Ah yes, the time honored real-time strategy. At one point in its history, it was the flagship genre for the PC gamer, seeing a golden age not even fifteen or so years ago. But is the genre recovering from a debilitating slump? Just what is the current state of the real-time strategy?

Starcraft Legacy of the Void, discussed in state of the RTS.
By and large, Starcraft is still the flagship RTS, but it has never faced this much criticism before.

Over the last five or so years, the genre has seen a sharp decline. Even the mightiest of titles has seen some struggle; Blizzard’s storied Starcraft series has even been touched by criticism as of late.

Starcraft isn’t the only real-time strategy title to have come out recently, so how do other games measure up? What’s the best choices of the last three years or so?

Or more importantly, what innovations have we seen in the genre recently?

The answer to that question will vary between fans of the genre, as real-time strategy fans are notoriously hard to impress. Depending on their style of play, you’ll find conflicting desires.

Cybran lead assault on a Aeon position for State of the RTS.
Supreme Commander, developed by the now defunct Gas Powered Games, is till cherished by the RTS fanbase almost a decade later.

I suppose one of the titles that really jumps out, even though it was released nearly ten years ago, would be Supreme Commander. Once again, depending on your taste, you may disagree with me, especially if you prefer small-scale real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer or Starcraft.

Other games have tried to emulate what Supreme Commander did well, more recently the title Ashes of the Singularity by Stardock.

When Ashes first was announced, the biggest news about it was the game engine it was using. An engine tailored to these games allowing for thousands of units, particles, and physics to take place all on the screen at once. This engine would use the full power of your processor, using multiple cores to run everything on-screen smoothly.

While Ashes of the Singularity may have wowed with its grand battles, it was just about the only thing the game did well. Other aspects were sorely lacking.
While Ashes of the Singularity may have wowed with its grand battles, it was just about the only thing the game did well. Other aspects were sorely lacking.

The aforementioned engine is called Nitrous. It was backed monetarily by Stardock, in an effort to have Ashes of the Singularity showcase its release. Unfortunately, big battles were just about the only thing to look forward to in Ashes of the Singularity.

Economy was practically non existent, there is very little unit variety to speak, which in any strategy game is huge. Many of the units lack a sense of depth, the sound quality is atrocious, abysmal coming from such a big developer like Stardock. Its single player experience is forgetful; it’s almost as if Stardock released this and said “here, have big battles and that’s about it.” There’s very little strategy to speak of, just build a big blob of units and send it at another big blob, and see who wins.

The Dawn of War series holds hope for RTS fans, while one game cannot really revive a genre, a successful title would certainly help the cause.
The Dawn of War series holds hope for RTS fans, while one game cannot really revive a genre, a successful title would certainly help the cause.

So, what’s next? Dawn of War III is coming, and we already have some early alpha gameplay. It combines the best of both previous games, large scale combat and base building from the first, and hero units with customization options from the sequel.

With the success of MOBAs, the decline of the genre may get worse. They have similarities, sure, but while one is much simpler, real time strategy is too complex for some. My message to developers as a parting note, you know the genre has a niche audience, stop trying to dumb down the games to appeal to more people, that’s why the genre is dying. We take pride in the challenge of our games, the challenge to our minds. Make these games hard, or not at all.

  • Thomas Gilliam

    Bit late but I don’t think the genre is dying so much as it is transitioning to mainly an indie and mid level sized company ruled space. Last year saw the release of Grey Goo, Etherium, Act of Aggression, Hegemony III, and the remaster of Homeworld 1 and 2 by Blackbird Interactive and Gearbox. Those were all released by smaller companies and Legacy of the Void was really the only AAA release last year. This year we have gotten Battlefleet Gothic: Armada, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, Ashes of the Singularity, Offworld Trading Company, Blitzkrieg 3, 8-bit Armies, and Cossacks 3 will be arriving before the end of the year. Not a single release by a larger company this year. You will have to wait until the release of Halo Wars 2 or Dawn of War 3 next year for a AAA RTS to come out from Creative Assembly and Relic respectively. Apparently big companies have for the most part decided that RTS games are no longer worth their time to produce.