Earlier this year, I wrote an article I called “wayward’s watchlist” in which I outlined some 10 RTS and 4X games I was keeping tabs on during the upcoming year, along with my thoughts, concerns and who I thought might be interested in each game. Recently, thanks in part to the Game Developer’s Conference and PAX East, we’ve been introduced to a couple of new entrants that I think merit some attention. Without further ado, here they are:
Ashes of the Singularity
One of the more interesting games announced recently is Ashes of the Singularity, developed by Oxide Games and published by Stardock, who have really been making a name for themselves recently in the strategy space.
Ashes, as it’s already being abbreviated, looks to be a fairly traditional RTS in some respects: players build structures, create units and fight battles. The interesting thing about Ashes is its engine: supposedly, it will feature the ability to field thousands of units with independent turrets and physics-based projectiles, akin to and perhaps better than Planetary Annihilation or the Supreme Commander games. The player will be fielding so many units, in fact, that the game will feature something called “meta-units” which sound like control groups on steroids – units will (supposedly) be aware of other entities within their meta-unit, and will take actions such as repair tanks automatically repairing priority damage dealers or heavy tanks lining up to take shots for glass cannons. We’ll have to see.
Ashes is taking its primary design inspiration from Sins of a Solar Empire’s tech tree and combat pacing, its scale from Supreme Commander, and a system of territory control from the Company of Heroes series. As in CoH, maps in Ashes will be divided up into sectors. Controlling a ‘power station’ within a sector will allow the player to collect resources from that sector, very much like how CoH handles things.
Who Would be Interested?
Being a large-scale combat game that’s very clear about its lineage, I’d expect players who enjoyed Total Annihilation, SupCom and PA to be attracted to Ashes. Its rule set is unlikely to resemble anything approaching real tactical combat, so those interested in deep unit interactions are unlikely to find anything too compelling here. Micro fiends are similarly forewarned: Ashes is unabashedly straying away from SC2 style unit control systems. Its story of post-humans wiping out civilizations in search of a perfect, quantum-entangled computing stratus is interesting, but feels clinical in the same way that Total Annihilation’s Arm vs Core feud always felt to me. I doubt (sadly) that we’ll see much in the way of an engaging and engrossing story here and while I absolutely unabashedly love the idea of a strategy game which takes place post-scarcity and post-technological singularity, the gameplay seems too traditional to do the lofty topic justice. I mean, seriously? Tanks, on planets, in a post-singularity war? Really? That’s what we’d expect? Premise and execution don’t seem, at this juncture, to be aligning.
I think the tone of this segment has been pretty clear: the scale of the game is interesting, but it’s been done before. It remains to be seen if dividing the map into zones works well (though I dearly love this gameplay in COH2) and how meta-units function as intended. It remains to be seen if the story and characters are compelling, and if the gameplay is deep, emergent and most of all fun. There are concerns at almost every turn, from story to mechanics that could trip up this game.
Two unabashedly bright spots in the Ashes picture are the game’s engine (if its claims prove to be true) which is promising to allow computing to be done against more CPU cores and thus improving… well, everything, and the unveiling of Stardocks’ Tachyon matchmaking system, which is being designed by one of the creators of battle.net. Despite some reservations, I really appreciate what Ashes is driving for, and will eagerly await any open beta the game may have.
NOTE – I have preordered this game, so take any enthusiasm here with a grain of salt.
It’s been tried before, and it’s never worked. Will Servo be the game to crack the code? I am not sure but I can only hope.
I’m talking, of course, about the mythological RTS that manages to incorporate RPG style persistent character upgrades and customization while still keeping the game tightly competitive. As the good folks over at Extra Credits can attest (link to video here) it’s no easy feat. But, along with AirMech and the now-defunct End of Nations, Servo is trying its hand at this little chestnut.
What Servo appears to be is an RTS, not a MOBA – the MOBA, of course, is effectively the bastard child of Diablo 2’s multiplayer and RTS gameplay, with session-based competitive team combat between individual heroes with the obstacle of static base defenses and NPC minion creatures. Any ‘progression’ between matches is pretty nominal, with itemization being session based as well. Servo feels like a parallel attempt to the MOBA genre – with RTS gameplay, but (presumably) Warhammer-style persistent, customizable units.
The way I read Servo’s promotional material, the game will work something like this. The player will build structures, train (mostly inconsequential) units and harvest resources. The titular Servos will function in a similar respect to WarCraft 3’s hero units, only their physical appearance, weapons, innate capabilities such as speed, and abilities will all be persistently customizable via ‘items’ earned while playing the game. Hopefully, these items will be points-costed as the implication is that there will be World of WarCraft style gear rarity involved. Any sort of attempt to achieve overall power parity between high and low level players is, if not essential, damned important in any competitive game, especially RTS.
Who Would be Interested?
This is hard to say. Servo is being billed as a StarCraft competitor, which means it’ll likely feature pretty hefty macro requirements. It might be positioned along the MOBA spectrum, like AirMech, being an ‘eSport’ hopeful title. Maybe kind of an ‘un-MOBA’ for strategy gamers who find themselves turned off both by StarCraft 2 and by League of Legends, DOTA and the other current crop of MOBA games. I kind of hope that it is, to be honest. The short answer to this question would be “me” but take this with a grain of salt, as I was rabidly passionate about End of Nations, and have been known to be partial to Grey Goo as well.
To my recollection, no RTS game has ever successfully incorporated persistent elements. It’s a huge imbalancing factor and tends to mean hours played or money spent results in a player not just playing better, but having inherently better units. Combine this with a new and untested IP and you’re looking at a big question mark that many who feel wary of ‘pay to win’ are going to look askance at. As a rabid supporter of ‘new wave’ RTS games and long hopeful to see some studio crack the persistence code, I’m really looking forward to testing this one out.
Phew. Where to start here? End of Nations was a project that Trion and Petroglyph collaborated on from, like 2009 or 2010 until around late 2013 or so. Then, due to creative differences, Trion dumped Petroglyph off the project and turned End of Nations into an ill-conceived MOBA that ended up being aborted after almost universal disdain by playtesters. After being dumped off the project, Petroglyph spent a couple of months mulling over the major issues with the game and producing a concept they called Victory, a World War 2 iteration of End of Nations with a distinctly Shattered Galaxy vibe. Specifically, units in Victory matches, once killed, could in no way be replaced. Victory was going to be a game of preservation and coordination instead of production and advancement.
Victory’s Kickstarter failed, and the game disappeared into the ether, presumably never to be seen again.
Then, last month (that’d be February 2015 or thereabouts) Victory Command made its appearance. Mechanically very similar to Victory, and with Playgrid as the game’s publisher (along with a co-developer, to boot) Victory Command had shed its Afrika Korps camo for a post-apoc mercenary vibe much closer to the now-dead End of Nations.
The core gameplay in Victory Command appears to work something like this: 2 teams of 5 players pick a company with a specific focus (something like a Hero in DOTA) and compete for control of strategic objectives such as Company of Heroes style victory sectors, etc. Units cannot be regained after they die. Players must work together to achieve victory, as each player is filling a MOBA style role (support, indirect fire, damage soak etc)
Who Would be Interested/Potential Issues
Due to the lack of information about Victory at this point, I’m combining Potential Issues with Who Would Be Interested. Also, my lack of ability to determine a clear market is itself a potential issue.
Like Servo, Victory is seemingly looking to target somewhere in the MOBA/RTS space. As an arcadey, presumably fast-paced game with End of Nations style unit counts (that’d be about 5-20 units per player) it remains unclear if either a Company of Heroes or a StarCraft player would be captivated by the game mechanically. As a ‘casual’ RTS experience, it might draw some MOBA players.
End of Nations was plagued with issues and it is unclear which of them remain. Unit pathfinding was somewhat problematic in EoN, and faction balance was a constant struggle. The divide between the game’s tactical focus and its traditional, old-school RTS mechanics (which are more suited to larger scale games) was likewise disjointed.
I’m itching to get my hands on this game due to my unabashed and unreserved respect for End of Nations. I’ll play the heck out of this game and bombard the devs with comments.
Shallow Space is an homage to and hopeful evolution of Relic’s classic space RTS Homeworld. Honestly, that is enough to interest me in and of itself. In true Homeworld fashion, maps are really and truly 3D and combat will play out within a volume of space, allowing for attacks from all directions. Much like Ashes of the Singularity, Shallow Space is trying to innovate on standard control group formula, in this case with ‘packs’ of ships tasked with specific purposes. From the sound of it, players will start each match with a fully operational battlegroup, with each ship handpicked and hand-designed from the ground up to their specifications. Maybe like Battlefleet Gothic?
Who Would be Interested/Potential Issues
It’s a 3D space RTS. If you didn’t like Homeworld, get off this blog! No, I kid. But seriously, Homeworld is objectively one of the most inspiring and revolutionary RTS games ever made, bar none, and any game which even attempts to pay homage to its formula is worth a look. Shallow Space seems interesting in its attempts to streamline fleet management and its shipbuilding system, although I’m typically wary of player-designed units in strategy games, as this flied in the face of competitive games design: typically, it’s a benefit to see a unit/game piece and to instantly understand its purpose. In fleets of hundreds or even tens of custom units, being able to grok your opponent’s capabilities is not nearly as straightforward.
Also, with its apparent Warhammer/tabletop tactics game style deployment policy, games promise to either be slow paced or over quickly if the game has no build-up phase. As with many of these games, I’m taking the ‘wait and see’ approach here. But as with all these games, there’s definite potential mixed in with the risks.