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The "modern" RTS

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One of my long-time favourite games is Total Annihilation. I have fond memories of playing it almost to death back in the 90's; I found that I tended to avoid the missions (as the story was, well, crap) and go straight for the Skirmishes and LAN battles. Some of the best times I ever had was slogging it out against one of my friends for a long period of time, amassing an army and stomping across the terrain to his base to fell him in a long, bloody battle to the end. An army that took an age to build would meet his near one of the bases and battle it out in a few short minutes until one was defeated. The rest of the game would comprise of building smaller forces to 'clean up' after the major assault and to be frank, was quite dull.

The pace of the 'old time' RTS games such as TA and C&C Red Alert were like this. You'd spend a long time building up an army near your base and then just send them in to destroy the enemy in a single bitter battle to the death. Managing the battle would involve you grouping a load of similar units together and making them move together. It seemed that units were expendable, you didn't care as they never changed during the battle. A frontline would be supported by you sending more units in single file or small groups from your base...

I've played two 'modern' RTS games recently; there's the "LoTR: Battle for Middle Earth" and "Dawn of War" (which I bought yesterday), both of which have completely changed my perspective of how an RTS should be played. Gone are groups of single units and in their place you're presented with 'squads' or 'battalions'. In the LoTR game these gain experience and become better fighters because of it, this doesn't seem to happen in Dawn of War though.

But by far the best feature of both is the ability to tailor your basic squads depending on how they'd be used. In LoTR you can merge basic groups of troops together, choosing to create a multi-purpose squad. In DoW, you can tailor the squads with different weapons; effectively giving you the same sort of customisation. Using the same set of basic troops you can create a general purpose squad, or a more specialised long-range or close combat fighting group. I also like the ability to upgrade squads individually. LoTR lets you add upgrade armour, arrow type and the strength of the blades; DoW lets you add commanders, frag grenades and more. LoTR has banner carriers to boost 'leadership' and allow the squad to regenerate over time; DoW has sargents to help rally troops and features the ability to reinforce the squad on request (and a small cost).

I've found that this sort of customisation 'wills' you into playing the game differently. You begin to care for your troops. I've you've had a squad in place for a while, you don't want them to die and will reinforce their numbers and upgrade them if they weaken. I've also found myself playing more tactically; the modern RTS restricts the number of units you can create quite severely so you're forced to create customised squads and advance slowly in the game. Instead of massing a huge army and sending them all to the other side of the map you find yourself advancing cautiously, moving small pockets of forces forward and providing cover for the others, whilst all the while being prepared to drop back to a 'safe' area. You seem to use the units better; the long range units will be useful up front if the enemy is far off, but you must drop the long rangers back to provide covering fire whilst you send in your grunts to tackle the enemy head-on. I like the way squads can be broken up in combat - from the horse charges in LoTR to the huge explosions in DoW - it really does feel like war.

Suffice to say, the modern RTS game seems to put more of an emphasis on tactics and squad-based combat. Gone is the huge build up before a huge and final battle and in its place is a slower-paced game that forces you to think about where you're going to attack and how. We're talking about many minor battles that cumulate in a final, bigger battle. Altogether it seems better, more exciting and more immersing.

I like it :)
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I definately agree with the old Command & Conquer games, the key was to build a large group and tanks and you could just roll through their base.

Gonna have to disagree with Total Annihilation slightly, at least LAN/multiplayer games. They nearly always seem to turn into a stalemate when I play with friends. Everyone has nuclear weapons and anti-nukes, and how ever you attack, land/water/air the other has enough appropriate defenses or units to fend you off. It's mostly from experience though, gone were the days I could build 50 construction planes, have them 'guard' an aircraft plant and build 200 brawlers which could annihilate the enemy.

Being a GW fan, I of course bought Dawn of War when it came out last year and to be honest I wasn't disappointed. I was so happy they finally made a decent W40k game. And everyone seems to enjoy it (even non GW players). It's still fun to play (the expansion was released earlier this week, and there are a lot of teams working on MODs and new races) and can host the kind of 3-5 hour epic games I'm used to.

Played LOTR:BfME too. In fact, funny you should mention it, since moving into a flat and not having internet for a few weeks, my flatmate and I have been playing daily the past week. The single player campaigns are pretty entertaining (get to play Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith) and multiplayer is great.
The AI isn't too challenging though. It's got to the point where I can beat 6 Hard AIs all on a single team without breaking too much of a sweat.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed the old RTSs, like the original C&C, RA and TA, and I didn't really play many til BfME and DoW, which were a refreshing take on the genre.

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Dawn of War has to be one of my fav. RTS games to date (second only to Ground Control) and the expansion also adds some cool stuff to the game and lets you play as the Imperial Guard, complete with their 'lets chain buildings together and advance up the map' tactics, heh

And yes, I do find myself trying to save squads in it, instead of sticking the trying to slog it out, I'll pull troops back to recover and rebuild and ensure they have some kind of covering fire at the same time.

The customisation is pretty cool as well, when I played as Space Marines all the time I would tend to have 2 squads with heavy bolters for inital suppression, 3 with rocket launchers to tackle enemy vehicals and the rest with plasma for close range skimishing [grin]

Damned fun game, I'll be glad when I've got tomorrow off to get some more MP in [wink]

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I'd have to disagree with your take on TA as well. There were times when I'd play with my friends that we would have 5 to 6 hour games with a number of large battles going on during each game. So yes, there would be some sort of stalemate, but that's when tactics would kick in.

Perhaps my most favorite tactic was in one of these games on a large map. Both bases were heavily fortified and penetration was near impossible. The bases were so far apart that the Big Berta gun was of no use either, but my experience told me that was the way to win this particular game. So, I built a mobile radar jammer and travelled with a construction unit to a remote area of the map that was out of the direct line between our two bases. I had the construction unit build a Big Berta gun. Meanwhile I started sending stealth planes at various points in his base so I could get quick updates on where his major buildings were located, such as power plants, anti-nukes, and where his commander tended to hide out. These stealth planes were quickly destroyed by AA weapons, but it was at least some sort of recon.

About 10 minutes later I hear my friend yelling in the other room about big explosions. Of course he did. My stealthed out Big Bertha was pounding his anti-nukes and power plants. Once the anti-nukes were gone I launched a nuke, but sure enough my Big Bertha randomly hit his commander before my nuke could get there. It was just a shame I couldn't finish the game off with a big bang.

Oh, and he never played with me again. That kind of sucked.

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