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Posted on Jun 20, 2012 in Electronic Games

Heroes & Generals – Preview

By Kyle Stegerwald

I’m sure that most people who play strategic wargames and shooters have at some point thought about what a merging of the two genres would look like. What that nexus looks like is Heroes & Generals, a free-to-play shooter where nothing you can spend money on gives you an absolute advantage; a team-based shooter that actually promotes teamwork; a game about the Second World War that has a fresh approach to the subject; a browser game in which you can select where you are going to fight combined with first-person action reminiscent of Battlefield 1942.

Heroes & Generals combines strategic wargaming with first-person-shooter views like this one.

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You play Heroes & Generals by logging into a Website with your player name and password, and then joining a campaign within the contest between the US and Germany that sprawls over Western Europe. After you’ve picked a soldier from one of several classes (pilot, machine gunner, anti-tank, sniper, regular grunt, etc.), you pick from any one of the battles that are going on, join the server, and blast away at the enemy.

The normal way to play a multiplayer shooter is to jump from one server to another, and the battles raging on each server are completely self-contained. If the terrorists win one match on one 24-hour dust2 server, for instance, that has no effect on any other games being played anywhere else. But in Heroes & Generals, what goes on in individual battles decides who "owns" the town, factory, airfield or chunk of land being contested. And ownership of these locations secures supply lines, resources, and production sites that are crucial to winning the war.

Logistics are all-important in H&G. As in a game like Battlefield 1942, each side begins a particular battle with a finite number of spawn tickets and must capture (or defend) points on a map sequentially to win. In Heroes & Generals spawn tickets are provided by assault teams, which are owned by players and represented on the overall strategic map by NATO symbols. Players can buy these teams (teams of airplanes, infantry, armor and so on) and move them from one map location to another. If the location they’re in borders an enemy location they can attack. When one player moves his assault team into an enemy location, the game spawns a new battle for everyone to join at that same place. Whatever is in the assault team the player initially attacked with (a platoon of tanks or a bunch of regular infantry, for instance) is what the people who join the game have to work with. So, if you send your assault team of two fighter planes to attack an enemy village, anyone joining that server can only spawn as a pilot, and only two people can spawn at all.

Typically, most battles involve several assault teams on each side. You can have a panzer assault team, a paratrooper assault team, two regular infantry teams, a recon (sniper) team, and the odd antitank team, all on the same map. When a team’s tickets are depleted they can no longer participate in the battle and must be reinforced before they can be used again. So it becomes important to constantly shove fresh resources into a battle if your own are getting worn down quicker than your enemy’s are.

Of course your enemy is constantly facing a similar resource squeeze, and on top of that, strategic moves can cut him (or you) off completely. If you’re defending Hamburg, for example, and in the middle of the battle the enemy secures all the towns with roads leading into Hamburg, then no new assault teams can join your battle, and you either have to stave off the enemy solely with the rapidly dwindling supply of tickets you posses, or ask your comrades to organize a strike on a nearby town so that it can be retaken and new assault teams can join the defense.

The shooting is very good. It’s somewhat realistic in that there is bullet drop, your stamina runs out quickly, most hits are lethal, and health regeneration is minimal (you regenerate only up to a certain percentage, based on how hard you were hit, and you have to go somewhere and find a medic kit to heal back up to full). There are very few maps right now (you’ll see a lot of one map in particular, the town-with-rivers map) but those that are in the game are very good. The town on the town-with-rivers map seems like an actual town, with all kinds of alleyways, rooftops, windows, doors, ledges, church towers and trees to get killed from. Even forests are exciting, with their huge trees, thick undergrowth and deep shadows. Add to all of this the day and night lighting system, and the three or four maps they’ve actually designed feel more like ten or twelve.

Vehicles in the game are multi-seat (you can have someone driving, someone riding and another firing a machine gun in the same jeep) and control pretty smoothly. The flight model for planes is not that complicated, and it’s possible to have some cool dogfights and anti-air duels with flak guns and quad .50-cal emplacements. You are advised, however, to leave the pilot slots to others if your flight skills aren’t up to par. People are extra sensitive about new players wasting resources, considering the wider effects that losing a bunch of planes can have on the war effort as a whole.

The game will be free-to-play and supported by a cash shop. What’s interesting (and encouraging) about this is that the things players can buy in the cash shop don’t appear to confer absolute advantages. You can buy a wide array of upgrades for every gun in the game, ranging from heavy barrels to match triggers and cut bullets. No upgrade is supposed to be better than any other, just different. Buying the upgrade that increases your damage with a particular gun by 5, for example, also increases your recoil by the same amount, making your shots more potent but making repeat hits on the same target more difficult. Veterans will have an obvious advantage in that their guns will be more tailored to their playstyle, but it isn’t the case (as it is in other games) that you’ll be able to buy an upgrade that will give you an unfair advantage. At least that’s the way it is now.

The usual disclaimers about bugs and glitches in preview or beta code apply to Heroes & Generals as well, probably more so than usual given the novelty of the engine and the framework. It was only a few weeks ago that the action side of the game and the strategic side were actually linked up for the first time, and my preview was delayed by days-long stretches where I would either be unable to connect at all or would log in only to find that the server had been taken down after some unexpected bug had crashed it. I still get the dreaded "cannot communicate with server" bug (one in every ten or so attempts to connect goes through), but the developers have been nothing if not responsive: they’ve organized special sessions explicitly to test the bug, they solicit detailed data on the hardware and connections of those affected, and so on. Patches come out constantly and it’s rare to not see a developer hanging out in the global chat channel answering questions, taking bug reports, or updating people on the state of the game.

Graphics and sound aren’t yet in their final state, and in the future, the developers have indicated that they plan to make the game even more stable and to add new maps, vehicles, weapons and also alternate game types. Right now there are skirmishes (smaller matches with two or three capture points) and attack/defend battles (large engagements over large maps with several capture points and many more people). The developers would like to add supply raiding, assassination (most of the developers previously worked on the Hitman series), and others. It will be exciting to see what comes next.

About the Author
Kyle Stegerwald is a student and a wargamer living in the Wild, Wild West. He’s been playing games since the Macintosh II and reviewing them for Websites including Wargamer and Armchair General for about a decade now. 

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