Ubisoft’s free-to-play push saw big things happening in 2013 with the likes of The Settlers Online seeing rapid growth and new launches ANNO Online and Silent Hunter Online bringing innovation to the browser in ways that smaller publishing teams simply couldn’t compete with. This success looks set to continue in 2014 with the eventual launch of Might & Magic Heroes Online and the recently revealed Panzer General Online, currently undergoing a closed beta testing phase.
Panzer General Online follows the same formula as many of the above mentioned franchises in that its transition from retail model to free-to-play sees the core essence of the Panzer General experience untouched. Since its debut in 1994 Panzer General has regularly been cited as a pioneer for turn-based strategy titles, and here in Panzer General Online that is unlikely to change as Ubisoft forcefully drive online competition with small scale skirmishes.
The current version of Panzer General Online begins with the player undergoing a brief series of tutorial missions. The core rules are taught through a ‘boot camp’ mission and subsequent specialist mechanics – related to specific units and rules – follow shortly thereafter. It’s not long until you’re up-and-running however, hitting the campaign and eventually taking the fight to other players.
The core mechanics of Panzer General Online, as a turn-based strategy videogame, see you employ the unique strengths and weaknesses of your units in conjunction with special cards in order to push across the battlefield and take out enemy troops. You have a limited number of Command Points and each card requires a specific amount to use, so employing strategy quickly becomes a case of judiciary management of resources within that Command Point allowance. Each turn is divided into phases – Action and Advancement – resulting in a swift back-and-forth between players. The winning team is that who either depletes the enemy’s Command Point allowance or destroys all of their units, so conservative use of your own pool while attacking enemy bunkers to deplete theirs is key to victory.
Even at this early stage Panzer General Online has all the essentials in place. The rules are easy to learn and lead to some keen improvisation of strategy, all unit information is clearly displayed on the panel above – Hit Points, Attack and Counter Attack statistics – and the variety of cards is welcoming, if limited. The videogame is also built to accommodate the usual array of free-to-play conditions from its currency system to daily rewards; already in place and clearly undergoing a balancing process prior to the need to monetise the videogame.
Panzer General Online plays the part of a free-to-play videogame designed by a team that has the benefit of hindsight. Building upon that which has gone before to ensure that Ubisoft remain a trendsetter in the field, browser based gaming it proving to be a commanding concept once again. A welcoming visual design, fast-paced combat and very low hardware requirements; Panzer General Online is casting a very wide net for strategy videogame fans.