The 3DS is no stranger to war games, and CIRCLE Entertainment has been a particularly prolific profiteer, with World Conquerer 3D, European Conquerer 3D and this latest effort, Glory of Generals, all hitting the eShop within the last year. A turn-based strategy game set in World War II, Glory of Generals attempts to stand out from the rank and file by placing an emphasis on the historical figures who led the charges, and while it might provide a decent diversion for strategy-starved warmongers, plenty of problems make this a game best left in the annals of history.
There are two main modes in Glory of Generals: Campaign and Legion. Campaign mode acts as the main story, taking you through six turbulent years of World War II in four different areas: the Western Front, North Africa, the Eastern Front, and the Antarctic War. These areas each contain a number of individual battles and missions to fight through, and are unlocked sequentially; you’ll have to conquer the Western Front stages before moving onto North Africa, for example. There are also both Axis or Allies missions for each area, so you can experience the conflict from either side as you like.
Legion mode is actually quite similar to Campaign, and still contains the same four areas, though here you can jump right into any mission as soon as you’ve unlocked the region. The Legion mode battles are a mix of both actual engagements and pure fantasy — like the ‘Invasion of North America’ level — and let you choose to play as any general involved; you can live out the Battle of Normandy not only as the U.K., United States, Germany, or Australia, for example, but as Eisenhower, Montgomery, Rommel, or Blamey, among many others.
Whether you dive into Campaign or Legion, the basic gameplay remains the same, and will feel familiar to anyone who’s played a turn-based strategy game before: players act as commanding officer and move their units around a grid-based map of hexagonal sections, capturing cities, recruiting new units, and attempting to take out enemy forces in simple exchanges of damage. The specific victory conditions can change from stage to stage — you might be tasked with wiping out all opponents, taking over an enemy city, or holding your ground for a certain number of turns, for example — and these are spelled out before the battle in interesting pre-mission briefs, which help to give a bit of historical context and get you in the field marshal mindset. In a nice touch, each battle has both “Victory” and “Great Victory” conditions, with the latter providing a more challenging goal — such as winning in fewer turns, or defending more structures — for confident commanders.
On the field, interacting with your units is simple: tapping a troop will open up an overlay that highlights how far they can move and any enemies within range — tap on an empty space to send them there, or tap on an enemy to attack. Movement and firing range is determined by troop type, and there are quite a few to command over land and sea: from several flavours of infantry to armoured cars, light and heavy artillery to tanks of all sizes, rockets and destroyers to carriers and submarines, Glory of Generals boasts an impressive variety of units.
In addition to the different units on the ground, you’ll find several types of structures on the map, with uses ranging from recruiting units to performing espionage. Cities let you conscript infantry and artillery units, factories can churn out tanks and armoured cars, seaports assemble battleships and submarines, and airports let you scout out territory from above, order airstrikes or bombing raids within range, plunk down paratroopers behind enemy lines, or even hit the big red button to release a nuke.
On top of all that, foot soldiers can get into the creative spirit and build land forts, gun bunkers, radars, entrenchments, and anti-aircraft stations as they roam. Land forts let infantry deal more damage to armoured troops and battleships, as well as fire back at long-range artillery, gun bunkers give better firepower against infantry and block armoured troops, radar domes push back the fog of war, entrenchments provide protection for footmen, and anti-aircraft stations lessen the impact of enemy airstrikes.
Of course, all these tactical advantages cost money, and in the absence of captive taxpayers your resources in Glory of Generals come in the form of two currencies: gold and industry points. You’ll accrue a little of both each turn, based on the territory your troops are occupying at the time, and since different cities grant substantially different resource bonuses, there’s some strategy involved in planning out your route of conquest — Paris might be your goal, but a pit stop in Bruges could give you the boost you need to overwhelm the enemy when it counts. Likewise, it’s worth noting that the resource system tends to make comebacks extremely difficult; if you’re stranded with only a few pieces of territory under your control, and only a few units left to control them, trying to scrape together resources to recruit more troops is a nearly Sisyphean task.
One thing that might help turn the tide is calling in one of the game’s titular heroes: there are just over a hundred real-life commanders featured in Glory of Generals, from MacArthur to Manstein, and each one affords different bonuses to your troops. You can bring them into battle them by tapping on any unit and paying the required amount of medals (earned by completing missions), and they’ll appear instantly in that unit’s stead, taking on its type and ready to fight for your cause. And since, in this posthumous world of military fantasy, generals aren’t bound by their historical actions or allegiances, you can call on any general to aid any force; we got a last-minute boost on British soil when a time-travelling Tito helped us push back the German advance, and used the naval prowess of a turncoat Yamamoto to liberate southern France.
Unfortunately, while they’re ranked in power and differ in stats, there’s not much to distinguish each general from the next in terms of personality. Their dialogue is mostly the same — and dull at that — and there’s no way to learn more about their real-life exploits in game; you’ll have to head to Wikipedia for historical context. Generals also appear as computer-controlled, on-field allies, though here it’s sometimes hard to see how they earned their promotions; they can be very helpful, but we’ve also had a few that felt like they were sleeping on the job, and one whose steadfast refusal to move a cannon saw our forces trapped behind it for several turns.
Glory of Generals has some neat ideas. We liked dropping famous generals into our battles, for instance, and had fun with the ‘morale’ system, which sees troops gain a performance boost after defeating an enemy or when joined by a famous general, but at a disadvantage when surrounded or attacked from two sides. Unfortunately, it’s also plagued with problems, most of which stem from the same source: its systems are appropriately complex, but frustratingly opaque.
Terrain types, for example, are said to affect troop movement, though how exactly is never detailed, and it’s unclear if it has anything to do with attack power; since there’s some sort of random number generator at work behind the scenes each time you attack, it’s nearly impossible to tell. By the same token, each of the many different types of troops are strong and weak against other troop types, but the pairings are unexplained and sometimes downright unintuitive — we’ve watched dumbfounded as a single band of foot soldiers fell a painstakingly produced panzer almost instantly, and seen full-on rocket fire fail to make a dent in a jeep. Since there’s no way to tell what type of unit a troop is after recruiting it, aside from simply memorizing the sprites — there are no tooltips, names, or labels to remind you — and since each country’s forces have different artwork, working out strengths and weaknesses is often a moot point anyway. In theory, the wide range of unit types should lead to thrilling strategic gameplay, but in practice it feels like playing ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ with a random assortment of unrelated objects.
That prevailing sense of ambiguity extends to the interface as well. Each type of unit has several different stats, for example, but since the not-quite-iconic icons aren’t elaborated on, we couldn’t tell you exactly what they represent. Nor, for that matter, could the surprisingly scant digital manual; and while the two in-game tutorials might try, they’re incredibly poorly translated - “Troop can use supply to restore when suffered great loss” and phrases of its ilk will have you searching through a Chinese phrasebook for possible calques.
We also ran into one show-stopping crash in Legion mode that forced us to restart the 3DS, losing 28 turns of a particularly drawn out battle in the process. We originally thought the crash had cost us our previous progress as well, but eventually realized that was down to a different problem: the game’s frustrating lack of auto-save.
Finally, while the boardgame-like play seems perfectly suited to the 3DS’ touchscreen, Glory of Generals’ control scheme is almost aggressively unergonomic. The stylus is used to tap on troops and issue orders through menus, which works well enough, while moving the map is left to the Circle and D-Pads, with slightly different functions for each: the Circle Pad shifts the overview map on the top screen, and the D-Pad pans around the playing field on the touchscreen. Considering how often we needed to move the bottom screen, and how seldom we found ourselves doing anything with the zoomed-out map up top, we wish the two Pads’ roles were reversed; holding the 3DS with just your left hand — freeing the right for stylus control — is far less comfortable with your thumb oriented around the D-Pad. The ‘R’ button, meanwhile, is used to cycle through troops still awaiting orders - a convenient function assigned to an inconvenient button. Mapping it to the ‘L’ button instead would have allowed players to adopt the fairly common ‘one-hand’ hold used for stylus-based games, but as it stands the developers have crafted a control scheme that revolves around the D-Pad, the touchscreen, and the right shoulder button, a combination which we found almost impossible to juggle comfortably.
On the plus side, Glory of Generals is a decent looking release — the schoolroom-style map of European Conquerer 3D and World Conquerer 3D is replaced by a fun, hexagonally tiled playing field reminiscent of boardgames like Memoir ’44 or Settlers of Catan, with appealing artwork representing different types of terrain and structures. The troop sprites are fine, though they fare worse than the scenery thanks to their bare-minimum animation and movement: units will face left or right to fire, but don’t bother with diagonals. This leads to silly situations like tanks turning to the right to blast a battalion directly above them, or artillery appearing to pointblank their adjacent allies as they actually fire at an angle. Map scrolling is also sadly not as smooth as it could be, stuttering through areas with significant numbers of troops, and while the 3D effect looks nice, its presence is rather muted as the top screen plays host only to the overview map. Happily, an excellent audio accompaniment does at least give Glory of Generals some of the grandeur its title deserves; the soundtrack contains several thoughtfully-composed martial melodies, and the sound effects are nice and punchy.
Glory of Generals has a few things to show for its tour of duty: plenty of unit types, a huge roster of real-life generals for the historically inclined, and a veritable ton of content — with 60+ missions, some of which took us the better part of an hour, there’s plenty to see here. Unfortunately, not even the most devoted of war-gamers is likely to enjoy the experience for that long; opaque systems, a sense of randomness, and an annoyingly uncomfortable control scheme conspire to sink this ship long before the war’s won. Enthusiasts with the right expectations may enjoy marching around in Glory of Generals for a short while, but anyone looking for a satisfying strategy experience would be far better off battling in Advance Wars; if a World War II theme is a must, CIRCLE stablemate European Conquerer 3D is a better — and much cheaper — bet.