Monday, 20 July 2009

The EVIL that is base building

I’ve been playing a lot of WAR over the past few days; I’m getting on pretty well with it, am really enjoying being a Slayer! The lack of other people is really bugging me, though… I don’t know whether it’s the time of day that I’m playing, the server I’m playing on, the area, or the fact that there just aren’t many other people playing the game. Whichever, I’m tempted to give the full game a go, as the large public quests definitely look like they would be fun with a group of other players/friends/strangers.

Anyway, WAR isn’t the main thing I wanted to talk about in my post, though it is still vaguely Games Workshop related; in a recent conversation, someone mentioned to me that the reason he wasn’t too keen on Dawn of War 2 was that there was no resources and no base building.

What the eff?

I took issue with this. To my mind, RTS games have (for far too long) focussed on resource gathering, build queues and base building. Yes, supply lines and resource management are an important part of any war effort, but since when were they part of actual frontline combat? It has been an unfortunate part of RTS games since Westwood invented the genre with games like Dune and Command & Conquer. At first, it allows for some fun sounding tactics; raiding your opponent’s depots, or ambushing their harvesters. However, to have to go through the same rigmarole with every battle in every game is turning the genre into an economic-‘em-up.

The problem is, when you focus the game on these two aspects, the game becomes about either building up a large force quickly and rushing your opponent, or hiding behind a large wall… and building up a large force to rush your opponent. With enough troops, any battle becomes pretty much solely about attrition. And who wants to spend time aligning their Barracks when they’re supposed to be fighting a war?

The RTS genre is stagnating, drowning under the weight of its antecedents and clichés; I’m far more excited about how things are done with Real-Time Tactics (RTT) games.

You see, I much prefer my strategy to focus on the actual movement of units around a map; y’know, matching up the strengths of your units with the weaknesses of your opponent’s (and hopefully avoiding letting them do the same). Games have been doing this for a while (Shadow of the Horned Rat for one), and there have been an increasing number of RTS/RTT games over the past few years which have gone for this approach, with a good recent example being Ground Control. Hopefully, this is the way the genre is moving, with games released like Dawn of War and World in Conflict. Even games like the total war series keep the resource management to an overworld map and leave the battlefield for tactics!

Unfortunately, Starcraft II looks set to bring the economic strategy sim back into fashion...

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