Once more I stretch the definition of "playing" a game. For three of the past five hours, I've been watching matches on Spectator mode. I'm going to count it, for obvious reasons, but it's not my most legitimate completion. I mean, the game gives you the option, so it must mean for at least some people to do it at least some of the time, so it's not like Sakura Spirit, where I literally broke the game. And I actually was focusing on the screen and paying attention, unlike in Ship Simulator Extremes, where I would be reading a book for long stretches of time (though in that game, here was a lot of "set your course and keep going in a straight line for 20 minutes," which tended not to need much concentration). And I did fiddle with the camera controls almost constantly to keep the action in view. So, I'd say that on a scale of 1-10 of video-game engagedness where 1 is just firing it up and leaving it on the attract screen and 10 is full-on Tetris battle trance, my last few hours with Verdun were about a 3. Not great, but acceptable enough that I don't feel like a total fraud.
And I did find Spectator Mode pretty interesting on its own merits. Hovering unseen over the battlefield with the various players outlined in red and blue (depending on their team) was fascinating. There was a lot of dramatic irony. Visibility in Verdun is often limited, so having a top-down view of a narrow trench, I could see potential ambushes, people guarding empty corners and the occasional incipient disaster where two large squads would happen upon each other unawares. It was kind of cool.
I also learned a couple of things about the way people played the game. It turns out that my extreme death ratio is almost entirely down to the fact that I'm terrible at the game. I know, shock, right? But seriously, I discovered I was terrible in a very specific way. See, I thought previously that I was being slow and careful in my approach to trench warfare. And that's because the most intensely hardcore shooter I ever played was Mass Effect 2, where the "slow and careful" approach involved dashing from cover to cover and staying in the open as little as possible (and which I completely forsook by consistently playing the Vanguard class, which laughs at cover). Spectator mode showed me what a fool I was being.
The people who successfully advanced across no-man's-and in Verdun did not do it by using cover consistently. They did it by moving incredibly slow, and by being willing to sit in a hole for minutes at a time, if necessary. I tend to default to "reckless berserker" mode in action games, so what I took as excessive care was still frantic flailing by comparison.
The other thing I learned from Spectator Mode is that some players are really good. This is obvious to the point of triteness, but it never really hit me until I saw one player get ganged-up on by four enemies in a situation I was sure was certain death, only to emerge victorious. I actually played a match against that same person a little later, where I pulled off what I considered to be an impossible shot only to be felled a fraction of a second later from an even farther distance. It was a very different to be killed by someone I knew to be great than by a random stranger. I was almost tempted to say something about it in chat, but then I thought that saying, "hey, I've been watching you in spectator mode for the last hour and a half and that was exactly what I expected you to do" might come off as a little creepy.
My final verdict on Verdun? It's so far out of my comfort zone that I can't say for sure whether it's good or bad, and it would be dishonest of me to say I enjoyed any part of it except the 3 hours I spent in Spectator Mode and the half-match I played immediately after, but it was an illuminating sort of non-enjoyment. I didn't feel cheated by the game. It was exactly what it advertised itself to be. I liked that it had the courage to be ugly and I appreciated the attention to detail that went into its props and uniforms. I would recommend it only if you are the sort of person to enjoy the "one shot-one kill" style of competitive FPS, but if you are that sort of person, I think Verdun has a lot to offer.