Dogs of War Online is a new game by French developers Cyanide, set in the same world as the previously released Confrontation and Aarklash: Legacy games, both of which are based on the Confrontation miniature wargame by the former Rackham Entertainment. Dogs of War Online is best linked to Dogs of War, an expansion of sorts, released for the third edition of Confrontation, and it follows a similar sort of theme as the wargames expansion.
Having finally been put up on Steam the game has the opportunity to prove itself to a larger crowd than ever before. It’s spent a decent amount of time in closed beta, it’s building on a previously known franchise and has a good guideline to follow. Will this be enough to make it worth playing? Find out here in my official Dogs of War Online Preview.
One thing that must be noted is that even though the store page on Steam does not say so, Dogs of War online is currently in open beta and not officially released.
Choose Your Side
Your role is at the head of a company of mercenaries formed with troops out of one of the three armies, or paths, that are in a constant struggle for the fate of Aarklash. The three paths to choose from are the Meanders of Darkness, the Paths of Destiny and the Ways of Light.
Each of these paths currently have just one army, or races, to choose from when creating your mercenary troop. The Darkness gives you access to the Baronies of Acheron, an undead horde whose emblem is the Ram. Destiny gives you access to the Children of Yllia, a race of wolf-people whose emblem is naturally the wolf. Finally the Light gives you access to the Kingdom of Alahan, the humans whose emblem is that of the Lion.
The variety offered is enhanced by each side having a variety of different and unique units at their disposal, falling under the general categories of Melee, Ranged or Spellcaster. What adds to this variety is that each unit are unique in the way they can attack and defend, some being more proficient in one than the other. The wolves, for example, are better in the offense than in defense, a number of units even having two attacks per turn instead of one.
Take to the Battlefield
Starting off you get to pick between three options in which units you start off with, having already picked your path and race, and you move on from there into three skippable tutorial stages that give you the lay of the land, telling you everything you need to know when starting off and the basics of how to play the game, the strategies on offer with different unit types.
Of course the real meat of Dogs of War Online comes after the tutorial, when you test your organizational capabilities, planning and team management, as well as pitting your tactical wits against those of other people in increasing numbers and varying types of battles. Not only does it offer this level of tactical finesse, it gives your actions more meaning by giving failure long term implications.
As of right now, there are only three types of battle offered. There is the ever popular, but basic, deathmatch where two sides are pitted against each other until one side has run out of units. The second option offered is Elimination VIP, giving both sides a ‘Notable’ to protect, while they attempt to kill the other sides notable. Finally there is King of the Hill, the aim being to hold the center with as many units as possible until the time runs out.
Each of these battles take place on either one, two or three types of maps. King of the Hill only has the one map at the moment, Elimination VIP has two maps and deathmatch has three, although the very first map is locked out once you advance too far in level. Beyond this, the matches are also varied in scale as when searching for a match you can select an upper limit of 200, 300, 400 or 800 Army Points (AP).
Using Your Mercenaries
When selecting the units for your army the AP limit is always something to be aware of. Each unit has a base AP value, further increased when a skill is selected upon them leveling up, the better skills increasing the cost of the unit more than the lesser skills. It is, of course, smarter to use as much of the limit as you can without moving up to the next level to give yourself a strength advantage over any opponent, but at the same time balancing your unit is essential.
Why? Because everything on the map plays a key part of your chance of victory and success, making it quite easy to lose even if by AP value you are 20% stronger than your opponent, which I found to my own detriment. The maps are separated into hexagons with natural obstacles put in place, much like the Kings Bounty games but with the maps here being considerably bigger, that offer shelter from ranged and magical attacks as well as some slowing down the movement of units. All of this means that a more tactical and well-thought approach, with a balanced force, is essential. Taking two archers into a battlefield with a large number of obstacles just gives you a self-inflicted and hard to overcome handicap.
What makes this more essential is that you have a finite number of units available and when one of them falls in battle there is always a random chance of them suffering from a long term injury, possibly even death which removes them, with all of their levels and abilities, for good. The other way your units can also suffer a wound is by taking place in non-interactive missions, simply being given a percentage chance of success with a reward for victory, a penalty for failure. The penalty generally being a low percentage chance of a wound or, for more difficult missions, going into a coma.
Of course if you lose a unit, or even if you don’t, you are able to buy new units. Indeed, this will become mandatory as you increase in levels and want to move on to larger and more challenging battles with a more varied army behind you. This is where the in-game store comes into play. Units can be bought using either Cyans, bought with real money, or ducats, earned in battle or through the non-interactive missions. It will, of course, make sense that the quicker and easier way to get these extra units is through real-money purchasing with Cyan.
However, this isn’t to say that it’s anything remotely like a pay-to-win scheme. Indeed, I’m pleasantly surprised with Dogs of War Online. Every unit, from the low ranks to the very strong special unit of each race is purchasable using in game coins. So are the other items found in the store like army packs, healing cards (that remove a wound) and even cosmetic features. What this means in practice is that paying real money is simply a means to save you from the grind of battling other people and sending units on uninteractive missions and waiting for them to return, hopefully with the victory reward.
Cyanide, with Dogs of War Online, have managed to impress me. They have created a free to play game that manages to strike a good balance between both the people who want to invest time but not a great deal of money and those who would rather speed through the time and put in more cash. This is managed with the leveling system that is also attached to your account, you gain experience as you win, which then unlocks the later game modes. This means that yes, buying better soldiers will improve your chances of winning and gaining more experience, but it doesn’t guarantee you a speedy run through if you are incompetent.
This is something I applaud Cyanide for, but it may also be something that doesn’t suit a free-to-play game. I hope I’m wrong, I would love for this to be a shining beacon in what can seem like a bleak, unforgiving, land and prove that balanced games that don’t punish the free players can be both good and make money.
Dogs of War Online is a brilliantly strong tactical title, offering some great fun as you work your way through, getting victory from another by the skin of your teeth but overall chalking it down to sheer tactical finesse. I look forward to playing more of it and seeing what extra Cyanide will add to improve this already strong showing.
Check out their open beta trailer down here:Related: Cyanide, Dogs of War, Review, Strategy