hard to represent in this form.