Red Storm, the latest expansion pack for Order of Battle, concludes its three-chapter arc focusing on the eastern front from the perspective of the Soviet Union. There’s a lot to like here for fans of the series. Newcomers might feel a little overwhelmed by the massive unit counts, but Red Storm does a bit to make the transition easier if you’re brand new.
The campaign structure allows players with a saved army from Red Steel (the previous DLC) to carry over their forces. If you have all three campaigns, you can technically carry an army all the way through the three-DLC arc. If you’ve not yet completed the first two, or didn’t like your army, Red Storm offers two ways to start. You can create a new custom army from scratch or else use the default army.
For the purposes of this review, I tested the default army, and it was enough to get a fresh account off the ground, giving me a fighting chance during the first scenario. I started making alterations over the course of the next few scenarios, but if you’re eager to get going, it’ll serve you well, marking Red Storm as a good stand alone entry.
Now, about the missions. I hope you like tanks. Lots of tanks. Big tanks, little tanks, lend lease tanks, tanks that are actually anti-tank guns. This campaign focuses on the war from 1943 to 1945 and therefore includes a big opener dealing with the tank battles at Kursk, before beginning the pell-mell dash towards Berlin.
There are other interesting scenarios too, like a naval invasion, a final (optional) mission which brings your forces to Manchuria in the final days of the war, and a side mission which focuses on partisan action, something seldom done in these types of games. Overall there’s a lot of content for your buck and for fans of the series, and especially the two previous entries in the campaign, so this is an easy recommendation.
To go along with those big tank battle missions are a whole whack of new tank models and units. There is something very satisfying about OOB‘s huge roster of war machines, some with intricate animations and a selection of camouflage. Tank units clashing, flanking, and driving home to victory is a core joy of the Panzer General series, and Red Storm, by featuring the Kursk battles, give you that in spades. New units include the always spectacular Katyusha rocket launchers, massive AT guns, new planes I couldn’t tell were new until someone pointed it out, and Hungarian vehicles.
The gameplay feels as good as it always has. That means, in effect, you already know if you’ll like the mechanics of Red Storm. Order of Battle has gotten pretty good at emulating what made Panzer General such a classic. Their innovations, like front lines, supply, and unit efficiency are still as interesting as ever. The AI is solid, taking advantage of cover, focusing fire on key targets and, (this may just be the scenarios highlighting it) but an understanding of when to fight and when to retreat. Scenarios that have the German forces holding against your attack make good use of tactical retreats and resupply. It’s frustrating, in a good way, to have your steamrolling assault ground down by efficient enemy delaying tactics. As I say I’m not sure if there’s something specific about the AI coding in those scenarios, or if the overall system can really shine on these large maps, but it makes for engaging gameplay.
The game being the same means that anyone with lingering issues with the core mechanics won’t find any dramatic shift in what OOB offers. Enemies managing to retreat with a pip or two of health (feature not a bug), trying to optimize army loadouts before you know what a scenario holds, the iffyness of air combat, and sometimes massive enemy forces are all still issues. Some of these, like the army size creep, are not really issues with OOB per say, but more general issues with the Panzer General formula. I’ve spoken at length about that before, suffice to say here that Red Storm won’t win you over if you’re don’t like these games. It doesn’t innovate, it refines.
For those that do appreciate Panzer General formula games, Red Storm is quite good. It focuses on what these experiences are good at, which manages to mitigate some of the more frustrating things that linger in the series. I’ll admit that I haven’t finished the entire campaign myself yet, but after spending several hours with the game, I’m finding myself fully enjoying the experience. Even in some previous DLC campaigns that I’ve enjoyed, there were the odd missions here and there that were really frustrating. Either I’m getting more tolerant, or OOB‘s developers continue to hone their craft, adding polish to their scenario design as time goes on.
A final thought for those completely new to Order of Battle and thinking about jumping in. Red Storm is a strong entry, but I would still recommend starting at the beginning of the campaign arc (Order of Battle: Red Star) so you can feel the joy of bringing an army from Barbarossa to Berlin.