I was a bit cautious of when I first approached the Wargame series. If you read what players say, there are some who call it a refreshing strategy series with near endless replay value. There are others who say it is an overly complex plunge into military realism—a place reserved only for a niche group of hardcore strategy fans.

Both of the above opinions are actually true. The Wargame series is very different from those of most other strategy games. It is realistic in terms of tactics and the strategic purpose of units. It also very challenging. Multiplayer is unforgiving.

But it is also a strategy series so detailed that nearly every player can create a unique military tailored to their own unique strategy. Wargame is a series that lets you play how you choose.

I was pleased to find that Wargame: Red Dragon carried this torch from previous games, along with several new additions to the series.

There are few moments more satisfying in gaming than the ambushes, air raids, and last stands that can take place in real-time strategies. The problem is that many games in the RTS genre tend to give too little attention to the “strategy” element that make these scenarios possible. Wargame: Red Dragon is brimming with strategic possibilities.

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Some players go for massive hordes of tanks. Some go for swarms of attack helicopters. Some want to go for frontal assaults, others for naval strikes, others for endless barrages of air strikes. In fact there are 1,450 units across the game’s numerous countries you can build your military with.

I chose to build a military focused on special operations. My army is filled with gritty, veteran ground troops who specialize in hiding in forests and buildings to ambush enemy units. I use recon troops to spot enemies for my artillery and jets. A small handful of tanks protect my lines. I decided to avoid the naval units altogether. I opted instead for ground troops with anti-ship weapons and jets with anti-ship missiles.

I also made some just for fun. One Deck I created was modeled after one of those crazy militias from the Midwest.

There are plenty of possibilities in how to build your own military (called “Decks”). Basically, you’re given a set number of points, which can be spent on types of units (ground troops, tanks, planes, etc) and the level of each unit’s experience. Rather than upgrades, units have an experience level that determines how accurate their shots are and their general toughness on the battlefield. Higher experience for units means higher cost and fewer of that unit while building a Deck, so players need to decide whether they want a handful of tough brutes, or a massive army filled with ninnies.

A unit’s experience level is important. I’ve watched an experienced squad of Marines take on waves of enemy troops, seen a single tank annihilate an oncoming assault of tanks and troop carries, and watched large gatherings of infantry disappear in the napalm flames dropped by a single jet.

Of course, you can also just use some of the game’s pre-created Decks (which are pretty good) if you’d rather not get involved in this part of the game.

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There are a handful of differences between Wargame: Dragon Rising and the last game in the series, Wargame: Airland Battle. The biggest is the addition of naval units and the maps that go with them, the new maps with plenty of waterways to accomodate the ships, and the new Asia-Pacific setting to go along with the new theme. The campaign mode is also a bit different, with a slightly more involved story.

Naval units first. Some players love them, others don’t like them at all. Luckily the game doesn’t force you to use them. It also lets you build a navy into your military without taking points from your main force. Personally, I avoided them. I played one map where I invested heavily in massive naval units only to see them get ripped to shreds by an armada of tiny ships.

Regardless, the presence of naval units means maps have rivers and large bodies of water. The maps look a lot more attractive than previous games in the series. Add to that the already great graphics the series is known for—with great detail whether you’re zoomed in or out—and the game is gorgeous to play. Keep in mind that all the screenshots you see on this page are in-game footage.

One of the finest achievements of Wargame is perspective. The ability to control the camera in Wargame is fantastic—the best I have ever encountered in a game of this type. You can zoom out very far and you can zoom in all the way to individual troops. The game’s graphics will adjust as you do this so as to reduce the demands on your rig. In Wargame, it feels very seemless.

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My only complaint is that players are more likely to stay zoomed out since they need to see large portions of the battlefield. This means they typically don’t watch the up-close combat, which can be very fun to watch. The developers tried fixing this in Red Dragon by giving an up-close view of units you have selected, but the results are a bit mixed.

As for the new setting. The new Asia-Pacific theme brings several new countries into the fold, including China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. That’s in addition to the NATO and Soviet block. Like previous games, the differences between the different nations seem minuscule at first, yet the differences will become more noticeable as you keep playing. Each player will eventually find which country fits them best.

As for the single player campaign, it’s only so-so. The developers tried finding a middle ground between what they did with the two previous games. What happened is it’s better than Airland Battle, but many players say it’s not as good as the first game in the series (European Escalation) which was more linear. The AI can be pretty difficult, but most players looking to play alone will just go for individual scrimish missions.

The real draw to Wargame, however, isn’t in single player. It’s in multiplayer. There are matches from 2v2 to 10v10, and where each player is deploying whatever hordes of units they’ve chosen for their decks. Every match is epic. Newer players can also join the larger battles without looking too noobish. My recommendation to new players: just hold ground and watch how your allies launch their attacks.

One of the main things that makes Wargame unique from other real-time strategy games is the fact games are typically won by winning a set number of points. These points are awarded by killing enemy units, and the number of points coincides directly with how much each unit costs. So players rushing in carelessly can quickly lose the game for everyone.

Red Dragon takes the point system a step further with a morale system. Basically if you’re killing or stressing out an enemy, and they aren’t able to do much to you in return, their military will start to lose morale. Once their morale drops to a set point, you win. I personally really liked this element. There were times in the previous game, Airland Battle, where I would hammer the enemy only to come to a draw once the match timer ran out. This feature does more to award players for doing well.

All in all, Wargame: Red Dragon is a very technical yet very fun. I highly recommend it for anyone who is into multiplayer real-time strategy games, but come in knowing it is likely very different from any other RTS you’ve played before. The game is also very complex, so players new to the series should come in expecting to take some time to learn the ropes, and the in-game tutorials require a lot of reading. My recommendation for new players is watch a couple basic tutorial YouTube videos and stick to 10v10 maps until you learn the ropes. If you get past the initial hurdles, you won’t be disappointed.

Wargame: Red Dragon is available for PC on Steam now for $39.99

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