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Cold War RTS Warno is set in a convincingly plausible alt-history 1989

Eugen has provided the backstory for its upcoming Steel Division 2 successor, Warno

Abrams tanks cross a field during a daytime firefight in Warno.

Cold War-era RTS game Warno is gearing up to hit Early Access, and developer Eugen Systems is taking an interesting approach to its setting. The studio is keen to include historical orders of battle, but it also needs a fictional war for its NATO vs. Warsaw Pact factions to fight – and so, it’s tweaking history in a couple key places, as it explains in the latest devblog.

Warno’s first major divergence from history as it really happened is a bloodless coup that ousts reformist Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and his allies from office in 1987. Historically, Gorbachev was reelected in 1990 and left office after the August putsch in 1991, but in Warno, the party hardliners take control of the USSR much earlier, replacing Gorbechev with a troika representing the Communist party, the army, and the KGB.

In the game’s fiction, this leads to swift condemnation from the western superpowers, which enact new sanctions against the USSR. US president Ronald Reagan, heeding the most hawkish of his advisers, rescinds a key nuclear treaty, and NATO ramps up military training exercises in western Europe, taking a weather eye toward the crucial Fulda Gap – a heavily militarized region in Germany seen as the natural approach into Europe for Russian tanks, and vice-versa.

It’s an interesting bit of alt-history crafting, and it’s all done in service of providing the pretext needed to include all the excruciating detail Eugen has been busy putting together on combat formations active around the Fulda Gap during that time. Eugen says Warno will include 16 historic battlegroups, each represented down to the level of the individual platoon. Steel Division 2’s order of battle, by contrast, only went down to the company level.

Warno will also include four Army General campaigns, which you’ll have gotten a taste of in Steel Division II. Rather than a string of missions, like in a traditional RTS, the Army General campaign is a dynamic wargame-style turn-based affair that generates real-time skirmishes based on the movements of units on the campaign map.

Warno will include six nations in multiplayer, namely the USA, the USSR, West Germany, East Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. There are more than 600 units planned, each with historic models, variants, camouflage, weapons, and the rest of the fiddly details that make this type of game appealing to military history buffs.

Eugen also hints at plans for DLC expansions post-launch that will add new Army General campaigns in the German plains to the north and the Czechoslovakian areas to the south. You’ll be able to jump in when Warno enters Early Access on Steam January 20.