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Verdun review: A thoughtful, squad-based take on WWI

Hayden Dingman | May 19, 2015
It feels like they'll never stop coming. Through my rifle's oversized scope I watch German after German bob and weave across the battlefield, their spiked helmets popping up for mere instants before sinking back down into another crater, edging ever closer to our trench.

Even more appropriate: Earlier today I had three matches in a row fought to a draw. (Matches are on a 30-minute time limit.) If that's not an appropriate outcome for a World War I game, I don't know what is.

Now of course Verdun doesn't quite get across the true horror of World War I. A chlorine gas attack in real life is a bit more horrific than your screen turning red, and with only 32 players per game it doesn't quite capture the massive scale of hundreds of men charging a trench.

It's a decent simulacrum though, and the developers have done a fantastic job with other more game-y aspects.

The squad system is particularly inspired. I mentioned matches are capped at 32 players. Those 32 are then split into teams — Entente and Central powers — and then further subdivided into four squads per team.

It's not just an organizational thing like Battlefield, though. As a group, you'll choose what type of squad you want to be. For instance, on the Entente side you have the Chasseurs Alpins, the Canadians, the Tommies, and the Poilus. It's not just cosmetic. Each of these squad types has its own weapons, its own perks, and its own role to fill. For instance, the Tommies are focused on rifles. The Chasseurs Alpins are a recon unit, and the leader can call in a biplane to scout the enemy (like a World War I UAV).

The Central Powers have their corresponding factions, although in that case they're drawn from three different German groups rather than different nationalities.

It's a genius way to make your squad feel more like an important choice and not just a throwaway thing you join up with to spawn on people. And if you stick with the same squad for multiple games, your squad eventually levels up and progresses through the war — you'll unlock new uniforms, new perks, et cetera. Unfortunately this progress is lost when you quit the game, but again it's a great touch to make you feel like you're part of a squad and that being part of that squad matters, which is something Battlefield has historically been bad at.

In most games, finding a random crew of people you stick with and play multiple games with is the exception. In Verdun, it seems to be the rule. Most people seem to pick a squad and stick with it for the entire time they're online, which is impressive cultivated loyalty.

Now, the downsides. Like a lot of niche multiplayer shooters, the Verdun community isn't huge. On the one hand, that's why the community is so great — it's small and full of people who really like the game. On the other, I worry about how long Verdun will be around. As the weeks roll on, it's possible we'll see servers start emptying out. It's hard to predict that sort of thing.

 

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