As a history student and a budding Twitch streamer, when a new game comes out that's focused on a real-life historical time period, I get very interested. So why is accuracy so important in a historical video game, and how does sticking to reality benefit said game?
A Few Points
Now, of course I won't be talking about games such as Wolfenstein: The New Order, which takes place in an alternate reality where the Nazi's win World War II, as clearly there's some glaring historical inaccuracies there that were made for the benefit of artistic license. Instead, I want to take a look at a few games that get historical accuracy right, and a few that may sacrifice accuracy in favor of gameplay or balance.
Kicking off our list of games that hit the historical nail on the head is the World War I FPS Verdun, and this wonderful game gets it right in so many ways. Firstly, in the primary game mode, called Attrition, teams alternate attacking and defending a trench while trying to slowly push the enemy back. Take control of a trench, and you'll face a counterattack; fail, and you'll have to make a speedy retreat, or risk execution for desertion. And the game takes no prisoners, either, with one bullet being enough to kill with all but the most basic of weapons.
Speaking of which, this is another area where Verdun comes into its own. Almost every single player is equipped with a standard bolt action rifle. One or two players may get a submachine gun, and with recent updates a flamethrower, too. But for the most part you're stuck with a Lee-Enfield and a spade. Maybe a grenade if you're lucky. And to me, this really helps set the scene.
The weapons function as they should — many bolt action rifles can't be reloaded until you've emptied the clip. Gas masks protect you from enemy bombardments, but at the cost of reduced vision. A well-placed machine gun can mow down the attacking team. A single rifle with a scope can pick off the enemy, one by one. The game feels gritty, exhausting, and you almost feel like you're fighting an impossible fight — which is how WWI must have felt.
2. Battlefield 1
On the opposite end of the WWI-FPS spectrum, you have Battlefield 1, a game that throws a large amount of historical accuracy out the window in the hopes of attracting a wider audience. A majority of the weaponry at hand is semiautomatic, standard infantry is equipped with weapons and tools they would only have been able to dream of, and running out into the open feels like more of a challenge than utter suicide.
Now don't get me wrong. The beta was incredibly fun, and all of the weapons and tools utilized in this game existed between 1914–1918 — however, it's their usage that bugs me. A squad of foot soldiers would not have been given a semiautomatic rifle each, and would have been lucky to get a sharp stick with a bullet on the end. Battlefield 1 aims to be historically accurate, but fails to capture the essence and indeed the horror of war in the same way that Verdun does.
3. Mount & Blade Warband: Napoleonic Wars
Next on the list of games that got it right is the Napoleonic Wars expansion for Mount & Blade: Warband. This is a mode that rids itself of modern strategy and forces you to think like a Napoleonic soldier. Muskets — the primary firearm — are powerful but highly inaccurate. The reload time is extensive, and you can't move while doing so. As a mere foot soldier, horses are terrifying and can plow through you and the rest of your infantry before you can so much as draw your sword.
The expansion truly comes into its own as a multiplayer. There are a large number of groups out there who focus on playing the game as accurately as possible. Indeed, players have ranks, uniforms, squadrons, and specific roles on the battlefield. You may be a soldier, armed with a musket and sword, firing into the mass of enemy combatants ahead of you — or you might operate a cannon, raining down artillery to support your troops. Whatever your role, you'll have a place, a leader, a job. Do well, and you may just earn that promotion, but fail, and hundreds could die. If all fails, a bayonet charge may be your last resort.
4. Assassin's Creed
Oh God, I'm gonna get such hate for this...
Let me start off by saying that I love the franchise. I've played every game, and while some are better than others, not one of them is convincingly historically accurate. I could talk about the historical figures that seem to be a bit more evil than they should be, I could talk about the Pieces of Eden and the seemingly global conflict that lurks behind every Assassin's Creed game. But I won't. Instead, I'm going to focus on the assassins themselves, particularly those represented in the first game, as the order changes drastically down the line.
In reality, the assassins were Nizari Ismailis, a branch of Shiite Islamics that mainly targeted Sunni Muslim leaders whom they saw as a threat. One of their most infamous weapons, despite being in control of entire armies, were fedayeen (or “those who sacrifice themselves”). These were young men who, having been trained in disguise, trickery and linguistics, were sent to murder their targets, often in the most public of places, before killing themselves immediately afterward. No fancy white hood, no hidden blade — just a young man, a knife and a heaping dollop of ancient religious extremism. In fact, the only accurate bit in the franchise is that some of them operated out of Masyaf, one of the fortresses in Assassin's Creed.
So there you have it. Examples of games that got historical accuracy right, and some that — well, didn't quite live up to the standards.
Battlefield 1 is released on October 21. Are there any games I missed? Let me know in the comments section below!