It’s the difficult third album for Wargame. I have spent a huge amount of time playing Airland Battle so Red Dragon promising the same game plus loads more stuff seemed perfect to me. Sadly I like to spend most of my time building decks. Looking through the vast amount of detail that Wargame packs into it’s ever increasing roster of units. If it’s detailed stats you want, Wargame will deliver in spades. And Red Dragon has added loads of new units to play with. The first time I went into the deck builder to get to grips with the new stuff I instantly noticed the welcome changes to the specializations you can choose for your decks.
The basic premise is that the more restrictions you place on your deck the more benefits and bonuses that deck will receive. For instance selecting units from only a single nation limits you to only that nation’s units but also allows you access to their powerful prototype units. And that remains the same from Airland Battle except the time period in Red Dragon is later so the prototype units are less pivotal – but still formidable. And Red Dragon has added allegiances such as the Commonwealth which give you access to many nations at once, allowing much greater freedom when creating an army.
To build a deck you must select which units you want in each of the nine unit types. You can have a maximum of 5 cards in each (each card representing different amounts of units to deploy in battle depending on their type and stats) and with each consecutive card of the same type you choose the cost of activation points will go up. For example the first slot in Infantry costs 1, the second, third and fourth 2 and the fifth 3. That is assuming you build a standard deck without any specializations.
Limiting a deck to a specific time period in Airland Battle used to grant a unit count bonus. So, for example you could only have units from the 80’s but you’d get loads more to deploy in battle. In Red Dragon limiting a deck’s time period will instead give you more activation points to spend on unit cards, but doesn’t increase the available slots in each. Limiting an army to a specific type, such as Airborne or Mechanized Infantry, conversely allows you more cards for a type of unit but greatly limits your choice of units. It’s all very balanced and takes much more thought to get a deck right than before.
The alterations between Airland Battle and Red Dragon make activation points all the more important. Firstly you can only have 5 units of each type unless you specialize which means you have to consider a far more balanced approach when building a deck. It’s not possible anymore to select the British, fill the deck with all our best tanks (which are arguably the best on the game) and then use the spare activation points to fill in the blanks. You will likely have activation points spare after you have all the units you want so spending those last points can now cause a real dilemma.
Much to my surprise the naval units don’t cost you any activation points at all. Standard decks get to choose five cards and with a specialization that can be increased. Most of the time the standard amount will be more than enough. If you choose to play a naval map this will be the only selection you can have, with a few planes and other units thrown in to make sure you can have a full army on the naval only maps. But the split maps that can have naval units as support units are by far the best way to use them. The entirely naval maps don’t really work. But zooming in and viewing a blockade of ships firing their cannons at ground units as your infantry advances is a sight to behold – in a way that can only be achieved on Wargame.
Red Dragon ensures that specializations are more important than before. They can radically change a deck now and you get the feeling that they really do change an army so that it reflects your chosen specializations. Combined with the increased unit count it’s possible to spend hours getting your deck right, even if you’ve played Airland Battle and know most of the units.
Outside of skirmishes and deck building the campaign has taken a bit of a hit. There aren’t quite as many features as Airland Battle offered and the alterations to deck building and new units make little to no baring on the campaign. If, for some reason, the campaign is your main draw to Wargame you’re honestly probably better off with Airland Battle.
Switching online there’s not much to say, and that’s a good thing. Maps load quickly and I ran into no performance issues on my travels. I got thrashed a couple of times but Red Dragon performed admirably all round even on the epic 10 v 10 maps. They really do bring a whole new scale to Wargame. Having 10 different decks can create some radically different teams and even further emphasises Red Dragons improved deck building.
Under the hood Eugen System’s IRISZOOM V4 is hard at work and looks as good as ever. The detailing on each of the 1,200 units is incredible, again. Nothing has been missed, overlooked or rushed. The environments and particle effects are as stunning as ever too. Environments move, react and change from the battles that rage around them. And there’s no other RTS that looks quite like the IRISZOOM when you zoom in, the camera locks on and you follow a unit of tanks as they tear across a field, booming and shaking as they destroy the enemy only to then be destroyed by a ground attack bomber.
How much you enjoy Red Dragon really comes down to what you get from Wargame. For those who enjoy playing online Red Dragon offers truly massive online maps to wage war on. But the campaign is probably better on Airland Battle, or at least offers more options. The naval battles are strange on their own but the ships add another satisfying layer to standard gameplay if used as coastal support.
The changes to the deck builder are all welcome and now you really have to consider your options when building. It’s not just a two minute job with one tricky decision at the end anymore, you really have to think it through right from the start. The gameplay, visuals and UI’s remain largely unchained which, for me at least, was again welcome but some might feel that Red Dragon doesn’t really feel like a full release. If you want Airland Battle with new units, new factions, new maps, improved deck building, naval warfare and increased multiplayer match sizes then Red Dragon is exactly that. Thankfully everything else has been left unchanged and Red Dragon feels very much like a true Wargame title. Red Dragon is another great addition in this amazing RTS franchise.