The games industry moves at a frenetic pace. Even keeping abreast of the AAA shooter and MMO market can be hectic at times, to say nothing of the hordes of B list and indie titles that bombard gamers constantly. Sadly, this means that it’s quite easy for games to slip between the cracks. Even more frustrating to me as a real-time strategy gamer, the vast majority of RTS games suffer from very low visibility in the marketplace.
Unless the game has been picked up by a major publisher, or has caused a wave in the games press (like Planetary Annihilation’s Kickstarter campaign) it is quite common for a large percentage of gamers to completely miss out on the announcement, betas and launch of RTS games. Everyone, it seems, is interested in the Call of Duty of the week, or the next potential “World of WarCraft killer” or “DOTA Killer.” RTS games have major visibility problems.
Also, it’s often not clear why someone might be interested in any given RTS game. Historical wargamers will happily stick with Matrix Games’ constant stream of these titles, 4X gamers have trusted names like Sid Meier, or developers like Paradox, to keep them in their bread and butter (also 4X tend to have years and years worth of replayability). But RTS games are an unknown quantity. RTS gamers are intensely tribal in some cases. Those of us who were raised on Command and Conquer crave the Westwood feel. Those of us raised on WarCraft tend to identify with systems common to Blizzard’s titles, and those of us whose first RTS might have been Supreme Commander (way to make me feel old, by the way – I remember the original Total Annihilation) cannot imagine playing an RTS game with a (gasp!) fixed camera.
My unique brand of insanity has me interested in the genre as a whole rather than devoted to a single title (though Relic’s games and Company of Heroes 2 hold a special place in my odd little heart). I thought it might interest my readers to get a little look into some of the strategy (mostly RTS) games slated for launch in the next year or so, as well as a brief overview of why I’m following the development of these games.
Grey Goo is Petroglyh’s latest RTS title, and is slated for launch on January 23rd, the first day of PAX South. This studio is comprised in part of members of the old Westwood team, and leverages that heavily in their messaging. Petroglyph is known for experimenting with the fabric of the RTS genre, drawing upon classic physical conventions like card drawing in many of their experiments. The studio has had limited critical success with their titles after their first title, Empire at War, which is held to be the best Star Wars RTS ever made.
Grey Goo marks the first truly traditional RTS the studio has made. This game goes back to the olden days of RTS, with a heavy “rock paper scissors” damage system on the game’s units and a complete absence of unit abilities. Petroglyph has also gone to great lengths to streamline unit production with a global menu reminiscent of the classic C&C context menu and semi-automated resource gathering via a Red Alert 3-eque refinery system. The game’s stated mission is to get the tedious parts of an RTS out of the player’s way to free them up to think about strategic level decisions. I’ll cover that assertion in detail in the the next 2 sections.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Grey Goo is focused almost entirely on base management, unit maneuvering and unit production, with little emphasis on high speed action or eSports-style game speeds. Grey Goo moves at a more sedate pace for the most part, though area damage is surprisingly intense with some units able to wipe out armies with astounding speed.
Grey Goo looks to be an excellent launch point into the RTS genre for those uninitiated, uneasy about the challenges of competitive play, or returning after years away in MMO or FPS land. Anyone interested in RTS stories should stay abreast of the game’s development, as well. The story is well composed and well presented, and seems like a solid science fiction narrative, much stronger than the average in the genre. Grey Goo may be of particular interest to gamers who like the idea of StarCraft, but are intimidated by the demands of its gameplay and those who fondly remember traditional Command and Conquer games.
The biggest potential issues for Grey Goo are its depth and whether its gameplay is strong enough to sustain a community. Eschewing activated abilities is a risky move, one that could potentially see the game’s multiplayer stalling out if players don’t feel intellectually satisfied. Balance is another area of concern, as Petroglyph lack the deep pockets to commit to long term balancing efforts if the game doesn’t sell well.
Several of these games are in very early development, and I’m not privy to much information on them. Therefore, as with Offworld Trading Company, my format is going to break down a bit.
Offworld Trading Company is an upcoming “economic” RTS by Soren Johnson, who in case you’re not aware, is a Firaxis ex-pat and one of the minds behind Civilization III and IV. OTC, as I’ll call it from now on for the sake of brevity, is a game where resources are effectively the player’s weapons against their opponents.
In OTC, players will buy and sell on a marketplace within the context of a match, effectively using economics to devalue their opponents holdings and buy them out. Sabotage, harrassing, hostile takeovers – these will purely financial maneuvers in the game. Also of note, players will be able to see in real time what their opponents are doing, and it will be up to the player to interpret and react to these situations to avoid being bought out. It’s the stock market, turned into a competitive game.
Any fan of the RTS genre should take note of Offworld Trading Company. To my knowledge no other RTS in the history of the genre has taken an approach similar to this. If I am correct (please let me know in the comments if I am not) this will be the first game of its type, something truly new in the field.
Of course, therein lies the heart of the potential issues that could arise with this game. Games like StarCraft 2 and even Grey Goo are the product of 20 years of the refinement of traditional RTS mechanics. If OTC is truly the first of its kind, the player interaction model might be too dense, the pacing could be wrong, some game elements could be kludgy or outright un-fun… there are a host of issues mechanical issues that could arise from untested gameplay elements. Still, I’m going to be keeping a very close eye on this title. And bravo to Mohawk games for thinking outside of the box.
Act of Aggression will mark developer Eugen Systems’ return to the RTS genre after a long foray into the tactical war simulation that is the Wargame series. While few details are currently known about the game, Act of Aggression joins Petroglyph’s Grey Goo in aspiring to return to the glory days of RTS gaming, though in this case it’s not clear what is meant beyond the assurance of core RTS features like base building and resource management. Eugen does have some RTS chops, having done the popular RUSE and a previous “Act of” game, Act of War. Not having played any of Eugen’s RTS games, I’m not sure what to expect from this game, but I’ll be keeping tabs on its development, for sure.
As far as who would be interested, well – it’s one of the best looking (visually) RTS games I’ve ever seen, so graphics junkies might want to keep tabs on it. Also, of course, fans of the previous Eugen RTS titles.
Etherium is an upcoming RTS developed by Tindalos Interactive and published by Focus Home Interactive. You might know Tindalos from their starship focused MOBA, Stellar Impact. Or not. They’re a small studio and pretty new in the genre, this being their first real RTS game.
Etherium is seeking to differentiate themselves by, well basically throwing the whole kitchen sink of RTS features into the game. Etherium features 3 mostly symmetrically balanced factions together, with only minor differences between the units of each race (each race has a couple of unique rules and 2 or 3 units unique to themselves). However, each faction has its own set of common Command Skills, or global spell type abilities, ranging from “retreating” a squad to save it from death, to area damage over time, and just about everything in between. There are neutral sub-factions on each map that can be recruited to your cause. There are also weather events that change the rules of the map briefly (or cause localized or roaming effects).
Etherium features a base-building mechanic that’s midway between Company of Heroes and StarCraft. Players capture areas on the map, which produce Hubs that can be upgraded with add-ons that increase the faction’s tech level, allow additional units to be called in, create repair zones and more. It proves to be an interesting system, as players have many more potential options for upgrading hubs than they actually have hub slots. Those who have ben following me might know that one of the most interesting things an RTS can do in my opinion is make the player pick between mutually exclusive options, and Etherium looks to have that in spades.
Most interestingly, Etherium has 2 win conditions baked into every match. The traditional method is destroying the opposing player’s base, as in most RTS titles. However, each player has a “fleet” floating above the battlefield, presumably whence all units and Command Skill originates. Building a certain hub add on will whittle away at the health of the opposing player’s Mothership over time, and if that health value reaches 0, the player wins as if they’d destroyed their opponent’s base.
This is a tricky one. Etherium vaguely resembles the Company of Heroes type game, with its hard counter system, squads of units, zone capture and reliance on “offmap” spells. There’s also a cover and veterancy system. However, the game seems to borrow something from every other game in the genre. It’s hard to tell who besides an RTS enthusiast would want to try the game out, and its symmetrical balance system for units seems like a kind of iffy decision.
The biggest issues here will be risk. Smaller studios tend to make… less polished RTS games with potential pacing or user interface issues not present in a StarCraft or Total War game
The final (at least as far as we know) expansion to the definitive RTS of our era, Legacy of the Void is looking to outdo all previous titles in the series in terms of its scope and the power of the features it will bring to the game.
Legacy of the Void will be brimming with a variety of features. Standout among them is Archon Mode, where 2 players are able to control the same base, resource pool, and units. This feature has the potential to be a paragon teaching tool, allowing players to have a direct hand in manipulating their trainee’s actions in a very real way. It could also be a fun mode for custom games. It does, however, vaguely resemble a Blizzard April Fool’s Day joke from a couple years ago – the two-headed ogre race in World of WarCraft. The question must be begged here: is this a good idea in the vast majority of cases? Depending on the system of checks and balances put in place, Archon Mode could be a fustercluck or, at best, a vehicle for chaotic mayhem.
Changes are being planned for the competitive aspect of the game as well, with all factions getting additional units whose abilities seem directly targeting the perennial RTS problem of “unit blobbing.” The Protoss have a unit that essentially functions as a non-suicidal Baneling, the Zerg are seeing the return of the Lurker, as well as a Zerg Siege Tank type unit. The Terrans, who already have tons of tools to punish blobbing (like the Widow Mine and the Raven) will be getting an Area of Effect attacking infantry unit with a Zealot Charge type ability, and a Void Ray type ground unit that deals massive single target damage to high priority enemy units like Thors, Colossi or Ultralisks.
Automated tournaments (a long overdue feature) and some sort of co-op vs AI mode are also coming, rounding out what is already one of the most feature-rich RTS games ever conceived.
This isn’t necessarily the easiest question to answer. In many ways, StarCraft 2 is a “no duh” option in the RTS field, especially since Legacy of the Void will be a stand-alone upgrade, meaning that players won’t have to drop $80-120 just to be able to play it.
However, while SC2 is easily the RTS that’s picked up the widest general following, many who consider themselves to be core RTS players don’t like it, and Legacy of the Void isn’t doing them any favors. Those who consider SC2 to be a spammy clickfest will not be pleased by the increased mechanical burden put onto players with the addition of these
None. Either you will love the game, or you’re an RTS diehard and nothing’s going to change your mind. This is a no-brainer for any RTS fan who doesn’t mind the game’s APM burden. The campaign is going to rock, the multiplayer is just going to get better. You know what you’ll be getting with this one.
While I’d love to go into this sort of depth with every upcoming game, I’m already well above the 2000 word mark and counting. So, here are some more games that are coming with a -very- brief description.
Stardock is trying to do something new with 4x games by making the player’s main opponent far more powerful than the player at the start of the game. The player isn’t fighting on even terms with the titular Sorcerer King, who doesn’t even consider the player a threat at first. Combat system looks neat. Graphically, the game looks like it’s falling flat a little bit, shooting more for WarCraft 3 than Endless Legend in terms of its visual appeal.
One of the most interesting 4x games to come out in recent years was StarDrive, created almost entirely by Daniel DiCiccio, an ex-lawyer turned developer who is writing his love letter to the genre. The first game fell a little short with its promises (no multiplayer mode was ever delivered to my knowledge) and DiCiccio is back with a second installment that looks to polish his particular universe to into the complete 4x package.
Stardock is reviving one of the grandfathers of the 4x with a new installment. I’m in the beta, it’s tons of fun. I am not a big 4x player, so additional insight is limited in this regard.
This will be the first Total War game to catch my interest. The ability to burn everything to the ground is… appealing to me.
I’ve only heard rumors, but Mr. Brad Wardell, CEO of Stardock, says he’s not sure why no one’s made an RTS like this before. Awaiting the announcement of this game with great interest.