I’ve played a lot of games centred around World War II. I’ve fought through Stalingrad in first-person shooters, fought over the hedgerows of France in strategy games, and braved the torpedoes of a destroyer escort in numerous naval simulations.
But I’ve never come across a game that sounds quite like Burden of Command before.
Burden is a tactical leadership RPG. Sure, there are units to move about, and yeah, you’re controlling your company over a map of sorts to achieve your objective – but it’s not about fire and movement. Rather, your challenge is to navigate the moral decisions of leading soldiers in a time of war.
Psychology, and how you deal with your own, and your soldiers’, is just as important as tactics. The morale and stress levels of your troops are all tracked, but what you do matters just as much. You can develop distinct mindsets for both you as the company leader, and your company. As a leader, the mindset you begin with is how you thought during peacetime; you may be Compassionate, which means your men will suffer less casualties, for instance.
But as you fight through Europe, those mindsets could change, or become reinforced, with a subsequent effect upon your unit and its performance.
Psychology, and how you deal with your own, and your soldiers’, is just as important as tactics.
The developers give an example how you react to a sergeant, broken by artillery fire, who may be about to fire at you, and lead his squad into action. Shooting him ups your Zeal, but you lose the soldier. Just telling him to stop boosts your Idealism, but could lead to morale loss and casualties, while knocking the rifle out of his hands leads to a lack of trust in the unit, but an increase in your Cunning. Effectively, the choices you make during – as well as before and after a battle - shape you and your men.
It’s these random RPG events that give a greater sense of immersion into the tactical aspect of the game. Some events may end battles early, or lead to a greater chance of success, but you never know when they’re going to happen – and there’ll always be a price to pay later.
The game’s inspired by real events, as explored in the book ‘American Courage, American Carnage’, by Professor of History John C McManus, and makes extensive use of photographic material from the US National Archives – much of which has never even been seen before, let alone used to illustrate a game. All the maps are based on period reconnaissance and Google Maps, while the game’s team includes serving and ex-military. And more modern influences include series like Band of Brothers.
Building upon the legacy of games such as Steel Panthers and Squad Leader (yes, the classic hex-based wargame, cardboard counters and all!), Burden of Command looks like it’s trying to introduce something wholly new in the annals of WW2 strategy games.