2015 was one of the best years for real time strategy in a while, not quite as good as 2014 when we got Planetary Annihilation, Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, Pikmin 3, Company of Heroes 2 and others, but still a strong year. We had a re-imagining of the classic Westwood RTS in Grey Goo to start the year out, bringing back that Generals/R.U.S.E. style game play with Act of Aggression and the finale to the space epic Starcraft that started in 1998. We also have seen a number of early access RTS games make waves in games like Ashes of the Singularity, Battle Battalions, Servo and others. Additionally, we’ve seen Etherium, Shallow Space, additional updates to Blitzkrieg 3, and assuredly more we’ve missed. Overall I’ve been one happy RTS fan this year and have spent a lot of time with these games, to wrap up I want to do an informal and totally personal rewards article.
Best Graphics: Act of Aggression
A strong category with Starcraft 2 still looking good and the Ashes of the Singularity’s beta showing amazing promise but I had to go with Act of Aggression. Carrying the graphical style of other modern setting RTS games like World in Conflict, Command and Conquer: Generals and it’s predecessor R.U.S.E. let’s you play with units that strike a familiar cord with the current military while also getting creative at times with their unit design. Combine that art style with a very good looking engine that captures the dust, heat and explosions and you get a game that just looks great.
Wayward – I’d consider Ashes of the Singularity to be the best looking RTS to come into the market this year:
Best Campaign: Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void
I thought this would be easy but replaying Grey Goo again recently helped me remember how good it was, even if it felt short. Like Starcraft 2, Grey Goo had great cutscenes, solid story telling and decent mission design but in the end Legacy of the Void was just better at each point. Had Grey Goo come out in a year without Starcraft it would take this spot but no luck. Legacy of the Void carries the impressive mission design seen in it’s two previous iterations, combined with probably the most complex story of the three games and the consistently high production values and it’s clear to see how Blizzard again sets the bar high for other real time strategy games.
Best Unit Design: Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void
This one was probably the easiest so far. Act of Aggression had good units but nothing creative or special. Grey Goo did have a strong case purely for the design of the Goo race but sadly outside of their “base” design and resource gathering, it doesn’t do much to set itself apart. Looking at the remaining field I realized that in my list of top RTS units I included two Legacy of the Void units, it made the decision easier. As with it’s two previous part, Legacy of the Void’s new units help shape a new meta. All three races have the potential for new unit compositions and the units in a vacuum are well designed.
Wayward – Act of Aggression had some interesting counter-play in its unit design: the anti-superweapon and unit countermeasure weapons were quite interesting design. But it’s very hard to argue that anyone else came out with units like the Adept, Ravager, or Liberator.
Best Music Design: Starcraft 2 Legacy of the Void
This is Blizzard we are talking about, they employ Emmy winners and have music in it’s respective Hall of Fame. Their sound budget is larger than some game’s entire budgets. The Legacy of the Void soundtrack captures the essence of the Protoss race with sweeping orchestral tones, haunting chanting reflects the race’s impending end and the pounding drums instill the coming war. It’s just really good.
Best Post-Purchase Content: Company of Heroes 2: The British Forces
Another category I was expecting to be easy but got busy in the second half of the year. Legacy of the Void now has post-purchase content and Age of Empires 2: The African Kingdoms was released, breathing new life into the already strong Steam version of the game. But in the end the one that I felt had the biggest impact on the game was the addition of the British forces to Company of Heroes 2. While not as grand or game changing as last year’s expansion, the Ardennes Assault, the British Forces expansion adds a new faction that alters the mutliplayer landscape in a way I felt was more meaningful than The African Kingdoms. Both do what they set out to do well but I just felt the British Forces was more successful.
2015 was an enjoyable year, you may not have a huge library of new games but the ones we did get were varied in style and had good production. 2016 has a lot of promise of smaller RTS games coming out, and while no big titles may be coming out, I’m still excited for a new year, new games and new experiences.