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Posted on Jun 8, 2007 in Electronic Games

Theatre of War (pt.1) – Basic Training

Jim H. Moreno

Theatre of War
Walkthrough 1 (of 4)
Training Mission 1: BASIC TRAINING

This is the first in a series of articles based on the training missions included in Theatre of War. The goal is to explain the general game interface but also to highlight some of the tactical principles fundamental to understanding and enjoying a tactical WW2 ground combat game which, unlike so many other RTS games, involves more strategy than just “who can click faster wins”.

This first article covers some basic game mechanics such as how to select and move units, while the following three articles will dig deeper into tactical problems and how to solve them using realistic WW2 tactics (and how to execute them in the game).

The series will cover the following four training scenarios:
BASIC TRAINING
ASSAULT TACTICS PRIMER
DEFENSIVE TACTICS PRIMER
COMMAND & CONTROL

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Please note that all screenshots are taking from a beta version of the game, and do not necessarily represent the final release product. This is especially true for a lot of the english language in the beta at the time when the screens were taken.

The Basic Training mission consists of 5 individual mission objectives which the player has to complete one by one, while in the meantime learning and applying basic game functions, such as camera control, unit selection, movement and other commands. Since this is a training mission, none of the opponents really poses any threat, and in most cases they’re either only weakly armed or even entirely unarmed (or have no ammo).

Objective 1: move a small squad of Russian infantry soldiers to a machinegun emplacement, man the MG and issue firing orders to fight attacking German infantry.
Objective 2: sneak into position with two snipers and take out a German Anti-tank gun crew
Objective 3: Setup an anti-tank gun and destroy an approaching German tank, then capture an enemy tank and destroy an enemy recon element
Objective 4: order an artillery strike on a German trenchline
Objective 5: order an air strike on a German gun emplacement

We’re starting off with Lt. Dorofey Blokhin and his infantry squad. The goal is to move the squad to the MG position ahead and man the MG. Obviously that’s not too difficult to do since they just need to walk over, but again the goal in this training mission is to first teach the ain interface functions and conventions.

In Theatre of War, each soldier is principally moved individually by left-clicking either on the soldier figure, or also on the hovering icon above him. But this can get difficult to do in the heat of the battle for each individual soldier under your command, as there can be quite a lot of units on the map at the same time, so there are some additional group selection options available. You can click-and-drag a selection box around the units you’d like to choose for example. Or you can hold the SHIFT key and click on the units you’d like to group select one by one. Or, a special form of selection for infantry squads, is that you can double-click on the squad leader’s icon, thus selecting the entire squad (no matter where the individual soldiers are). After you select a group of units, you can also assign such a group to a specific Group key, and can then select the entire group, regardless of their location on the map, buy hitting the number key of the group.

After selecting the soldiers soldiers, simply right-click on the destination you want them to move to. As soon as you have more than one unit selected, the game is treating your selected units as a “formation”, and you can use any of the formation keys visible at the bottom of the user interface. With one click you could order the selected soldiers to advance in a line, or wedge, or no formation etc. By right-clicking and holding the mouse button you can change the facing of the formation at the target waypoint.

Formations automatically adjust to the terrain they travel, too. If a wall or house is in the way, the formation is adapted accordingly.

In the next step, we want to assign somebody to fire the MG. It’s a German MG-34, but that doesn’t matter, as units can capture and use enemy weapons in the game, provided that they have a Gunner skill which is high enough to make them use the equipment (the requirement is low for something like an MG, but much higher for capturing and using an anti-tank gun or tank for example)

As you can see from the interface above, the MG-34 requires a two-man crew to be fully operational, a gunner and a loader. This is indicated by the two empty “card” slots to the right of the ammo slot. You can use the gun with just one crewmember, but at a slower rate of fire, lower accuracy and other disadvantaged usually, depending on the type of weapon you’re using.

Select two soldiers to man the MG! This is done by selecting two guys (e.g. by holding the SHIFT key and left-clicking on their icons) and right-clicking on the gun. The cursor changes to a “door” icon to show that you are about to man the MG.

Choose good supporting positions for the other members of the squad. In TOW, soldiers will use the best cover available at or near the position they’re at automatically, but they will not move very far usually. There are two exceptions to that – when they’re panicked and disobeying your orders, or when you assign them a target to shoot at. Once you do that, units enter “attack” mode and will automatically move towards the target to improve their aim or get a line of sight.

As you can see in the screenshot, a German squad appeared down the road. Without needing any orders to do so, the Russian squad and MG open fire, as their “behaviour” has been to set to engage all units in sight. You can also instruct soldiers to hold fire if you want, of course.

The squad leader and one other soldier take cover behind the sandbags while I order one soldier with a submachinegun to run towards some tree cover on the left and engage from a shorter distance. Since TOW is using realistic battle distances and not, like most RTS games, shortened distances to compress the action into what is visible on the screen at any one time, it can be important to keep an eye at the abilities of the weapons your soldiers are using. In this example, a submachinegun is much less accurate at a distance over 50 meters than a rifle or mounted machinegun.

Distances, by the way, are shown in the upper right hand corner of the mini-map window, and indicate the distance from the selected unit to whereever the cursor is pointing to (in the above screen, the birch on the left is 13 meters away from the selected submachinegunner).

The Germans have no chance against the MG in the open…

…and within literally seconds it’s all over.

With the first task completed, a couple of snipers appear on the scene. Leaving the squad at the MG post, the next task is to sneak the snipers forward on their own and take out a German anti-tank gun located in the “tank graveyard” further down the road.

Covered by the stone wall, the snipers are ordered to move down the road quickly.

The enemy AT Gun comes into view briefly in the distance but soon is lost from view.

The snipers are passing the bodies of the unfortunate German squad (unfortunate to have been selected as cannon fodder for this training mission).

Approaching the T-intersection, I order the snipers to split to be able to attack the gun from two sides. That’s important because the anti-tank gun has an armored shield to the front which would make picking off the crew at a distance from the front a nearly impossible task. Even for a great sniper.

Talking about the ability of the snipers, all soldiers are individually rated for various types of skills in Theatre of War, and gain experience and improve their skills individually as well. This opens a very strong roleplaying element in the game which will be appreciated more and more as you move through the six main campaigns and will require more experienced soldiers.

From the two snipers, one is a top-shot with an extremely high marksman skill, great scouting ability and high intelligence, all skills needed to spot and shoot at targets and learn from it. The other sniper is a newbie in all areas, and I decide to use that sniper as bait, while master sniper Serzhant Timur Larlonov sneaks in for the kill unseen.

I order the newbie to crawl up the dirt road towards one of the burned out tanks littering the landscape, while Timur crawls to the left to get a good side shot from the tall grass field there.

[continued on next page]

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