In the sea of Dotas and Team Fortresses and Counter-Strikes, it’s easy to forget one of Valve’s finest multiplayer games to date: Day of Defeat: Source. A World War II shooter that effortlessly balanced the speed of Team Fortress with the tactics of Counter-Strike, Valve sadly forgot all about it not long after launch, and it never progressed into the massive, chart-topping successes its other games are.
The players didn’t forget though; you can still find plenty of people having at it. Its cult status has also spawned Days of War, a spiritual successor that borders on flat-out remake by Driven Arts. As a long-time DoD player whose spent many hours listening to in-game radio stations on 24/7 map servers, I had a bizarre pang of emotion loading Days of War up for the first time. It was like putting on a pair of comfy slippers, except those comfy slippers have had one hell of an upgrade.
Days of War is basically Day of Defeat in 2017 if Valve hadn’t left it to rot.
For those who’ve never set foot in a Day of Defeat game before, Days of War is difficult to describe. Being an infantry-focused game it doesn’t have the scale of Battlefield, but it also doesn’t lean into the realistic, hardcore nature of the likes of Day of Infamy. The way I always described DoD:S was “it’s Counter-Strike but with less waiting”, and while that is heckin’ reductionist, I think that it still applies to Days of War. It walks a tightrope, with its smaller maps and quick respawns working well with the low HP and weapon recoils to give the game a quick, tense, but not unsurmountable or intimidating challenge.
Days of War doesn’t really change the formula much from Day of Defeat, instead it simply adds a whole load of new stuff on top of it. A whole host of classes with different weapon loadouts are available, from the old favourites such as Assault, Support and Sniper to some original ideas like the shotgunner and the ‘specialist’. I’m not quite convinced that the classes original to Days of War and not inspired by DoD add a whole lot, though; I don’t quite get what the specialist class can do that assault can’t, for instance. While that may be more of an interface problem with teaching the player how the game works with indecipherable bar charts, it could equally be the result of Driven Arts so rigidly sticking to its inspiration.
Day of Defeat was balanced around a small number of loadouts, so taking those systems almost verbatim and chucking a load of new kits on top of it feels redundant. Some more, well-defined specialisation of the different loadouts, a-la Battlefield, would go a long way to make the new additions feel exciting.
The maps, though, show that Driven Arts totally and entirely gets how the average match flows. Days of War is all about the rush of infantry, holding down choke points as hordes of enemies try to blast their way through. It’s in your face, it’s dynamic, and the tightness of the maps is key to keeping the targets pouring in. All the maps I’ve played have mixed up enclosed spaces, decent sniper spots and multiple fronts to fight on without feeling particularly unbalanced for either team. There aren’t many maps in at this early stage, and one of them is a direct and faithful remake of the fan-favourite Day of Defeat map, Donner, but the original maps really set the bar high for future updates.
One feature I haven’t had the chance to try out quite yet are scheduled, 100-player events. These run for limited times, with the first one scheduled for February 3-5. I’m pretty excited to try this out, as carving through groups of deadly enemies rushing towards you is already the main appeal. Shoving an extra zero on the end of those numbers sounds fun to me.
One question that comes to mind, however, is whether the servers will be able to hold up 100 players. I’ve played the game on its first day on early access and so it may have been suffering the infamous hug of death, but even on my decent connection every server (both official and third-party) were plagued by lag. Grenades hung in the air, teammates would warp around, and worst of all I’d get shot from out of nowhere. The netcode is currently by far the biggest problem I have with the game, and a quick peruse of the Steam reviews appears to support this.
None of the problems I’ve mentioned take away from the fact that Days of War is one of those few examples of early access done right. The base launch has enough maps and playable content to be fun in its own regard, and plastered all over the main menu are a variety of ways to track the development and get in contact with the team. There’s a Trello page that lays out exactly what’s coming, what’s needing to be fixed, and what’s in current development. This transparent approach to development has been done before by games such as The Forest and Subnautica, so Days of War following in their footsteps is immensly reassuring.
It’s early days (hah) for Days of War, but I’m really happy with where it is at already. There are obvious teething problems, with its dodgy loadout balance, sometimes iffy server browser and unfinished presentation (the Wehrmacht sound American, for instance), but it’s really come out swinging. Trying to compare yourself to such a cult hit as Day of Defeat, and actually pulling it off is an achievement. The fact that Days of War has only just launched in early freaking access makes me excited to see how it can now build on the foundations of its inspiration.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with my good friend dod_Donner. It’s change its name to Thunder these days, but that’s fine by me.
A code of the game was supplied by the developer for the purposes of this preview.