Scourge of War: Waterloo – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Excellent AI, high historical accuracy, high replay value, highly flexible.
Failed Basic: Steep learning curve (reading the manual and playing the tutorials are required), high price compared to other games in the series.
Scourge of War: Waterloo (Scourge: Waterloo) is another superlative entry into the Scourge of War series of real-time strategy (RTS) games by Norb Development Software. Unlike the other games in the series that focused on the American Civil War, with battles like Gettysburg, Brandy Station and Chancellorsville, this game examines the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. (The battle’s 200th anniversary was on June 18; Slitherine’s Twitch channel carried a live, hour-by-hour presentation of the clash, using this game to simulate it.—Editor)
Historical Context for Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on June 18, 1815, between a veteran French army of some 70,000 men led by the Emperor Napoleon and an Anglo-Allied army of about 67,000 led by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. Wellington’s army was reinforced late in the battle by around 48,000 Prussian troops led by Field Marshall Gebhard von Blucher.
Napoleon returned from exile on Elba and entered Paris on March 20 to resume control of France, starting the so-called One Hundred Days. Five days later Britain, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, and the German States formed the Seventh Coalition and declared war on France with the goal of removing the Emperor from power once again.
By the end of May French forces totaling about 250,000 men faced allied forces of some 850,000 men on four fronts. Napoleon, seeing that a defensive war was a losing proposition, decided to launch a preemptive strike into Belgium to defeat in detail the Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies and then take Brussels, in hopes of swinging the francophone Belgians to his side.
The campaign started on June 15 when the French Army of the North crossed the border. On June 16, the French defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Ligny, driving them east. On the same day, they also defeated the British at the Battle of Quatre Bras, pushing them north. Napoleon had now taken the “strategy of the central position” and moved to defeat the Anglo-Allied forces himself while he dispatched Marshal Grouchy to follow the Prussians with 33,000 men and prevent them from rejoining with Wellington’s army.
June 18, 1815, dawned grey and rainy. Napoleon had to wait until the battlefield dried out to start the battle. The French were on the offensive for most of the day and had managed to force the allies out of position on their left and center. At about 5:45 the Duke of Wellington knew he was in trouble and said: “Give me night or give me Blucher.” Fortunately for the allies, Blucher’s Prussians attacked the French right at about 6:00 PM and the French, unable to continue the fight and with their units depleted all along the front, began to rout.
Wellington went on to call the Battle of Waterloo: “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”
(For more information on the historical Battle of Waterloo, see Col. (RET) Jerry D. Morelock’s “Battle of Waterloo Summary Analysis and Assessment for the 200th Anniversary.”)
Waterloo, the Game
Scourge of War: Waterloo’s graphics are striking, as we have come to expect from the SoW games. However, and oddly, the graphics are optimized from Windows 7, not Windows 8 or 8.1 (I had to go in to the .exe files and change the compatibility setting for my 8.1 machine). The details, from the soldiers’ uniforms, to the trees and construction of the buildings are all here and all gorgeously rendered. The terrain of the battlefield is also done in painful detail; every wall, fold in the ground, and piece of shrubbery seems to be replicated in the game. One small issue with the graphics is that the black-powder smoke dissipates much faster than it would in nature, knocking the realism level of the game down a bit.
The sound design is also excellent with everything from the snap of the flags, to the shouts of the men, to the roar of the cannon being replicated.
Players have a good deal of freedom in what they see and don’t see on the battlefield. Having difficulty seeing your soldiers in the woods? A couple of keystrokes lets the player thin the trees out as much, or as little, as desired.
A well-done, new feature of Scourge: Waterloo is that soldiers can occupy major buildings and gain defensive bonuses from them, notching up the realism of the game.
All players should read the excellent game manual and then play the brief tutorial scenario before attempting to play the game. The learning curve is Matterhorn steep, and diving right into the game, even for experienced SoW players, could be frustrating.
There are seven pre-set difficulty levels: Untrained, Militia, Normal, Seasoned, Veteran, Historical, and Grognard. The player can also customize a difficulty level. At lower difficulty levels, the player can move the camera freely around the battle area and give orders directly to units, much like in other RTS games. They player may delegate as much or as little of the unit management as desired to the AI, such as targeting and facing. At Historical and Grognard level the player’s view is limited to only what his avatar in the game might see from horseback. These are the Headquarters in the Saddle (HITS) levels of play. Also, at these levels the courier system of issuing orders, where a rider is dispatched from the general to the subordinate unit, is used, requiring more thought and planning from the player. These levels heavily depend on the friendly AI to perform unit management functions.
Fortunately, the AI is outstanding. The friendly AI does an excellent job of managing the players’ units based on the orders given. Meanwhile, the enemy AI is a great opponent and is relentless in seeking the advantage, even at lower difficulty settings.
The game has 20 historical scenarios, 10 played from the French side and 10 played from the Anglo-Allied side. They range from brigade-sized up to army-sized. The game has a sandbox mode, which is virtually unlimited and includes simple unit-on-unit scenarios, all the way up to army-level campaigns. Further Scourge: Waterloo has 3 multiplayer scenarios built in and, of course, the sandbox is also multi-player capable. The multi-player is extremely robust and can support up to 32 players at a time.
Norb has given the user interface (UI) a major renovation from previous games in the series. This re-do of the UI is mainly that the buttons on the screen have been reduced and then replaced with a context-driven popup menu that appears above the selected unit’s flag. There are Standing, Destination, March, and Fighting menus, and which menus appear depends on what the unit is doing at that moment. These context-driven menus are a nice feature, significantly smoothing out the game-play.
The Bottom Line
Despite its relatively higher cost than other games in the series, ($49.99 vs $29.99) I still strongly recommend Scourge of War: Waterloo to every level of wargamer, from beginner to Grognard. The game system is supremely flexible and the game has nearly infinite replay value.
Armchair General Score: 96%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in History, European History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.