Men of War 2 review

Need to know

What is it? Rock hard real-time strategy

Release date May 15, 2024

Developer Best Way

Publisher Fulqrum Publishing

Reviewed on AMD Ryzen 7 5800X, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4080, 32 GB RAM

Steam Deck Unsupported

Link: Official site

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Men of War 2 layers in new deck-building elements and some shiny graphics alongside a wedge of singleplayer and multiplayer options but, beyond that, this sequel is the same as the franchise ever was: brutal, shocking violence that can see scores of your forces wiped out in an instant.  

This is what Men of War 2 does best. No other strategy game in this recent real-time strategy resurgence can deliver moments quite like it: a single soldier on a mounted machine gun holding off a hundred enemy infantry, a lucky artillery shell wiping out a terrifying enemy tank, or a brave paratrooper demolishing your opponent’s defences by crawling up to a defensive line with a satchel full of explosives. 

(Image credit: Fulqrum Publishing)

These moments will leave you feeling elated, and crafting a dynamic sandbox in which they can happen is a massive achievement. Original developers BestWay, returning for their first entry into the series since 2008’s Men of War, show a deft eye for creating drama out of what could be meaningless death.

Combat in Men of War 2 feels mechanically deep and incredibly satisfying when you get it right. Instead of the traditional rock, paper, scissors style balancing found in many RTS games, Men of War 2 is even simpler. Bullets will kill most infantry without issue, bigger bullets—say from an anti-aircraft gun or vehicle mounted cannon—will shred light armour, and explosions will kill basically anything if you hit it right, whether that’s a Panther tank or a squad of riflemen hiding in a barn.

Direct control returns and allows you to take command of a unit and tool them around yourself. There’s a real joy to taking your own shots as a sniper or going hands on with your anti-tank gun to wang a round into the tracks of approaching enemy armour.

It’s your funeral

(Image credit: Fulqrum Publishing)

Fights are large-scale affairs and death is a constant. For every dizzying high, there’s a corresponding low as your expensive artillery piece is hit by an errant tank shell, or a squad of your best and brightest soldiers gets caught in the open by an airstrike. These losses could feel meaningless with how often your valiant little guys get turned into jam, but because you’re often working with such tight resources, it’s harrowing to lose units you know you can’t replace. That feeling in your gut teaches you to respect (and fear) the terrifying destructive potential of pretty much the entire game’s arsenal.

As battles progress, the beautifully crafted maps stop being just a collection of flora, rocks, and buildings and instead become naught but a collection of vantage points, kill zones and fatal funnels. Correctly fortified, these points could hold off an entire army, but there’s a chaotic energy to the game that means that just about anything can happen. Several times I clicked away on the map to check out another area on the front line, coming back just in time to see an enemy soldier with a can-do attitude has ruined my entire battleplan and reduced my defences to a smoking crater and human detritus. With the shiny new graphics, these body-filled locales look better than ever before and it goes a long way to selling the sheer meat grinder that every match turns into. 

When everything comes together, it creates thrilling battles of attrition. While the battles in Men of War 2 feel bigger than ever for the series, a tight cap on how many units you can actually call in (and the resources needed to actually call things in in the first place) means that you constantly felt starved for troops. After a particularly bad loss in an area I often found myself unable to bring in reinforcements, turning everything into a hopeless scramble for survival as you send a few scattered and ill-equipped infantry to try and tackle whatever godless killing machine has just broken through your front line.

(Image credit: Fulqrum Publishing)

New units are slowly unlocked over time. You are first able to call in the First Echelon soldiers, then you can call in a greater number of more equipped Second and Third Echelon troops, these Echelons effectively gating your higher powered units behind a timer. These moments create a small surge as you can finally call in a big tank or an artillery piece that you think could change the flow of the battle. Generally though, I found most battles become much less intense after first combat. Most matches end not with a bang but with a whimper, as your dribble of surviving troops desperately tries to advance the frontlines.

Similarly, the story-led campaign gives you so little to work with resource-wise that every death feels like something you should quickload to get around. An enemy sniper can take out several infantry before you can properly react, and when you’re playing with a fairly small fighting force, it feels like you’re often setting yourself up for failure. I played several missions in the story-driven campaigns and sampled a bit of the Russian, German and US missions, as each of the three have a unique storyline, but I frankly found that they just irritated me. The set pieces were impressive, but with so little room for error, there’s not a lot of room for experimentation.

This was less of an issue in the game’s other campaigns—which include both dynamic and procedurally-generated campaigns—but there was always a constant nagging feeling that there just weren’t enough troops to do what I wanted to do. A skill issue, yes, but I’ve put hundreds of hours into Men of War Assault Squad and never felt this in the previous games. 

Pick a card

(Image credit: Fulqrum Publishing)

The big new addition to Men of War 2 is the battalion system. This allows you to bring multiple battalions with different selections of units into the game’s two dynamic campaigns and to the wealth of multiplayer matches on offer. These battalions are pretty self explanatory: an artillery battalion will have a lot of artillery, while players selecting a tank led option will no doubt be unsurprised to find themselves knee deep in tanks. 

Battalions can also be edited and have rules not unlike the faction system seen in Eugen’s Wargame series, meaning that your infantry deck can have a lot of diverse options and your tank battalion will, at the risk of overegging one joke, have several tons of tank to choose from. To do this you need to get currency—either from completing achievements or just completing matches—and then sub units out one by one. It’s byzantine, and while it will no doubt be appreciated by the sort of people that play games like this for years, I actually prefer the idea of having some boundaries, and found this deck building overwhelmed me with choice. 

You can see this in the two procedurally generated campaigns too. Conquest allows you to bring several different battalions on a romp across Europe, with a battle each turn. Raid is a smaller scale affair generating 16 maps for you to fight through. Raid is billed as more accessible, but because both require you to research new technology and then build a deck over time, it still feels very involved. Still, these dynamic options should be more replayable than the narrative campaign, and give players that do want to tweak and prod with their battalions a perfect toybox. For me, I found myself wishing I could just upgrade my technology and then have units automatically built into my battalion for me to play with, rather than trying to work out, sight unseen, who would be best for me to take out to war. 

(Image credit: Fulqrum Publishing)

Despite these missteps, it’s hard not to enjoy what Men of War 2 is putting down. While World War 2 has proven to be fertile ground for the RTS genre, Bestway has created an uncompromising and compelling RTS. Sadly, many of the new additions to the Men of War formula don’t feel particularly necessary. As bizarre as it feels to say, I find myself wishing that Bestway had tried to reinvent the wheel less, and built more upon the brutal combat that underpins the game. 

Instead, Men of War 2 is an uneven package. There’s no denying the wealth of stuff here: the game is full to bursting for RTS fans willing to learn the razor-wire covered ropes. I had a lot of fun, and despite how punishing it was I found myself eager to hop in again and again. I want to unlock all of the different battalions and see how they feel in combat, and I’m even tempted to spend more time in the game’s multiplayer, despite knowing I’ll get battered. 

Not that losing would be a surprise. Failure comes in many forms in Men of War 2, and failure can be fun. Sadly, several small flaws combine to make Men of War 2 difficult to love despite the tight mechanics that hold everything together.

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