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?
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.
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.
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.
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.