Red Orchestra: Are You a Panzer Leader or Panzer Loser?
After spending the better part of the past week learning the ins and outs of armored warfare in Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45, I thought it might be nice to share some of my observations from the front lines. Does this game treat armor as a sophisticated combat arm or merely a mobile artillery piece? Do infantry and armor work together or treat each other with indifference? Much depends on whether your team is composed of Panzer Leaders or Panzer Losers. My goal is to help you be the former, while pointing out ways to minimize the effects of the latter.
I should state up front that I am interested in Red Orchestra (RO) exclusively for tank battles. I have no interest in being an infantryman – and I jump out of infantry-only maps. If you love this game for infantry fighting, I salute you!
The Basics of Armor in Red Orchestra
First, some basics of this game. As a German or Russian tanker, you will usually get in a vehicle which has slots for three crewmembers; the driver, the main gunner, and the hull gunner. If you are playing without real people in your tank (as most do) you will have to manually move from driver to gunner and back. However, it doesn’t simulate the extra crew position correctly - which means you must sit in the gunner seat to get it to reload. This is one advantage to having a real person man the main gun with you, since you can move and reload at the same time. The hull machine gunner is simply chrome, and has little practical or “fun” value on most maps since there are no infantry to speak of and he can do nothing but observe during armor duels.
As main gunner you are also able to pop the top hatch and get out your binoculars to survey the field (scroll wheel while in the main gunner seat). This is often the quickest method to cover the whole battleground and find viable targets. You can turn your turret while you are on top so there is no benefit (unless you are under threat of snipers) to staying buttoned up. Most of the time your only threat is other tanks – so get out there and look around! In an attempt to fully model the sights of the gun, you can adjust the range values for distance (Q and E keys) so you can aim more accurately (in theory). However, I never use this feature because it is impossible to ascertain distance when you are looking at a 2d computer monitor without a true 3rd dimension. Instead, it is much easier to use the marks on the “crosshairs” of the gun sights based on how near I think the enemy is sitting. Using the triangle in the Tiger tank is the easiest way to explain this. If the enemy is on the distant horizon, put the triangle entirely above the target with the bottom sitting just above it and your shot will be pretty close. If the enemy is in medium range, put the top point of the triangle just a bit above the enemy. If the tank is close in, put the top of the triangle exactly where you want to place the round. There are some maps which are small enough (or foggy enough) that if you can see a tank, you can just point and click wherever the top of the triangle is sitting (making range pretty much useless). Using this method, you should be able to zero in on almost any tank at any range by the second shot. This simple advice will get you started on the battlefield…
|The small center triangle is all you need to aim well. The dials and markings along the outside are superfluous.||The Hull-Down position. This is your best friend on the battlefield. Simply back down the hill while reloading.|
Since the vast majority of players are playing solo, I am writing this mostly for those types (myself included). These lessons are things I’ve pulled from my own experiences managing a tank. Most should also apply when you are lucky enough to have multiple people in a tank.
Lesson I. Mobility Mobility Mobility
This may be the single most important lesson to learn about armored warfare in RO. Strangely enough, it is a skill that is seldom used in practice. Why? I believe it is a combination of factors; the short time from death until you are back in another tank means there is little incentive to play it smart; it may be more fun to get a few good shots off rather than be “bored” by relocating numerous times; the mechanics of managing a tank as a solo player make it much more difficult to handle a tank well (some would argue this is good). Therefore, you will commonly see tankers park on a hilltop somewhere so they have the best view of the battlefield and then fire in place until they are KIA. Not very realistic.
As a good tanker you should “shoot and scoot” – both to minimize your exposure to enemy gunfire and to make it more difficult for enemy soldiers to walk the shots back to your location and hone in on you. In Red Orchestra you can do this in a few different ways.
- Find a small hill where you are mostly or totally defiladed (hidden) from enemy fire and park so that your front is pointed to the enemy. With a round in the chamber, nose forward just enough so that you can expose your gun (not your whole tank!) over the hill so you can get a shot away. You will then back down the hill again to reduce or eliminate your exposure to return fire. Reload your gun and either repeat if you have good positioning on the enemy (e.g. he really doesn’t have a good shot on you, or he didn’t see you). You can sometimes get several shots off in this fashion without taking any serious return fire – especially at extreme ranges.
- Find a building, burned wreck, or other permanent structure which you can hide behind. Ideally you want to present your front to the enemy, although this isn’t always possible. At the very least, have your turret pointed in the general direction of your enemy (i.e., turn the turret to 3 o’clock on the tank if your enemy will be at 3 o’clock once you pop out) so you don’t have to traverse while you are sitting exposed. Make sure you have a round in the chamber, move out into the open just far enough to reveal your gun, take your shot as fast as possible, and then retreat behind the structure again to reload. You may only get one shot away before it becomes too hot for you…especially if you have to reveal your flank.
- If you have to remain in a static fighting position, try to find any cover behind wrecks, light poles, trees, etc. As long as there is something in front of you, there is a chance the enemy rounds will hit it. Since RO lacks destructible terrain, even something as flimsy as a wooden fence will give you strong protection.
- If you get caught out in the open, the only advice is to keep moving until you are no longer in the open. Keep your front to the enemy whenever possible (or one of your sides if you can’t reverse – but never turn around and expose your weaker rear armor). Move erratically, and at different speeds to make it difficult for the enemy to time his rounds. Try to use the landscape and stay as low as possible if you have an option. If he fires and misses, you’ll have a few seconds to move freely. Standing in place will give him a chance to zero in on you with his next shot. Since the game lacks smoke, you will be forced to make your run totally in the open. If you are really lucky you might have teammates who try to give you cover fire.
- If you throw a track and become immobile, remember this quote from the tanker movie The Beast; “Out of commission, become a pillbox. Out of ammo, become a bunker. Out of time, become heroes.” You can proceed on foot if you’d like, but death comes quick to the soldier only carrying a pistol fighting against tanks…
|Take your shot, then move back behind the house while reloading. Don’t give the enemy an easy shot!||While a real combat commander probably wouldn’t be sitting quite so high – the view from the top justifies the risk of being sniped.|
It is very rare to find a good server where the players are fighting as a cohesive unit, but it does happen. In one particular engagement in Arad (a large rolling landscape in good tank country) I witnessed some of the most intense armor duals I’ve seen in a long time. I was playing as the Germans and was shocked and delighted to hear teammates on voice comms (another rarity, although I can’t fathom why). They were organizing an attack across a broad field and all the Germans (a mixture of Tigers, Panthers, and Mark IV’s) were assaulting using the terrain to their advantage, leaving a few of the heavies in the back to provide overwatch. The Russians were fighting like prairie dogs, popping up over the horizon to fire, then backing down over the ridgeline so as not to get shot while reloading. The Germans were moving from hill to hill and side to side trying to wiggle their way across the field. It really was a thing of beauty to watch each side fight like this. Against an organized force of defenders using the terrain to their advantage, even the heavy German tanks couldn’t last forever out in the relative open of the fields. Time ran out before either force could gain the advantage.
Lesson II. Know Thine Enemy
It seems obvious, but it bears repeating over and over. If you know how your enemy fights and what motivates him, your chances of countering him will increase greatly. In this case, it pays to know and understand how the equipment on the other side behaves and what he is going to do with it. Some points worth knowing;
- The heavy tanks have deadly fire, but have long reload times. This makes them excellent targets even for the lighter tanks IF you are prepared to do a bit of work to fire, hide, relocate, etc. when engaging them. In some cases, you can get almost two shots away while waiting for the enemy to reload. This is no golden ticket however, since the heavy tanks can often absorb more fire than you are able to deliver (especially if they are partially hidden or facing you with their strong frontal armor). Watch for telltale smoke to mark how damaged he has become.
- Know where your enemy is going. What parts of the map are most threatened? Where will enemy spearheads show up? What terrain is most favorable to his avenue of attack or his defense? Knowing these things about the enemy will help you plan your own strategies to overcome or avoid them.
- If you are faced with two targets, engage the one most threatening to you. This is often a judgment call you will have to make…but sometimes it is obvious one tank is firing at you, while the other is moving or firing at someone else. Be prepared to change targets if you absolutely have to, but know you then run the risk of having two enemies firing at you rather than one. It is usually better to finish off one before engaging the other (or withdrawing to fight on better terms).
- Some RO players have an annoying habit of doing totally unrealistic actions, which is something every online game faces. By all appearances light recon vehicles seem harmless against any tank in the field. However, players are now toting satchel charges in these fast movers and going on suicide runs to deliver and blow said charges near your tank (remind anyone of Battlefield 2?). Sadly, when looking at an approaching tank or an approaching armored car – the car is often the bigger threat!
- Is the enemy infantry and armor working together? Almost without exception the answer will be no. Despite knowing that “combined arms” (armor/infantry/artillery) are needed to win battles, RO actually makes it difficult for this to happen in game terms (at least on public servers where no one knows anyone else). Tanks cannot easily carry men to the battlefield to have them jump off to clear a town or flush out an enemy tank. Because of the nature of the maps, people will seldom want to play second-fiddle as an infantryman supporting armor on a tank heavy map. In short, you can almost always assume enemy infantry is not cooperating with their armor. Is yours?
Lesson III. Less is Often More
Another fact of life in this game is that it is almost impossible to cooperate with someone else in your tank, unless you both have voice. Fighting in a tank requires subtlety and planning which just doesn’t come across well using key commands (“the enemy is at 2 o’clock, but not THAT enemy, instead fire at the one behind him”). You will find yourself screaming with frustration as your tank “mate” points the un-fired main gun directly at the enemy tank while you sit and wait for him to pull the trigger (which inexplicably may never happen!). Some Panzer Losers use your tank as a taxi, jumping in while you are aiming the turret, driving it to their destination, jumping out and leaving you to the mercy of whatever is in the area. Some players will take your tank and drive it into the river or a ravine – killing you (sometimes these guys are actually working for the other side). Worse yet, you may find yourself saddled with a computer bot who simply spins your turret or drives your tank in a circle. You can force bots out of your tank by jumping out – they will get out as well. Obviously this is not healthy while in the heat of battle! It is more problematic if you are working with a buddy and you both die, respawn, and you find that one makes it to a tank, but the other loses his seat to an interloper who refuses to surrender his spot. Frustrating!
The game needs to have additional tanks added to each side so no one has to stand around waiting and people will no longer feel the need to jump into YOUR tank and ruin it for you. Yes, I know the developers want to foster cooperation here – but what looks good at HQ doesn’t always look good on the battlefield. In my experience, cooperation in open play is minimal and often relegated to simply finding other tanks and hanging with them so they can draw fire from you. The bottom line is that you are often better off working alone – and the flaws of the game reinforce this.
|The detailed interiors are another piece of chrome in this game, but a welcome one.||The village. Avoid where possible!|
As I often find with online FPS games, there are tradeoffs to be made for the sake of gameplay. Red Orchestra, like a few excellent FPS games out there, does have some really great potential for excellent armored battles as illustrated by the story of the Russians and Germans fighting for the open field. This title really tries to mesh the fundamentals of armor combat with the simplicity and enjoyment of a game. With a few minor tweaks, mostly to solve the ever-present problem of Panzer Losers, the game could really become a classic for the casual armor enthusiast.
Hopefully these lessons will help you find similar joy in Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 as it has done for me, making you into a true Panzer Leader. I want to do all I can to help the poor sod in the tank next to me live longer, fight better, and of course offer support for me – so we can finally begin working as a team! If you’d like to play in some cooperative armored fights, look me up in our forums as “Siberian HEAT.” I also go by SiberianHEAT in RO. Otherwise look for me out in the fields of Russia doing my best to avoid enemy armor, friendly fire, and the occasional self-destructing teammate!
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Some final thoughts about how this game could be improved;
- Automatic reload of the main gun should be mandatory – without needing you to sit in the gunner position. This will allow one player to more accurately operate each tank. If you fire the gun and move to the driver’s seat, the gun should still reload.
- Increase number of tanks to match each real player who wants one. This will reduce the use of our tanks as taxis. This will also reduce the standing around that happens on larger servers.
- Require an invite to join a tank. “Joe-Loser wishes to board your tank. Unlock? Y/N.” I hate to sound selfish, but if I want to play the game as a Lone Wolf I should have that option. This would also help friends keep 3rd parties out of their tanks.
- Allow infantry to ride on top of tanks so they can jump off closer to the action. (combined arms)
- Introduce additional modes of play. This game desperately needs a mission-based mode. Take this hill, defend this town, destroy all enemies, etc. where armor-infantry cooperation actually matters or where you can’t simply get back in another tank after charging blindly over the hill.
- Smoke canisters for tanks to hide yourself in dire situations. Smoke rounds for main gun to obscure your movements from the enemy.
- Reduce detonation radius of satchel charges. It is very difficult to move far enough away from a satchel charge even if you know it is there – making them a favorite (and only) tactic of some players.
- Show friendly tanks on the minimap. A real tank unit would have enough communications to be able to read out their locations. In the game, this is supposed to be done by voice – but not everyone has or uses voice comms. This would help get units to the action faster.
- A minimal level of destructable terrain. Wooden fences deflecting AP rounds kills the realism.
- This may be pie-in-the-sky, but I would love to see custom skins for tanks. Each player would essentially bring his “own” tank to the battle – complete with whatever camo pattern, side skirting, accessories, etc., he can think up.
A Few More Screenshots:
About the Author:
Brian “Siberian H.E.A.T.” King is the CO of Armchair General magazine’s website, armchairgeneral.com. When that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he can sometimes be convinced to sit down and write articles on military history and wargaming.