Isonzo review - A historically accurate depiction of the WWI southern front
WWI shooters like Isonzo have a different gameplay style compared to more modern shooters, and I think that’s to their credit. It is a more historically accurate game, where one bullet can mean instant death. Players have to take everything far more seriously. Bullets are constantly firing, various toxic, fatal gasses are dropped, and every decision counts.
If players are familiar with the previous WW1 shooters by Blackmill Games (Verdun, Tannenberg), they will likely know what to expect. Though the actual maps and gameplay differ, the hardcore tactical shooting remains. I was familiar with the previous titles, so I was ready to tackle this unique challenge.
Though I wouldn’t call myself talented at FPS, I had a blast playing this either way. It felt satisfying to push forward and successfully take or defend choke points while pelting the other side with bullets.
Isonzo takes players to the southern front of WWI
Isonzo and its predecessors aren’t for everyone. It’s important to know that going in. WW1 shooters tend to be more on the hardcore side of shooting games. In my experience playing this game, simply shooting someone put them down in probably 90% of cases. Pistols didn’t always finish someone off in one shot, but rifles? They were near-universally fatal.
The game currently comes with a few Offensives and is built around the Attack/Defense of choke points across a vast map. Like many FPS, the attacking force has a limited number of soldiers, but if they can get through both parts of a map, they can move on to the next with replenished soldiers.
This means that the attackers must go through several phases, each with two chokepoints (A & B). Even if they’re down to one soldier and get through both of these, their side will be refilled and they move on to the next part of the map.
These maps are massive, and it can take 30-40 minutes to get through one. The defensive force has unlimited soldiers, but they must fight wisely. Since many of these are set in the mountains, it might feel like the defense has an unfair advantage, but careful gameplay will see teams succeeding and pushing forward.
Currently, there are three Offensives, and some have several maps to play on, displayed in the custom matches. Here are the Offenses and their starting levels.
- Mountain War: Dolomiti
- Strafexpedition: Cenigo, Fior
- 6th Battle of the Isonzo: Carso, Sabotino, Gorizia
I've played through several of these over the last few weeks, including a few matches with the Isonzo community. Though many of my matches were against bots, I have had some experience with other players.
While I did better against bots, the player matches were far more intense and exciting. I could have a squad and work with them to succeed. It’s a game that has a fair amount of potential in depth, even though there are only a few Offensives at the moment.
How does the gameplay work in Isonzo?
This game is built around Offensives, where one side is sieging into the other. Players will take either side with the Kingdom of Italy or the Austro-Hungarian Empire and will be tasked with leading their side to victory.
Players can Join Match and see all the battles currently available to join (48-player cap), or they can set up custom matches. This lets you pick the Offensive/Map and has several Advanced Options. However, if you turn those on, you won’t gain progression, medals, or achievements, so bear that in mind.
Isonzo has several classes, with default kits and weapon loadouts, but more weapons can be unlocked as you play. Each of the classes is important. They all bring something special to battle. Not everyone can be an officer, though. Hopefully, this allows all classes to see use in each map.
Classes in Isonzo
- Officer: Issues orders and inspires the men. Can call in several support tactics to help their side
- Rifleman: The standard soldier, they’re key to pushing objectives and defeating their foes
- Engineer: They construct static weapons, cut barbed wire better, and help build obstacles
- Assault: These soldiers focus on effective counterattacks with high-impact weaponry
- Mountaineer: Mountaineers excel when it comes to infiltration and scouting the enemy positions
- Marksmen: The snipers of the group, they have accurate, deadly rifles and scopes
Each of these classes has challenges to complete and a progression meter to fill up. Further weapons are unlocked by playing a class and account level, so getting new weapons for combat isn't too much of a hassle.
As classes are leveled up, they can also pick more perks to equip, though only one can be equipped at a time. They can reduce weapon sway, faster bandage speed, and much more. This is incredibly helpful and worth investing some time into.
Officers may be the most important part of the team, but all group members are vital. The officer has access to dropping bombs and releasing several types of deadly gasses, including Phosphene and Mustard.
All players are equipped with gas masks. When traveling into gas-filled areas, it’s pertinent to put them on. It won’t make them immune, but it does slow down the effect these poisons have on them.
Players also have bandages and other support items that are historically accurate, but in my experience, being shot means I died. I only had a handful of times that I didn’t die in one bullet. You can use bandages on allies to get them back on their feet.
I find people tend to bleed out pretty quickly when tangled in barbed wire or shot somewhere that isn’t fatal, so don’t hesitate to save someone if you can.
It’s also worth noting that friendly fire is on. I accidentally docked my team -by 10 points a few times out of sheer panic. If you can help secure the chokepoints before running out of reinforcements, you can refill your numbers and resume battle.
You can also be executed for deserting if you run onto the field before the battle starts or if you’re in the wrong place when one of these map changes happens. You will receive a timer and need to move quickly to the right place or be killed for desertion.
Squads are key to success in Isonzo
One thing I noticed in PVP matches that I did not do in bot battles is how useful the Squad feature is. As long as a player in your Squad (4-player group) is alive, you can respawn on them to help them out or get back to where you were on the map. These battlefields are huge and sprawling, though, so this is an essential feature to be aware of.
There are lots of small cities and mountains to do battle on in Isonzo, and since this is a stripped-down game. The game will not alert you to the direction you’re being shot from. You have to pay attention and play carefully.
I like that, even if I prefer having a minimap to see where nearby opponents are. I liked that this felt authentic. You can get tangled in the barbed wire if you get too close and back out slowly. You must wear a gas mask occasionally, and you can certainly accidentally kill allies.
But working together with your squad makes the battle so much better. On the respawn map, you can see where your squad is, and it’s also a time when players can adjust their class/kit before diving back in.
The sound effects and visuals are excellent, but dying soldiers are cursed
The Italian song that fills your ears in the main menu sounds brilliant. It’s about the only music in the game, which makes sense since this is a severe WWI battle. However, I’d be a liar if I didn’t want to hear Sabaton’s “The Great War” album in the game. It would be thematically excellent.
The way guns sound off and the shouts of soldiers in Isonzo sound excellent, but I want to say one thing. The cries of soldiers dying is incredibly grating. No matter where I went, I could hear them. The sound of these was incredibly over-the-top and awkward. Sure, it also felt thematic in its way, given that it’s a battlefield, but it was a bit much.
There was so much attention to detail paid when it came to the uniforms of both factions in Isonzo. Down to the buttons, things looked historically accurate. It also seemed prettier visually than the previous games, in my estimation. It might be that it was set in the mountains, but I loved how the game maps looked visually.
Isonzo will likely be a niche game like its predecessors, but that’s not necessarily bad. The gameplay is sharp, and the battlefields are incredible. I got kills, and I felt strongest as a sniper.
The game may not look like modern Battlefield or Call of Duty games, but I loved this more if I can be frank. It felt like I was quickly killing and being killed on a battlefield. If you’re a World War 1 shooters fan, this will be for you. However, it is worth noting that, as of right now, there are not many maps or Offensives to tackle.
Thankfully, there will be free updates in the future that add more battlefields to participate in. Even with that, it’s a blast to play Isonzo, and there are plenty of ways to approach each map tactically. But for the price point, it offers a lot of value.
Reviewed On: PC (Code provided by M2H)
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC, Linux
Developer: M2H, BlackMill Games
Release Date: September 13, 2022