Enormously successful games - particularly the Warcraft and Command & Conquer franchises - have a unique way of spurring growth in the industry, opening up new avenues and opportunities for intrepid developers and publishers while attracting important new blood into the hobby. However, on a short-term basis, banner titles have a strange way of overshadowing equally compelling titles, crowding out those games unfortunate enough to have been released within the same launch window and that, as a result, lack the same fanfare afforded the more anticipated titles.
In the case of War Wind - DreamForge Intertainment's first foray into the now inundated real-time strategy genre - the game was initially greeted by a lukewarm reception, ignored, in large part, due to the highly publicized arrival of Warcraft II. Now, about a year and a half later, gamers who, for whatever reason, may have overlooked the precursor can seize the bull by the horns and scrutinize the sequel a wee bit closer, perhaps rediscovering this little real-time gem amidst the pile of mediocrity suffocating the marketplace.
SSI's War Wind II: The Human Onslaught is a fitting follow-on to War Wind, relating, in exquisite detail, the war-torn saga that has enveloped the distant planet of Yavaun. Silently residing at the edge of the universe, Yavaun, as you may or may not recall, has been beset by decades of civil unrest, immersed in a colossal war that threatens the very fabric of life on the aged planet. Four radically divergent factions - the Tha' Roon, the Obblinox, the Shama'Li, and the Eaggra - have been at odds for some time, enjoined in a genocidal war with but one obvious if reprehensible conclusion. Years have passed since their first world war, and, exhausted by the struggle, the four dissimilar races have temporarily set aside their differences to regroup and recover.
As we soon learn, members of the human race have unknowingly been dragged into the latest conflagration, teleported from their own Arctic hinterland, across the galaxy, and onto Yavaun's savage surface. It seems a scientific expedition, bolstered by a powerful US Marine detachment, was, at the time of its kidnapping, attempting to unearth an otherworldly stone firmly wedged in the polar ice. When the expedition finally freed the stone, a mystical spell, conjured up by powerful necromancers on Yavaun, succeeded in dematerializing then rematerializing the humans and their equipment to their all-new tropical environs.
Essentially, with the introduction of the humans, the plot on Yavaun has now thickened. As we discover, the Tha' Roon and the Obblinox have joined forces, as have the Shama'Li and the Eaggra. Meanwhile, the human faction has somehow managed to splinter into two sects: one tracing the struggle of the human scientists, the other following the exploits of the Marines. As you've no doubt already guessed, each group attempts to rise to power over the other three, employing its own innate characteristics and traits to best its opponents and set the record straight.
As was the case before, War Wind II infuses an intriguing RPG element into the somewhat staid real-time wargaming genre. Player characters are selected prior to mission start-up and must locate and acquire various objects scattered about the map, storing, using, or exchanging these items to suit the victory conditions or improve their overall status. And, while your forces must continually do battle with indigenous life forms and other hostile creatures haphazardly mingling amidst the tropical landscape, there are situations where your player characters must holster their weapons and interact with various non-player characters to gain invaluable information. To keep the game fresh and appealing, new units - such as the Overlord's two-headed giants - have been integrated into the original order of battle, which helps to flesh out the world of Yavaun apart from what we already know. Like any ambitious title, there are a few niggling problems that tend to complicate gameplay. For instance, the Marine units, clad in olive drab uniforms, are especially difficult to discern as they saunter about in the bright green foliage. Time and again, I lost track of these units when they intermingled with the lush green flora. And, although the interface is intuitive, War Wind II utilizes a fairly complex method of highlighting units. Instead of selecting and deselecting multiple units with a single mouse click, I was often forced to repeat certain commands because I had inadvertently clicked on more than one unit with the impromptu group command.
Four campaigns - comprising over 46 imaginative scenarios - help to tell the all-new saga engulfing the world of Yavaun. Together with a robust scenario editor and various multiplayer options, War Wind II, in the final analysis, may not be the most highly talked-about game ever to crash the real-time party, but it is certainly one of the most entertaining.