Remember back in the day, when RTS games were about base building and resource management as much as they were about combat? Remember classics like Total Annihilation, arguably the greatest RTS game ever created? And Age Of Empires? Sadly, RTS games are moving away from the tried and tested formula to a more arcade style gameplay in hopes of gaining a wider audience.
Lately, RTS games have been moving away from the classic gameplay style of gathering resources, building a base and buildings units, to just “getting units” and storming into combat. Recently, in order to appeal to a wider range of audience, RTS games have moved away from their base to an almost arcade style gameplay, where the player isn’t required to posses great management or multitasking skills, only requirement is to know a bit of tactic.
The classic concept of managing resources, building bases and building armies is slowly being phased out, with games like Dawn of War 2, Company of Heroes, and Command & Conquer 4. Even Supreme Commander 2 has taken the same route and moved away from its core into a more simplified style. Granted, those games aren’t bad games by any stretch, and they do tend to appeal to a wider variety of gamers.
Another reason for this is that RTS games are now being ported to consoles as well, and it’s nearly impossible to have anything but a simplified, arcade-style gameplay with the limited controls and lack of a mouse and keyboard.
What it was like before
However, by simplifying the gameplay, the developers cut off what was once some of the best part of RTS games, and what kept hard core players spending hours on a single skirmish mission, building up huge bases, massive armies and combing the map for every bit of resources. There was a certain pride hard core RTS gamers had when they hit the unit limit in Age of Empires, or lead an assault on the enemy with hundreds of units in Rise of Nations, with carefully planned companies and groups.
Naturally, not everyone has that much time to spend on a single mission, but it’s that exact challenge that made it so rewarding — multitasking between several bases on the map, deciding whether to spend your resources on research or build new units, try and anticipate where the enemy will strike and place your defenses there and so on. It required sheer gamer intelligence to pull it off. Today? Take Dawn Of War 2 for instance: you get a handful of units and go hunting across the map. Simple, to the point, but certainly not as rewarding. You might as well play a squad based FPS game instead.
What the future holds
Hopefully we’ll at least have a few games which focus on the classic RTS experience, but sadly, it doesn’t look like that. Some of the best franchises that did that are either gone or they’ve turned into arcade-style games, where they’re less about “Real Time Strategy” and more about “Read Time Tactics”.
Age Of Empires and Rise Of Nations are dead. Command & Conquer 4 and Supreme Commander 2 have moved in the arcade direction, and their successors will most likely move further in that direction. And new franchises like Tom Clancy’s EndWar and the upcoming RUSE focus on the same gameplay style as well.
One tiny hope on the horizon is StarCraft 2, and we can only hope it’ll stick to its roots more than the other franchises have over the past few years.