Steel Division : Normandy 44, A New Paradox / Eugen Game

Finally. Steel Division.

The info is still pretty sparse but it looks like Paradox Interactive, the studio who developed Hearts of Iron, Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Stellaris, are publishing a Tactical RTS WW2 strategy game developed by Eugen Systems. You might remember Eugen from RUSE and the Wargame series.

This is gonna be good. Here’s a few things that caught me eye in an otherwise sparse press release.

Steel Division : Normandy 44


This new game puts players in command of detailed, historically accurate tanks, troops, and vehicles at the height of World War II. Players can measure their tactical skills against several opponents in big multiplayer battles or against enemies in a challenging single-player campaign. Steel Division: Normandy 44 allows players to take control over legendary military divisions from six different countries, such as the American 101st Airborne, the German armored 21st Panzer or the 3rd Canadian Division, during the invasion of Normandy in 1944.

In the first paragraph we have the big points. This isn’t a cartoonish RTS (or so we hope). We’re looking at a distinct conflict mode. In addition we have multiplayer, 10 V 10, that might not suck. To have a game where I play an infantry platoon, someone else recon, a few guys running a platoon of Shermans, all going head to head in a multi kilometer map… This could be pretty awesome. Add to that a good single player campaign and man, I’m pumped.

The big question is how RTS will it be and how Tactical will it be? Is this Starcraft II in Normandy? Is it Combat Mission but with more people? I think a hybrid of the two is likely. It’ll have to be real time, decently fast paced, and lots of action. As long as a platoon of Shermans don’t drive up to a platoon of Tigers and they duke it out at point blank range until the hitpoints are gone, then I’m fine.

Command Over 400 Historically Accurate Units

Whether fighting for control in intense multiplayer battles with up to 10-vs-10 players going head-to-head, playing alone or working with friends in ranked matches, players will need to coordinate their selection of historically accurate infantry, tanks, aircraft, and support vehicles to counter enemy units in this Tactical RTS game.

It looks like not only do we go in playing the unit we want, but we have to coordinate it. I’m picturing a research tree where I push my pixel troops down the path of a heavy armor platoon and as time progresses I might move into Tiger II’s for example. So now I can get with my buddies and all pitch into a game where the tactics make sense. Hopefully they can balance it so there’s actually a reason to have recon, infantry, and not just heavy armor or whatever the meta is for that week.

The ranking part is very interesting. Are we seeing a new e-sport emerging? This is the most popular niche, right?

Real-world Tactics

Battles rage over three distinct phases, where different units unlock over time, mimicking the movements of real-world armies and adding variety to the ever-changing theatre of war. A dynamic front line illustrates the ebb and flow of the conflict. Pin down your opponent’s infantry to gain the advantage and force a retreat, or push through with a perfectly executed plan

There’s a lot being said. How real world is this? I gave Syrian Warfare a ding because it felt less like a tactical game and more like an RTS. Are my troops going to dive behind a hedge when fired and maybe not charge into the machinegun nest and die?

The phases interest me as it adds another layer. I’m curious if it’s what, recon? Supply? Engagement? Ideally it offers a team decision and not just one “commanders” push of a button.

Using the latest version of Eugen’s IRISZOOM engine, players can smoothly zoom from a tactical aerial view all the way down to a single unit, and see 400 different real-world vehicles and units designed with careful historical detail and accuracy. Maps are designed based on actual aerial reconnaissance photos of Normandy in 1944, requiring real-world tactics and strategies to cover and control.

Sounds cool eh? My only concern is that engagement ranges will be ridiculously short. On one hand it’s not fun to get sniped across a map by a pack of Jagdpanthers, yet on the other you shouldn’t have charged across that open field with your Stuarts. The terrain will likely dictate closer ranges but if I want to have a big armor brawl hopefully I don’t need to get my tanks with 100 meters of the enemy to fight. Same with an MG team covering a road. It should be a realistic line of fire.

It’ll be pretty cool to get the cinematic effect of zooming in, watching the action, and seeing a single soldier react and respond. Those are the moments that really make Combat Mission and Graviteam for me. Hopefully this game can do the same.

The Paradox forums are already awash in requests for more units, more theaters, and “Normandy? Really?” This is one of my pet peeves, but on the plus side I know that Paradox will release a base game and then iterate on that. Hopefully we’ll see everything from early war Wehrmacht to Italian soldiers to the Afrika Corps.

My Worries

A few things I’m concerned about.

  • Combat ranges being clownishly short. If a player can drive a battleship right next to the beach in Normandy and fire at a machine gun unit… well it’s ahistorical and just goofy. RTS’s have been kind of crap like that for me.
  • A Meta that is unrealistic. In any multiplayer game people find what works and the maximize that. If everyone can take Tiger II’s and Pershings the game will get stale. Either there should be a points system so if you want those Tiger’s you can get them, but you’ll lack on infantry, or a cap to prevent that.
  • Dumb troops. If my units blindly charge into a machinegun nest and then just shoot at it until the hitpoints are gone, well, that’s shit too. That machine gun nest not only kills the enemy but also denies a path of movement. Instead of it offering an interesting tactical challenge it just becomes a meatgrinder.
  • It better have a “best shot” or “awesome moment” capture at the end of the game. I like this in Overwatch, lemme see that Sherman getting in a perfect keyhole shot at 500 meters on the Panther. Best of all, show everyone else how awesome it is too. It helps condense the chaos of the RTS combat into a cinematic moment at the end.

I have high hopes. I’m sure we’ll see more content in the coming weeks and a release date that’s not far off. I’ve lamented that the world needs Combat Mission with Graviteams realism all coupled with Paradox’s high production values and DLC. Maybe we’ll just get it.

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Gamer, Author, Engineer, Dad.


  1. Richie

    Enjoyed reading this Casey, especially since, like you, I am also patently awaiting a game that mixes graviteam and combat mission with a high budget and a visual wow factor! I’m currently replaying men of war but and although I’m enjoying watching my battles play out, I’m again reminded of how stupid AI are in such games. My soldiers shouldn’t run head first into machine gun nests or stand in front of a panzer waiting to be gunned down. I want them to seek cover, or use common sense such as scavening some ammunition for themselves. Hopefully steel division will give us both smarter AI, adding some much needed realism, and some aesthetic battles to replay after the carnage.

    • Casey

      Great point on seeking cover. I like a tactical AI that’s sharp enough to know when I’m being dumb. There should be a self preservation mechanic coded in. Sure you might get an occasional hero, but for the most part the troops should just stay behind cover. Or run. Run from the big mean tank.

      It’s like that first time in Combat Mission when you try to run troops like a regular RTS and watch as they are mowed down in the middle of an orchard in Normandy. The survivors scatter and are on the verge of breaking for the rest of the mission. Lesson learned!

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