I really liked what I played of hardcore indie shooter Verdun. It jumped the gun on the setting DICE had planned for Battlefield 1, and even when DICE showed that World War I could work for a mainstream audience, Verdun catered squarely to the hardcore crowd. As someone who avoids hardcore modes in Battlefield 1 (I’m not a big fan of incentivised camping), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Verdun (because, yeah, there was a lot of camping).
Fast-forward to more recent times and development duo M2H and Blackmill Games are promoting the Eastern Front follow-up to the Western Front Verdun with Tannenberg. Considering how I’m having a love-hate relationship with Battlefield 1 at the moment (mostly hate), I’ve been looking at Tannenberg for my World War I shooter fix. The problem is, if you’re only getting into Tannenberg now, well, you’ve come at the wrong time, alas.
My intention for this piece was to play Tannenberg over the course of a few months and comment on how it evolved, particularly because it was quite janky when it first hit Early Access. That’s okay for an Early Access title, and the fact that the potential was there from the outset —even if it felt derivative of Verdun (albeit with less incentivised camping)—was a positive sign. Clearly the community doesn’t feel the same way and, at the time of writing, Verdun has more players than Tannenberg. That’s telling.
What’s worse is that when returning to the Tannenberg in recent weeks, I was forced to uninstall it and download it again because of some kind of forced parity requirement between Verdun and Tannenberg. With unlimited internet, that’s more of an inconvenience than anything, but still a barrier to entry, more so for those players concerned about the ever-increasing requirements of bandwidth usage. The bigger concern, though, is the distinct lack of players (check out Steam Charts for reference). You can still play what amounts to a bot match in Tannenberg, but those bots range from seriously dumb to Vasily Zaytsev in terms of pulling off long-range dinks.
Hopefully, M2H and Blackmill Games can somehow entice players to come back and experience what I played when the game first hit Early Access. Naturally, when a game first becomes available is the time when there’s the most interest, but Early Access is a bit of a crapshoot for developers because a bad Early Access launch can turn a game with potential into a game with a Mostly Negative (or worse) rating on Steam that’s hard to recover from. This wasn’t the case with Tannenberg, which has a Very Positive overall rating on Steam (albeit curbed with a Mixed rating in terms of recent reviews).
In terms of my early experiences with Tannenberg, the learning curve is pretty intimidating out of the gate when you throw IRL players into the mix. It’s not just that you have to learn the maps and gameplay systems, it’s also that friendly fire is stuck in the on position and telling friend from foe isn’t always easy, especially at range. Such was my trepidation with not wanting to be one of those friendly fire noobs, I didn’t take a shot at anyone until they shot at me.
It’s a hell of a risk/reward in a game where one well-placed centre-mass shot will have you looking at the respawn map. Still, it worked well for me—for the most part; not so much in the KDR category—and, most importantly, I didn’t kill any teammates during those early rounds. What I did learn is that sprinting in straight lines is a really bad idea and a very quick way to head back to that respawn map. Trenches are great for avoiding incoming fire, but you shouldn’t spend too much time moving through them because you’re easy to hit when you can’t strafe. Not that, even out in the open, this is one of those shooters that promotes the ADAD dance to avoid incoming fire.
What Tannenberg does promote is a cool head, smart movement between cover, teamwork, and fantastic aim. After I started to get into the swing of things, I found that flanking was incredibly rewarding. There were times I was shot down immediately heading for a flanking route. But there were other times that I got beside or, better still, behind a large group of enemies. Giving away my position early proved to be a misstep. But holding my nerve for long enough reaped stealthier sniping opportunities, as I picked off flanked enemies when they were fighting with my comrades. Once spotted, though, all bets were off, and I was more reliant on my good aim (and their bad aim) to silence players who might otherwise call out my position.
Given the dumb AI and their insistence on predictable movement patterns, it’s not that hard to separate the computer-controlled grunt from the human behind the avatar. Like Verdun, Tannenberg is a game where killing more than one enemy per life is rewarding in more ways than just a personal sense of satisfaction and a positive move on the KDR front. Multiple kills open up new laneways of attack, and if you’re communicating with your teammates or generally moving as a squad, you can quickly exploit this for capturing more territory.
This is particularly noticeable in the main Maneuver mode (there’s also FFA and TDM, but they’re the deadest modes at the time of writing), where the frontline changes regularly (on evenly matched teams) and, at least in terms of my experience, rotates in more of a circular pattern than traditional forward and back tug-o-war. In other words, it was more like Battlefield than CoD Hardcore. It’s actually refreshing that the devs moved away from the forward/back momentum of Verdun and into more open warfare for Tannenberg, and doubling the player count from 32 to 64 is a great addition, too. It’s just a shame that the community isn’t there to experience the game as it improves.