Isonzo follows on from M2H and Blackmill’s previous outings in the WW1-era online shooter scene, Verdun and Tannenberg. Still committed to hardcore detail and realism, it can be quite daunting to get into, however, once settled into the flow of the gameplay there’s something morbidly fun to be found here.
Set to the backdrop of real WW1 battles at Isonzo, we engage in Offensive combat gameplay. Two sides – either Kingdom of Italy or the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy – battle for control of the large maps based on real-world locations. The attacking side begins with little room for movement, the aim being to capture two objectives and push their front forward to the next set of objectives, while the defenders are naturally tasked with stopping this from happening. Each time the attackers are successful, both sides get a few seconds to reposition and gather themselves before the all-out war begins again (though particularly battle-hungry players can still fight it out during this time). Rinse and repeat over around four or five times to conclude a single game.
That’s kinda boiling things down a lot though, as it’s in the details that Isonzo begins to get its hook in us. Each side can have up to 20 players, split up into squads of four as well as divided based on several classes to choose from. All but the Rangers are limited per team – not squad – with things ideally playing out with a variety of classes on the battlefield. The Commander is one of the better classes to start with, being as they are able to call in all manner of air strikes and cover fire while being stationed far away from the face to face action. My favourite though was the Engineer, able to build gun placements, mortars, walls, and barricades. Sticking with a class lets us level them up, gaining access to more weaponry or loadout options, as well as visual customisations.
It’s all well and good having a favoured class, but once we land on the battlefield that’ll all be for nowt if we don’t play together as a unit. As with Tannenberg, team work is key, but so is taking a more moderate approach to attack. The WW1 setting means we’re lumbered with slow, cumbersome weaponry, more often than not horrifically inaccurate and difficult to use. Snipers initially lack any sort of scope, and some bolt rifles are unable to reloaded until we’ve emptied the entire clip. This makes having someone cover us as we get into position or slowly handball bullets into the gun essential.
All it takes is a single hit to kill players for the most part, though if they somehow survive the first attack they may very well bleed out before they can counter. This isn’t Call of Duty – running out into the open is a fool’s errand, and even trying to take a stealthier approach may still see us shot in the head from half way across the map – or end up face to face with an enemy attempting to do the same.
If attackers are successful in capturing points and moving forward, a single game can take anywhere in the region of half an hour or more to end. One game I had to end early as my entire 20-odd minute free window went by with the attackers barely managing to take two objectives. Defenders get unlimited respawns, and other than stop the objectives being taken must whittle down the attackers amounts of lives in order to win. Starting at around 400, this is still a big task, but should the attackers take an area successfully they are granted a big bump in lives to tackle the next area.
It’s a much slower pace than other, more well-known shooters, but I think that’s why I’m enjoying it so much. It can feel a bit drawn out at times, especially when AI are filling in for missing players and the objectives just don’t seem to be moving at all, but thankfully there is full cross play this time out, and in the week or so since launch there has been a decent amount of full lobbies to join. One of my concerns with Tannenberg was just how sparse the lobbies were so soon after launch, so hopefully Isonzo can maintain and build a good crowd to play with regularly. Of course, we can jump on with friends too, and having spent a full Friday night playing with some of the Tavern crew, we all came away having had fun – even those that aren’t usually into this short of shooter.
As with the previous titles, M2H and Blackmill have done a fantastic job recreating the feeling of being out on these battlefields – an odd thing to praise maybe, but they haven’t sugar coated the horrors of war much at all. Soldiers scream and cry as they are shot, while improved damage means we often pass dead or dying soldiers in horrific condition. Audio work is once again incredible, bullets whizzing by our head sound as real as I ever hope to hear them, while far off bombings and gunfire help sell that this is a true battle for survival. I’m not a history buff in the slightest, but the loading screen information and attention to detail let us know that this fun game is based on some truly tragic events, hopefully informing people to at least consider what it must have been like 100 years ago.
Isonzo commits to the WW1-era faithfully, with the pro’s and con’s that come with dealing with that time periods battles. I enjoyed the slower pace and more methodical approach to combat and objective capturing, and hope to see it continue to build a community of players willing to invest the time into the long battles.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.