Heroes & Generals Pre-Beta [Preview] – When genres collide
The time spent in pre-beta sessions with Reto-Moto’s Heroes & Generals has convinced me that I am neither. Fortunately, there were enough competent souls around to allow me to get by as their alter-egos ‘Faceless Grunt Who Dies Too Often’ and ‘Guy Who Ineffectually Shuffles Units Around The Place’ instead. That probably wouldn’t have been too catchy as a game title though.
That titular pairing of Hero and General refers to this game’s bold attempt to create a feedback of events between top-down strategising and team-based first-person multiplayer, all wrapped up with a neat free-to-play bow. Based around the ebb and flow of World War II, this pre-beta event provided a look at a campaign map which stretched from the shores of Great Britain to the ‘Fuhrer’s Bunker’ in Berlin. After opting to join either the Axis or the Allies (curiously simplified to just the ‘United States’ here), players are thrust directly into the war effort.
Before getting too deeply into the mechanics of that, a quick note about the ‘pre-beta’ terminology and what it means for this preview. Heroes & Generals is still at a fairly early stage of development where features are still evolving, graphics are not final and balances to the various weapons and vehicles are not yet complete. This isn’t one of those free-to-play ‘betas’ where the game is pretty much the release version. All media in this article is work in progress stuff.
The first thing players will notice in their browser windows when they hop into the game is the sprawling campaign map, showing the spread of the war across Europe and any skirmishes or battles that are currently in progress and possible to join. This overview map is where you create assault teams and send them into action. To actually generate enough revenue for an assault team, it’s necessary to either shell out some real money to buy gold (the in-game currency) or earn enough experience in the first-person battles. In that respect, it looks tricky to play Heroes & Generals as a ‘pure’ strategy player at this juncture (you’ll need to get your hands dirty with a bit of FPS-ing, or have real money to burn on gold).
At this early stage the free-to-play monetary model is clearly not complete, so it’d be unwise to speculate or comment on that in too much depth. Everything is subject to change (other than the fact that this title will indeed be free-to-play at entry and supported by cash payments for something).
Once an assault team (which can range from basic infantry, through tanks and fighter squadrons) is created, you can move them along the pre-defined roads on the campaign map. Moving along designated ‘supply lines’ provides more rapid real-time movement, so you’ll want to send them along these whenever possible. Being attached to a supply line also means that loses to the unit can be replenished when needed.
The campaign screen is also your gateway to ‘enlisting’ a named soldier for the FPS portion of the game. Here, you can purchase extra equipment, tweak your guns with modifications like faster fire rates (usually offset by higher recoil) and apply any combat badges that have been earned. Again, it looks like extra weapons will be purchased with experience or gold, but the numbers and methodology are not yet final.
At any point where two (or, as is far more likely, more) assault teams clash, you can dive into the other side of Heroes & Generals: the FPS. None of the assault teams involved have to be yours. If you enlisted a soldier, there’s a chance that you’ll be able to use his load-out in battle. To do so, there needs to be an appropriate free slot in one of the assault teams present. If your guy is a machine gunner, there must be an open machine gunner slot. If not, you’ll be playing as Default McSoldiersson.
Any forces shuttled in by fellow generals have a direct influence on the forces you can spawn as in the battle. If someone sent a unit of, say, six tanks, then there are six tank spawns available. After these are used up there are no more tanks available until someone sends more.
Victory is secured by either wiping out the opposing forces (so that they have no more spawns of any kind remaining) or, as appears to be more common, achieving the objectives on the given map. In the games I played, the objective (depending on whether I was on the attacking of defending side) was a straightforward requirement to either grab or defend key points on the map, denoted by a star. It’s also possible to nab different ‘spawn points’ on the map (marked by a shield icon). Once these are under your control, your fellow troops can spawn (most likely) nearer to the crucial points on the map. Likewise, enemy troops can no longer spawn there. It’s a decent representation of an army pushing forward and pressing a territorial advantage.
Taking and holding points of the battlefield is a pretty tactical affair. As a lone soldier you’re pretty fragile (taken down easily by a shot or two) and even a solo tank will need infantry protection against stray grenades or other anti-tank weaponry. Working together as some sort of, well, unit, will always be more effective than Rambo-ing off over the horizon. Except, that is, in battles with very few players on either side. Then you might get away with it.
Those aforemention fighter planes no doubt have a role to play too, but the only time I saw one was in a match where the pilot used his aircraft as a kind of roaming kamikaze missile. That probably wasn’t the ideal approach, but it was entertaining to watch. Some network issues and low ping problems sometimes prevented me from getting involved as often as I’d have liked, but these issues can again be attributed to the game’s pre-beta state.
Heroes & Generals is looking like a long-overdue attempt to meld genres together. It seems to appreciate that, yes, some players do enjoy both strategy and FPS-style games and wouldn’t mind playing something which features aspects from each school of design. In principle it reminds me a little of the Total War series, in the sense that you can go down from the ‘big picture’ layer to help out with individual battles in a satisfying way. It’s a strong concept, which I believe can overcome the rather tired backdrop of WWII (hey, at least it’s not more high fantasy).
Multiplayer co-operation and numbers will obviously be key to the title’s success, but Reto-Moto has also indicated that single player and co-op battles may be added to the mix at a later date too. These sound like positive intentions, and could help to expand the playerbase still further, into a curious union between strategy fans, FPS tacticians and those who appreciate a good single player shooter. We’ll get to see more of the direction Heroes & Generals is taking when it enters full beta later this year, but based on what I’ve seen it’s off to a positive start.