Inspiring New Games, Pt. 2: World War II Online

Welcome back to the series in which we take a look at older games with interesting mechanics (that I’d totally love to see in modern games). The idea behind this series is to pick and choose from some unsuspecting games that had really interesting or unique mechanics and speculate how they might be relevant to modern games

For this article, we’re looking at a game I put a fair bit of time into during my youth: World War II Online. First, let me start by saying: World War II Online has certainly had an interesting track record. Technically, the game was released in 2001 and still remains available to play to this day. Of course, the game is incredibly dated and has numerous issues if Steam reviews are to be believed – but the fact it still exists in some capacity is incredible.

For a quick breakdown, if you’re not familiar, WWII Online is sometimes considered one of the first true MMOFPS experiences. It allowed for thousands of players to fight on one massive map (Europe) during World War 2. It was a combined arms game with tanks, aircraft, and infantry. The game itself was always rough in terms of latency, desync issues, and it certainly wasn’t what you would call a polished experience.

Yet, the game had some incredible features that I would love to see replicated in games. One aspect I always loved about WWII OL was that the decisions you made in the game truly mattered. Unlike the traditional MMOs, where your decisions are often inconsequential (the quest you just completed will be completed by thousands of others). Do we attack this town? Do we risk losing these critical supplies? Those tanks and aircraft? Decisions, decisions – and those decisions had resounding impact on the course of the war.

In World War II Online, you could win or lose the war. In a traditional MMO, PvP is often boiled down to meaningless battlegrounds or world PvP where the outcome doesn’t mean anything to the grand scope of the game’s world.

It was epic when you were battling it out in the final cities in World War II Online. Pushed against the wall, the enemy was driving home a victory and eventual reset of the map. I love that there is a real consequence for the victories and defeats you suffered in WWII Online. I can’t tell you how many times where with good tactics and careful decision making we won a battle where we were out manned and out gunned.

Likewise, there were so many other decisions that mattered in WWII Online. In order to supply the front line with tanks and other equipment, factories had to “produce” these goods. One of the amazing things you could attempt to do in WWII Online was take a fleet of bombers all the way across Europe, bomb the factories, and reduce how much equipment, vehicles, or planes they produced.

It was an incredibly risky endeavor. Flying sometimes for hours, you would need to avoid fighters, flak, and more in order to hope you were good enough to hit the factories.

But man, if you pulled it off you KNEW you had made an impact for your side of the war. Less tanks, less equipment, and less planes would make it into the battle because of your skill and determination.

Another feature that really amazed me in World War II Online was the completely player-controlled command structure. Every decision was player controlled as it related to the war. Generals at the top decided what targets to attack. Through them, orders would be funneled down to the lowly grunts (me, when I played). It was pretty insane how much of the leadership structure was user-controlled.

As I continue to write these blogs, I realize just how much player choice in games make a difference to the enjoyment of the game (I wrote a bit about this in another blog post). And these choices don’t need to be narrative, either. The choices in this game, stemming from the command structure at the top, the ability to impact the world around you by the places you attack, and giving players the ability to “win” the game (even as an MMO) is so crucial.

I really hope games can be inspired by World War II Online. Giving players control and structure of their world is just an incredible feeling. Letting players feel like the decisions they make impact the world is just as important too. I hope games continue to add these types of features and moments. There’s nothing quite like having control over your own destiny in games.

Welp. I hope you liked this blog post and found some interesting ideas from it! I know I enjoyed writing it. Feel free to drop me a line (is that still a thing people say?) on Twitter if you’d like make a comment about it! Likewise, you can catch me live on Twitch or see my videos on YouTube. Hope you enjoyed!

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