My two loves are military history and video games, so I’ve been especially excited about the return to history with shooters like Battlefield, Call of Duty, and more. Verdun came around in 2015 as a realistic WWI shooter, a concept that was loved for realism but doubted for its goal of engaging trench warfare gameplay. Though Verdun hardly outsold the WWI set Battlefield 1, it performed and reviewed well. Now the successor sequel, Tannenberg has hit Early Access with a focus on the more open warfare of the Eastern Front of WWI.
The setting of Tannenberg is almost as refreshing as the first entry, Verdun, was. The Eastern Front was an interesting blend of open warfare that contrasted with the stuffy trenches of Verdun. Russians, Austro-Hungarians, and Germans clash in larger fields and dense woods with just the occasional trench.
This gives Verdun a whole new feel in gameplay. One bullet can still put you down, so tactics and caution still take precedence over CoD running and gunning. But the open feeling feels more like Battlefield 1, in a good way. I can peer over a hilltop into woods full of movement, decide that I can’t get a shot and sprint across an open field for a flanking approach, as pops of fire ring out from the tree-line.
Speaking of flanking, the sector-based maneuver mode is absolutely wonderful and an authentic mechanic. Eight or so sectors fill the map with multiple approaches to each, and sectors directly border each other so you don’t have constricted control points to the degree of Battlefield. This system leads to glorious charges to spearhead a push to an enemy sector as well as sneaking flank attacks by three sharpshooters around the border of sectors.
The various maps feel both realistic and almost boring in some sense. It might be that they feel so real that they are almost mundane. The best aspects are the forests, they are beautiful and tactical. It certainly isn’t much of a mark against the game as the maps did feel like I could go and visit them, but they didn’t wow me either.
The infantry and weapons are certainly the highlights of the presentation of the game. I will frequently reference Battlefield 1 as a comparison and here is no different; Battlefield 1 may have plenty of prototype and rare guns in regular play that break immersion, but they pay great attention to get the sounds and reload animations perfect. The attention to detail is amazing and Tannenberg takes great pains to get that right too.
Weapons look great, though there admittedly isn’t a great variety of them. This makes perfect sense in the historical focused Tannenberg as we see sensible loadouts of bolt-action rifles that would have been the usual loadout of the war. The reload animations cancel if you crawl or sprint, and if you don’t complete your reload before you move, sometimes your weapon won’t fire. This happened a few times to me for a frustrating but completely authentic kill.
The sound effects feel good in respects to the guns but not much else. The pop and crack of the bullets put you in the warzone as well as the sound of the metal bolts sliding. A firing line of you and your squad is a great sound, but when artillery starts raining down on your position the sound (and the shells themselves) is very hit and miss.
Occasionally I heard some whistling of the shells, but often that was missing. The thud and booms of the artillery landing were very underwhelming and disappointing. I often just failed to get a good sense that I was caught in a barrage. Lastly, in regard to sound, you can turn up gore settings to high which introduces sounds of wounded and dying soldiers.
The screams and moans sure sound realistic, but in a game, it seems overdone, mildly disturbing and drowns out even the sound of artillery. Again, this is an optional setting, but I saw little gore but a lot of screams and gurgles that were certainly distracting, and disturbingly realistic.
The pacing of Tannenberg feels good when you get into a map full of real players. The tactics and time-to-kill are akin to a Rainbow Six game but pushed into an environment comparable to Battlefield maps in size. The sectors feel different from each other and the borders make sense as they are often the spots of covering ridges or trenches or feature a useful artillery emplacement in the center.
In a memorable moment, I came to a line of crouched teammates taking careful shots across a narrow river. I joined in the clash of about 40 troops battled in a war of attrition with no crossings even dared. I lead the way through some woods to the enemy flank with one random teammate and found a view of half the enemy all lined up and facing away from me. I believe the two of us took out at least ten of the enemy before we were killed. When I respawned I discovered that the assault helped our team breakthrough. The pride was real.
Though I appreciate the dedication to bolt action, there is a bit of a lack of any real variety. I haven’t spotted any rifle scopes at all. I know that they were far from common still during WWI, but they weren’t prototypes. Scopes were even used on occasion in the American Civil War, surely a few guns in Tannenberg would have a scope. The officers also just get a revolver as a main weapon. Though cool, handguns really were a last resort option in war and even an officer would grab himself a good rifle. At least the few machine gun emplacements are sufficiently lethal to face and satisfying to fire.
A highlight of the maneuver mode concept is that you’ll never be truly alone as AI bots fill empty spaces. Though this concept works fine if five or so bots fill in for the 64-player matches, the game really breaks down when you get more than about 15 bots. The AI is both terribly stupid, but also able to see and hit you through a dense screen of bushes.
This bot problem is magnified by the difficulty of finding a match more than half full of players. I keep odd hours but it seemed that even at peak evening times I got one or two full matches before bot swarms kicked in. Playing early in the day left me with three or four real players each just dominating the AI in the sector they were in. I love the idea, and the real names of the bot players are good for immersion, but the execution of it is lacking. Still a solid mechanic for a few bot fillers in a 64-player match.
For its price, Tannenberg provides a great sense of how battle on the Eastern front may have actually been. The graphics, gameplay, and realism are all great for the price, especially as budget shooters so often get thoroughly outclassed by the AAA shooters such as Battlefield. The Early Access is stable and more importantly, the developers care deeply and listen to their fans, so I have faith that frequent updates are on their way.
While I do love history, especially in my games, I also like solid and entertaining gameplay. For that reason, I still gravitate towards the faster pace and exciting moments such as bringing down a behemoth in Battlefield 1 and no matter the real use, it’s fun to run around with machine guns.
Battlefield is easily more entertaining and cinematically beautiful, but Tannenberg is frequently more satisfying and fulfilling. Tannenberg certainly deserves a spot in a FPS rotation for most tactical players, and hopefully, more people get the message and fill up the servers.
- Amazing authenticity
- Tactical gameplay with mass pushes and small-scale teamwork
- Satisfying 64-player gameplay
- Misses a good bit of excitement and enjoyment of the mainstream FPS games out there
- Historical authenticity that occasionally hamstrings variety and excitement
- Lackluster artillery, variety, and maps