Verdun Beta Preview

Verdun is a new online shooter set during World War One, a horrible time in history and also one rarely covered in games. Inspired by one of the worst and most costly battles of world history, The Battle of Verdun, this game recreates the different locations of the front line and puts you in the thick of the action.

The First World War is mostly remembered as a long, ugly battle where callous generals threw countless men into the grinder, walking them into no-mans land in the hopes that a group would get through and break the protracted battle of attrition that made the trenches the hell that they were. Verdun attempts to recreate this through squad-based trench combat, using historically accurate groups varying in a number of different ways, each with different specialities and appearances, based on ones that existed and fought during the war itself.

Alongside the squads, the maps are also based on battlefields from the war. Only three maps have been made so far. The first of the three is Argonne, based on the Argonne region of North-East France. Here it is an area of two trench systems opposing each other, separated by a stretch of no-mans land. The second is Vauquois, a dense section of trenches directly opposing each other for a faster paced game – inspired by the craters from the verdun area as seen by the developers when they visited it. The third, and final map as of now, is Vosges. This is based upon the Vosges mountain area of Alsasce-Lorraine, near the German border.

In the fight, Verdun focuses on a similar style of area control featured in a number of other online shooters. However, unlike others where the objective is to control just a smaller flag, set inside a parking lot or something along those lines, your objective is to control large swathes of the battlefield. This is achieved by having a superior number of men in the contested region. This starts a timer and holding the superior numbers until the end of the timer puts the region under your control, allowing you to use it as a springboard to attack the next sector. The ultimate goal is to control more land by the end of the battle, or to reach the enemies final trench layer where their headquarters are based.

There is a necessity in fighting within a squad to achieve victory. As previously stated, each squad has its own speciality. As you and your squad fight together, the squad itself will increase in level. This increase makes the squad stronger through the unlocking of passive abilities, like making the members of the squad less visible to the opponent or through heightening the senses of the squad, increasing the visibility of enemies.

The classes on offer vary from squad to squad, each squad being comprised of different classes and by different names depending on the historical nationality of the squad. What you will always find are, regardless of name, a few set roles like Commander, Rifleman and Assault. Some of these roles then have subdivisions based on their strengths and weaknesses.

One common role for each and every squad is the commander. As the name implies, he is theoretically in command and is meant to direct his squad which is possible through an action menu, it’s just getting them to listen that’s the challenge. The commander can also call in artillary through the same action menu but the downside is that he is only armed with a pistol.

Where we start to see sub-roles come into play is with classes like the Rifleman. He is always equipped with a rifle with a bayonet, but the divisions are notable through the passive abilities offered. The marksman has more accuracy and can hold aim for much longer than the alternatives whereas the recon can’t hold aim for as long, but has much more stamina and so can run further, he also has the ability to make visible to the rest of the squad any enemy within a five-metre radius. Like the Rifleman, the Assault class also has divisions. The Grenadier, for example, will have the machine gun but also have grenades at his disposal whereas an alternative wont have grenades but will be able to take more damage, allowing them to get within a closer range and take out the enemy.

The variety of these roles becomes more notable as the player levels up and the passive abilities become more potent. As with the squad levels, you also gain personal levels through the act of capturing areas and killing enemies. Like with the squads, the abilities gained through leveling up are passive. Here the abilities can range from improving your stamina, accuracy and even endurance. Alongside the passive abilities you can also gain cosmetic improvements like new outfits that are accurate to the time and nations, as well as the different type of squads.

The ideas and research behind Verdun may be perfectly sound, but what really matters is the delivery, how fun and engaging the game is and how much there is on offer. Here it is essential to note that this is in beta, only having recently been released through Steams Early Access system. The result is a little negative as a number of planned features simply aren’t ready yet. This includes what seems to be a lack of personal progression beyond the basic gains through personal and squad leveling and also a lack of variety through having only three maps.

At the same time there are other small bugs and exploits that need to be ironed out to improve the experience. Issues like seeing a soldier floating in the middle of a trench, or having somebody shooting through a piece of scenery which protects them from returning fire are small and not game-breaking, but are still irritating. One issue that could be game-breaking is the lack of a balancing system. While it is easy to find a game, something essential for an online shooter, It is common to find a game where three squads are pitted against one, twelve people against just four, making it impossible for the outnumbered side to even stand a chance. Thankfully, all of these issues as well as the lack of content are things that the developers are working on.

Where Verdun is also lacking is in the visual aspect. Even for me, a person for who visuals are one of the lowest things to judge a game over, they are pretty poor. It looks decent when set to fantastic with all the advanced options selected, but even then some of the textures are a little bland and samey. Albeit I imagine the trenches and muddy battlefields of World War One weren’t the most varied and colourful of areas. On the other hand, the models of the weapons are very well designed and look very accurate compared to images I’ve seen of the actual weapons. The lower requirements of Verdun are a good thing, opening it up to those with lower end rigs and making it comfortable when running through a browser, increasing the possible number of players which is always good for an online game.

Possibly the strongest point of Verdun comes with the audio, which is as good as it can be. From the authentic sound of weapons firing around you as you fight through the trenches, the artillery and grenades exploding around you to the simple sounds of men crashing through barbed wire. The ambiance of the battlefield is well captured and sounds authentic. Even the smaller things, like an old tune playing at the main menu, which shows a trench-based headquarters, set the scene well.

Verduns success will inevitably rest on two things. The major aspect is simply a question of if the community will stick with it. An online game is nothing without people playing and many have died due to being released too early or through not having enough to keep people coming back for more. This is where the second aspect is important, the delivery of new content. Will the new content be delivered quick enough, and will it be of a high enough standard to keep the community happy while also luring more people in.

A game like Verdun quite literally lives or dies through the crowd. I hope Verdun doesn’t become a casualty of the trenches, trapped in barbed wire, drowning in the muddy trenches while the rats scurry over in anticipation of their next meal. Why? Because there is potential and I’ve always believed that WW1 is a period of history that would make for an interesting game if done right. Afterall, WW2 and Modern Warfare has been ground to the bone.

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