Wargame: Red Dragon – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Lots and lots and lots of units and hardcore unit details; nice balance of warm & fuzzy-feeling victories and monitor-punching defeats.
Failed Basic: Crappy tutorial; steep learning curve; naval warfare is laughable at times.
One sure-fire way to get me to notice a video game is to put the word “dragon” in the title. Match that word with “wargame”, and my mind is conjuring images of a vast, scorched land, where legions of dragons are at war, battling each other with all the skill and ferocity dragons are known for.
Alas, Wargame: Red Dragon is not that game. However, it is the third game in the Wargame series developed by Eugen Systems and published by Focus Home Interactive. Lack of dragons notwithstanding, Wargame: Red Dragon is a competent RTS with plenty of merits to make it a quality game worth playing.
Wargame: Red Dragon continues the quasi-historical theme set in the previous games of the series, by challenging your wargame skills in various “what if” scenarios. Unlike its older siblings, WRD is set in the Far East, giving you control of oriental and occidental (17 nations in all) fighting forces from 1975 to 1991. WRD also introduces naval warfare to the series and increases the total number of units available to 1,450.
That’s a lot of units to contend with, not to mention the full page of details each unit has with it. These two items alone were enough to get me interested and keep me interested, and I’ve spent no small amount of time reading through unit details in the game’s Armory, trying to work out rock-paper-scissors combat encounters in my head.
For avid wargame and RTS players, that many units with that much detail is probably a good thing. If you’re thinking of making WRD your first RTS or first in the series to play, I would counsel against it—not only because of the large number of units you need to deal with but also because of the lack of a quality tutorial to provide a solid point from which to start learning how the game allows you to work with all those units.
Red Dragon is my first encounter with the Wargame series, and it was not as easy an introduction as it could have been. The instructions included are merely text pages with screenshots; there’s no tutorial scenario to give new players hands-on experience with the game’s style. I felt as if the game assumed that I had played its predecessors, and that it expected me to know how this game operated based on those previous ones.
Gritting my teeth through a couple of Skirmish rounds and matching up the action with the text tutorial info allowed me to get a handle on the mechanics. Once fully into the game, I quickly began to realize how deep and immersive it is, and, most importantly, how much fun it is. From casually selecting and placing units during the deployment phase, launching the battle, and watching them just get obliterated, I went to sweating over every detail I could see or imagine before placing a single (and every) squad. WRD had me hooked for hours at a time. Minus a lovely Ally Sheedy watching me play, and actually starting a potential World War Three, there have been many times where I felt like I was Matthew Broderick in the scene from War Games when he’s playing Global Thermonuclear War, with all the victory cries and curses of defeat that feeling entails.
One of the most notable fun factor items I’ve discovered is the game’s tendency for some very sudden SHTF moments. I’ve spent painstaking attention and precious political points on what I think is the right unit to place at a proper location at just the right time. How does the game respond? By throwing a surprise zerg, precision, or long-range attack somewhere else, causing me to try to react someway, somehow, while knowing it’s probably all for naught. Not that the game’s AI is overpowered—I’ve won my share of those SHTF encounters, as well. It’s the experience of those moments that WRD has translated so well into the game. It certainly has me regretting that I’ve missed out on this series until now, if the previous games are also like this.
Wargame: Red Dragon does have some scales missing in its jewel-encrusted underbelly. Naval warfare is one of the new additions to the series, and for the most part, it’s not impressive. Scale seems to be the main cause for error here. Ground combat is well supported, where battles happen over the distance of a few hundred meters. In naval combat, battles are fought over a few thousand meters (and often miles beyond that when aircraft is involved), and that scale just isn’t translated well here. Naval battles quickly resort to 17th-century tactics, with ships engaging each other way too closely, with no regard for their own weapon maximum or minimum effective ranges. In these battles I found I had to defeat the purpose of playing an RTS and switch to the game’s bullet time speed, just to keep my ships from this blundering tactic.
I’ve read fellow wargamers on the Internet say that Wargame: AirLand Battle is the best of the series, and that WRD feels more like an add-on than a full game. WRD does only have 4 main campaigns, yes, but it also has about 30 skirmish scenarios, multiplayer, and the ability to create your own decks of specialized forces on top of all that. Feel free to signal ArmchairGeneralJim in game if you’re up for a sparring match, by the way.
Despite the rocky entry into the game, and the disappointment of not having dragons, Wargame: Red Dragon has brought and is still bringing me lots of fun. Bet it would be even more fun with dragons, though. Just sayin’.
Armchair General Rating: 85%
About the Author
Jim dropped a quarter into his first video game (Pong) back in 1977, and has been avidly gaming ever since. He joined Armchair General as its first official game reviewer just before the website went live in 2003, and remains a regular contributor of war, combat, and strategy articles. Jim often streams his gaming on TwitchTV, on his own channel (http://www.twitch.tv/gamer_jim) and on behalf of MMORPG.com (http://www.twitch.tv/mmorpgcom). When he’s not writing or gaming, he’s usually keeping physically and mentally fit, watching the latest sci fi shows and movies, or just being zen with his cat, Spritzer.