I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ll gladly overlook the flaws in a game that’s doing something new and original, but once you start cranking out sequels, I start expecting better. Earned in Blood came out the same year as Road to Hill 30, but it’s a standalone game instead of an expansion pack. And, oh dear, this really needed to be just some expansion pack.
Storywise, Earned in Blood is basically the last game. It’s framed as an interview with the recently-promoted Sergeant Joe Hartsock, where he’s asked to recount the events that transpired since his ill-fated drop during D-Day. You replay segments of the last campaign from a different perspective and eventually catch up to the point where Road to Hill 30 abruptly and awkwardly concluded.
This has the interesting effect of seeing the heroic actions of Matt Baker being cast in a different light by somebody who was under his command. Joe has some hot takes on his previous sergeant and freely speaks ill of him, even though Joe seems like such an earnest and dutiful soldier. He’s a more interesting character for sure and having actual dialogue is more interesting than Baker’s pseudo-philosophical musings on warfare.
The gameplay is similarly reminiscent of the last game. It’s the same squad-based tactical shooter where you fight alongside your boys as you give them simple commands. This is made a little more interesting because you get access to more powerful weaponry and start with the assault team. Other than that, it’s basically the same with slightly-tweaked enemy AI, and the increased difficulty and focus on combat exposes and exacerbates problems that were present in the last game.
Your own soldiers still only vaguely interpret your orders, which led to more frequent cases of soldiers or even entire teams taking cover on the wrong side of walls or even just standing out in the open. Their accuracy is also ludicrous, making it feel like they exist for suppression and nothing else. I have seen an entire assault team fire at an exposed enemy for five whole seconds without any bullet hitting the target, forcing me to kill the poor German instead.
Gearbox was just as eager to recycle gameplay concepts from the last game, so we once again have a whole bunch of tank battles and Panzerfaust whack-a-mole, neither of which are particularly interesting. Tanks are pathetically coded, to the point of near-uselessness, and any battle between them would just be you rolling the dice on whether your tank will win. Unless the game hands you a Panzerfaust, there is nothing you can do but wait and hope for the best. I have no clue why Gearbox removed the feature to kill tanks with grenades, since they are completely uninteresting to fight otherwise.
“Uninteresting” is a good word for the game in general. It has no business being a standalone title, what with it’s story covering the same events from a slightly different angle and gameplay that’s only marginally tweaked. While I prefer Joe’s story, I don’t appreciate the greater focus on raw combat, because it just feels like going through the motions at this point. Baker’s campaign had some special objectives to it that changed things up a little, and Earned in Blood is also handicapped by how it glosses over some of the more dramatic twists of the last game without offering any of its own.
Joe’s story should have just been stuck to the end of the last game, with maybe a few unlockable side-missions where you play cut-down portions of what Joe was up to during the events that overlap with the last game’s timeline. Otherwise, Earned in Blood adds way too little to the series and is only worth it if you’re really into this combat system.