The first name in hardcore digital wargaming is back with Gary Grigsby‘sWar in the East 2. I managed to get my hands on an early copy, so let’s dive in!
I’ve only spent a few hours with the sequel to the legendary strategy game that set the bar for historical accuracy and detail, but I can already tell you: our patience has been rewarded.
Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2 (we’ll just call it East 2 going forward) comes more than a decade after the launch of the original. That might seem like an inflated development period, but we’re talking about one of the most in-depth strategy games ever made.
East 1 has an almost storied appeal with war gamers. It’s typically considered the penultimate “hard to learn, harder to master, and hardest to stop playing once you get into it” kind of game.
There are dozens upon dozens of changes to the game ranging from new features to quality of life upgrades. Those familiar with the original should have no problem jumping right in, but there’s still a lot of new things to get used to.
It looks like air combat has been entirely redone. There’s now a separate air phase where you can either let the AI handle ops or play the “game within a game” of meta-managing your flying units. I didn’t play with this too much, but I really enjoyed having air recon inform my ground movements in-between turns. It feels a lot more natural.
Ground combat is also vastly improved. It’s hard to gauge exactly where the changes are in just a few hours of gameplay, but it certainly feels like terrain plays a much bigger role. It also seems like things are handled at a more granular level in the game engine, the result of which is that it feels like there are greater rewards for micromanaging every piece on the board.
However, amazingly, it also feels like you’re punished much less for not micromanaging as much. You can now toss off the majority of the logistics and air duties to the AI in order to concentrate on pushing your battle lines forward and seizing objectives. It feels like having a toggle switch for “beer and pretzels mode” or “victory now mode.”
Besides everything? East 2 has been lovingly crafted from the original. This isn’t a spin-off, new take, or conceptual re-imagining. It’s what happens when developers make a beloved game, set it free into the world for a decade, and then make improvements based on the feedback.
For starters, East 2 isn’t just smarter and faster, it’s much easier to navigate. In fact, there’s so many quality of life upgrades, I’d dare go so far as to call it accessible to beginners. And I’m not the only one. Wargamer’s Callum Bains said much the same in their preview article.
Of course, by accessible, that doesn’t mean you can just load it up and dive in like a game of Pac Man. The game comes with a 520-page manual that’s absolutely chocked full of info. It also comes with several quick-info sheets, links to video tutorials, and several introductory scenarios.
Perhaps the most interesting change in East 2 is the graphics. If you were expecting a complete overhaul to make it look sleek, modern, or fancy, you’re going to be very disappointed. The graphics are much more polished than the original’s, and they look great all the way up to 4K in my testing. But they’re decidedly retro now. I really dig the commitment to maintaining the original aesthetic while simultaneously making it workable in the post-standard-definition world.
East 2 isn’t a disco with a gold-plated mahogany bar and a giant dance floor, it’s a dive-bar where you come to drink whiskey and win wars. Nobody cares how expensive the stools are. In other words, it still looks like a spreadsheet in 2021 because that’s just how it’s supposed to look.
If you don’t let the lack of snazzy animations and tanks that look like tanks put you off, you’ll realize that East 2 isn’t conceding good graphics. It’s giving you everything you need to enjoy the deepest possible command experience a WW2 video game has to offer – and absolutely nothing else.
What’s the verdict?
So far, I haven’t encountered any bugs or problems with the game. And I’ve appreciated and enjoyed everything that’s new or different that I’ve come across. But it’s going to take dozens of hours, if not hundreds, for me to decide whether it truly surpasses East 1. For now, I’m content saying I believe it’s a worthy sequel that improves on the original masterpiece.
Gary Grigsby’s War in the East 2 is only available on the Slitherine/Matrix home site here, starting today.