Men of War 2 review: Fresh treads on a well-worn road

Men of War 2 is a welcome variation on the RTS genre.

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War never changes, and the way video game developers try presenting it in RTS games usually doesn’t either. Men of War 2, from developer Best Way, wants to be the exception here. Inventive twists on genre staples, strong map design, and an impressive number of modes mean Men of War 2 accomplishes that objective, even if a few interface and performance problems mar its record.

Small but mighty (changes)

Several tanks rolling across a dry desert

Men of War 2 looks mechanically similar to Company of Heroes 3 and other modern war RTS games. You’ve got your usual mix of artillery, vehicles, footsoldiers of varying kinds – regular infantry, sappers, engineers, and so on. If you’ve played any World War 2 RTS in the past decade or so, you probably know what to expect from Men of War 2’s basics, but it makes a small handful of changes to the formula and is much better for it. I mentioned them briefly in my 2023 preview, but spending more time with them across single- and multiplayer modes showed just how influential they are in giving Men of War 2 a strong identity of its own.

One major difference between Men of War 2 and the likes of Company of Heroes is the boundary system. Battlefields are divided between You and Them, with a line that shifts as one side advances their claim and removes opposing forces. That line determines who wins in some missions and multiplayer modes. Not every mission makes use of it, though even with traditional “go here and blow up X” objectives, it’s a handy indicator of where you should send your forces to avoid getting overwhelmed as the enemy makes their move.

Movement in these kinds of games is usually just a means to an end, a slog where you drag 500 soldiers and dozens of heavy vehicles across a too-large map before hauling them somewhere else after finishing whatever objective you set out to achieve. Men of War 2 makes movement and traversal an important part of everything you do, which comes with a refreshing double bonus of making almost every move you make important and cutting out a lot of boring downtime.

Multiple soldiers lying prone behind a broken stone wall in Men of War 2

Making the entire field a zone of combat instead of concentrating opposing forces in specific areas means any hill or road or valley could become a battleground. You have to adapt quickly, using inventive strategies and taking advantage of whatever environmental protection you might have to keep your soldiers safe, and there probably are plenty of ways you can use the environment, if you think hard enough. Men of War 2’s map design is excellent and pushes you to use even small dips in the land as part of your broader plan.

The other noteworthy departure from the genre norm is the option to control individual members of a battalion, in place of the usual setup where an infantry squad consists of 10 people who act in unison. Each soldier has their own supply of grenades or other useful items, and they all have access to the same abilities. Almost every scenario expects you to make smart use of these features and split battalions to handle threats, either by flanking enemy units or sending a lone soldier to lob a grenade at an incoming tank while the rest of their comrades deal with approaching footsoldiers.

The learning curve feels steep but it’s hard to overstate how satisfying it is when you manage to pull off a daring strategy. The downside is that having so many people to control in hectic situations gets overwhelming, a problem not helped by cluttered UI with icons that don’t really tell you what each button does. It’s too easy to click the wrong thing and ruin an entire plan, and even if you don’t, you need to move fast to keep on top of everything. You’ll probably want to tinker with keybindings and rely on your keyboard instead of using the mouse for this one.

Taking the field alone

A recon vehicle stuck in a swamp in Men of War 2

Men of War 2’s single-player side is impressive and expansive, and even though its five story campaigns are the star of the proverbial show, there’s a lot more going on here. RTS games don’t need strong stories, or even stories at all outside your mission briefs, but Best Way decided to try something different. They based Men of War 2’s campaigns on real events and people in a bid to make them seem more personal, and the result is a little mixed.

Three of the campaigns are the usual kind of thing you expect from World War 2 strategy games. One follows the Soviet Union forces as they attempt to repel the German blitzkrieg – and then to mitigate the damage the Nazi army caused. Another is the U.S. campaign is yet another version of the Normandy D-Day landings. That story is a bit tired at this point after dozens of retellings in games and film, but it works well enough as context to frame your actions here.

Then there’s the German campaign, which follows a small group of dissident Nazi military leaders who question Hitler, but do their best to preserve their country – and lives – whatever the cost. It’s the closest I’ve seen the genre come to actually portraying German soldiers like proper historians do and the kind of setup that forces you to think just a bit more deeply than the usual cut-and-dried morality we see in war stories.

An overhead view of a small European village in Men of War 2

It’s certainly a much better portrayal than Company of Heroes 3 with its odd choice of both sidesing the German campaign in Africa by comparing it with British imperialism. Not really the same thing!

Anyway, most of the actual narrative comes from a few paragraphs of exposition before your mission begins. The actual characters who make up your armies are pretty shallow, and there’s not a lot of narrative happening between missions. I don’t think the stories and characters are deep enough to elicit a sense of attachment or catharsis like perhaps Best Way was aiming for, but it’s a stronger and more thoughtful effort than most RTS games make.

Men of War 2’s other campaigns unfold in additional single-player modes, and you get a selection of trials to challenge, single-player raids with over a dozen missions, and more. It’s a robust selection of modes and plenty to keep you interested even if you never go online.

What's a little war among friends?

Tanks, planes, and soldiers on and above a snowy plain in Men of War 2

It’s clear Best Way sees Men of War 2’s online modes as the main focus, though, and not just because multiplayer is the default tab the game opens on. It feels like anything is possible on these larger maps, mostly because it is. That’s thanks in part to just how ridiculously big multiplayer matches can get. When you have several players spread across the map fighting over a small handful of capture points or pushing the frontline back and forth, things get fantastically hectic, very fast.

This is where adeptly issuing commands to the right units at the right time, smart deployment, and all those other strategies that you barely scratch the surface of in single-player campaigns really have a chance to shine. I mentioned in my preview that some of the seven available modes feel a little similar to each other, and I still think that’s true now. With time and freedom to play more than the quick hour I had in 2023, though, it’s less of an issue than I thought it would be. In Men of War 2, distinct objectives are less important than the route you carve on your way to accomplishing them, or they are for me anyway.

The unpredictability of what a human opponent might do, what deranged tactics they might use that you never dreamed of before, let alone considered how to counter, will always have an advantage over carefully scripted, computer-controlled opponents. That said, I’d maybe consider waiting to dive into the online components for a few weeks after launch. Long load times, stuttering performance, and occasional crashes marked my time with Men of War 2’s pre-launch version, and while I’m sure these issues will get patched out, they’re a bit frustrating.

Frustrations aside, Men of War 2 is a fresh and ambitious take on a genre that's usually comfortable staying the same. I wish I had more time to sink into its massive multiplayer matches, but even when I don't, I'm still pleased with how strong the single-player experience is. Sure, it doesn't require the same level of strategy as taking on a human opponent, but Men of War 2's inventive mechanics keep you on your toes anyway.


The publisher provided the copy of Men of War 2 used for this review. Men of War 2 is out now for PC via Steam.

Contributing Editor

Josh is a freelance writer and reporter who specializes in guides, reviews, and whatever else he can convince someone to commission. You may have seen him on NPR, IGN, Polygon, or VG 24/7 or on Twitter, shouting about Trails. When he isn’t working, you’ll likely find him outside with his Belgian Malinois and Australian Shepherd or curled up with an RPG of some description.

Review for
Men of War 2
8
Pros
  • Inventive variations on standard RTS features
  • Excellent map design
  • Ambitious selection of modes for single-player and multiplayer play
Cons
  • Weak characters
  • Confusing UI
  • Some bugs and performance problems
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