Two pilots died last week performing reconnaissance missions near Leningrad. One was shot down, the other when his plane crashed of its own accord. They were both flying Ju 88D-2s. I investigate. The Ju 88D-2 has a reliability of 15, an armour of 1 with a durability of 42 and a maneuver of 20. It is armed with four 7.92mm MG15s and three High Level Cameras. I check production. Ju 88D-2s are due to be phased out by June 1941 in production yards across Germany. Looking at those yards, I can see that we’re having a little trouble meeting that goal. None of the facilities producing Ju 88 Airframes are damaged, but there is a delay of 130 units at Bernburg. Perhaps that delay is why those reconnaissance pilots died last week? Perhaps they would have been able to sortie in the superior Ju 88D-1 had production kept to schedule? Perhaps not. The real question I have to ask myself, when I pull out and see that they are two of 65,038 men to have been killed so far, alongside 40,950 disabled, is why what I discovered matters? The short and beautiful truth of Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2, is that it doesn’t, not really.
My involvement in the entire air war of last week was a single click, and the fates of two pilots in slightly outdated craft has no bearing on what I do when I click to confirm Air Group Missions for next week. What the AI does with that information is for it to handle, unless I want to handle it.
The magic of War in the East 2 is that I actually think it managed to pull of what many had hoped for. It’s playable for the non-hardcore crowd, if players are willing to put a little time into figuring out the absolute basics. It can seem daunting, to be sure, but the elements are all in place to not only make the smaller scenarios learnable and enjoyable, but also open the door to the excellent deeper level strategies hiding beneath the surface of War in the East 2.
There is just so much content packed into this one game that sometimes I can’t believe it. What I definitely can’t believe, despite trying my level best to disprove it, you actually don’t need 70% of the information that is sitting at your fingertips. The way the AI manages the air war is entirely competent, to the point that I didn’t feel like I was disadvantaging myself by leaving it alone. Depot construction can be handled by the AI, and production is entirely automated. All of it is there for interested players to dig into, but it is not necessary to enjoy the fruits of 2 x 3 Games labour.
You know that feeling when you get lost scrolling Wikipedia? When one article links to another and before you know it you’re 10 articles deep and an hour has passed. It might not have been an hour, but that happened to me repeatedly while playing War in the East 2, including my deep dive into the loss of 2 recon aircraft above. It’s fun to go digging into the complexities that War in the East 2 offers. Individual combats can be reexamined to see what ranges units opened fire at, what support elements were committed and how they impacted organization, how many squads, teams, and vehicles were destroyed or disabled. It’s like opening up a massive encyclopedia of your own version of the German-Soviet War, and I love it. But enough gushing, how exactly do you play and what are those essentials I mentioned above?
How Does War in the East 2 Play?
The core of War in the East 2 resembles a classic board wargame. units are divisional in scale, with ground hexes representing 10 miles per hex and week long turns. Units maneuver based on movement points that are expended per hex entered and for combat. Smaller than division level units, like specialized companies, are abstracted into a support system. The air war sees squadrons organized into air groups that are given mission types and areas of operation. Air missions are carried out before ground units move, though air units committed to ground support and air superiority will operate during the ground phase.
There are some key components of play to remember when first getting into War in the East 2 . First, support units. Units must be in range of their HQs to be issued support units during engagements. Critically, getting support during decisive attacks (which take more movement but start with (close to) full offensive power) requires the unit to be in range of their HQ without the HQ having moved that turn. Second, placing units in reserve is incredibly powerful on the defense, as it allows the local commander to commit reserve units up to 6 hexes away. On the offensive, the range is 3 hexes, but it is still very powerful. Third, logistics are very important, let the AI handle depot management. But be sure to send rail units to repair railways behind the line. Finally, Decisive attacks require at least 6 movement points (modified by terrain) and that more than one unit can be attached to a decisive attack by highlighting it while shift is held down. There, you’ve got all you need to win the tutorial scenario. Go get ’em.
But seriously. The amount of core information that is actually required to do decently well in War in the East probably amounts to less than 500 words. The amount of information that can go into learning how to do decently in War in the East is the 500 page manual.
But What Do I Really Think?
You can probably tell that I like War in the East 2. I do. I didn’t really get into the first game this way, because the complexity, coupled with the clunkiness and scale, turned me away. Now I’m happy to see that, while War in the East 2 looks about the same, the underlying engine is much crisper and cleaner. I don’t find me PC lagging much, only occasionally with mutli-unit moves, and sorting through the excel like menus was snappy.
I’ve had a good deal of fun with the smaller scenarios. I like the more focused approach that I think allows the board game like feeling of War in the East 2 shine through, though I understand the appeal of the full campaign. I’m still plugging away at it.
But, to talk about the AI. I haven’t had any problems so far with the enemy’s ability to defend itself. It won’t be as competent as a human player, because nothing is, but I personally haven’t seen anything stupid happen. Playing as both the Soviets and the Germans, I’ve seen the enemy target weak spots, try to encircle and cut off supply, reposition to better defensive positions to cover airfields and key targets, and generally be a proper opponent. This is always the scary part with complicated wargames, but the fine folk at 2 x 3 Games should be commended. Perhaps I’ll see something break as the long war scenario drags on, but nothing has happened yet.
The only true downside is that I did have to go fishing for that core information to get the game up and running. Everything is there but it is not presented in the nicest way. A proper tutorial would actually make this the ultimate entry level to complex monster wargame on the market. Another thing is that I can believe that people who have spent a lot of time with War in the East 1 might see this as a marginal upgrade. I don’t agree, but for the cost, it is best to be sure of where you want to spend your money. It’s excellent, but how much you’re going to get out of it after sinking 500 hours into the first game is something you need to think deeply about.
Yes, of course it is. War in the East 2 has dashed quite a few of my fears and presented me with something I really didn’t think they could pull off. I can sit down and play a smaller scenario and not feel like I’m doing work, but all of the information I could ever want is right there at my finger tips should I want it. It’s glorious. Sometimes I just want to hit ‘go’ on the air war and let it handle itself. Sometimes I want to manage missions. the fact that I can choose is just amazing. If the game had ever piqued your interest, I’d recommend it. Even if it seems daunting right off the bat, the essentials can be learned quickly, the rest slowly, and a good time had right out the gate. It’s excellent, and worth your time.
A masterpiece and the perfect example of a game that works well with variable complexity. Entertaining and fun to lose yourself in, War in the East 2 will be the pinnacle of monster digital wargaming for some time.
*LTAW received a copy of WiTE2 for the purposes of this review.