Thursday, 25 March 2010

Autumn for real time strategies

Real time strategy games seem to be entering some kind autumn period where they are shedding all of the leaves that made everyone appreciate them, to become a rather bare bones structure of what they used to be. These new non leafy entities can themselves be very beautiful, but it does make us miss when they were big, bushy and bristling with life.

I suppose this is a rather odd metaphor that may or may not work as well as I think it does, but the point I am trying to make is that RTSs now seem to be moving their focus towards the current trend of streamlining. I don’t know if I like it or not.

Whenever playing real time strategy titles, I used to enjoy more than anything to create a big impenetrable bubble that could repel anything and enclose my soft sensitive bits to build up an army in relative peace. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a mighty force fall apart at your doorstep, before they try scampering away with significantly fewer eyes, limbs and things that they though might have made more of a dent.

In the last year however, three of my favourite RTS titles have decided to do away with turtling and instead put the emphasis more on the minions that were birthed from a base, rather than the imposing doom fortress itself.

Command and Conquer 4, Dawn of War II and Supreme Commander II all went back on the base options in their predecessors and changed the formula. I will accept that Supreme Commander II hasn’t done this too drastically, but I miss my economy breaking as my base slowly grew up into a state of awesome. It meant I could do other things whist everything I had spent a few minutes planning just happened by itself.

Large scale bases are absent from DoW2 and C&C4 however, and I’m not sure how much I like it. A lot of people argue that they are advancing the genre, but I don’t necessarily want it to completely advance in this direction. I’m happy to branch off and test the water a bit perhaps, but I don’t want to stick my head in and drown myself to sleep.

To begin with, I really liked the new direction DoW2 was taking, but with C&C4 following suit, I really hope it doesn’t become too much of a fashion. I’ve never really been one for micromanaging on a small scale. If I were a surgeon, I wouldn’t be using a scalpel, instead opting for something like a sledgehammer and chisel, making big sweeping movements to correct obstacles to a bloody pulp.

I am very fond of my little commando teams getting through defences and causing havoc, but they usually do this before I then steam roll everything with an army bigger than Christopher Biggins’ charisma. The missions I really liked in Red Alert 3 often involved using a smaller scouting party to clear the way before a base arrives that you can setup to finish everything off with.

Having a base to launch various attacks from gives you a myriad of different options, such as land, sea, air, zerg rush, massive tank assault, air raid, bear raid, artillery and just about anything else, the list is endless. In comparison, whereas DoW2 nicely gives us a bit of variety with RPG like war gear drops, it has nowhere near the same level of strategic variety, and very often just means racing squads between cover when jumping the melee troops into a crowd ahead of them.

I feel that RTSs are starting to branch into a completely new genre that is a bit friendlier to a slightly strategy shy audience. Where I have absolutely no problem with trying to simplify things, please don’t continue to drop everything that made it such a staple genre on the PC. I really like DoW2, but that doesn’t mean I want another RTS that does the same things. It was a breath of fresh air, but now I want to go back to having a bajillion units being sprouted from a base packed denser than London traffic after a road accident.

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