May 19, 2009

Assaulting the RTS Brain Bunker

The past few evenings, I've been greatly enjoying a playthrough of the Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II demo. DoW2 is a recent real time strategy game release for Windows machines only.

Those following my Twitter feed will know that I'm a Mac-only cat these days. So, to give DoW2 a whirl, I installed Windows 7 (Release Candidate build) on my iMac via Boot Camp. It was a very easy install, and has been running without a hitch.

Anyway, back on topic, even though DoW2 is a RTS game, there are a lot of RPG elements to it. Loot drops are scattered throughout the maps, offering upgrades and customization for your heroes' gear. Similarly, progress earns you points which may be spent to increase attribute scores and open up special abilities in the process - very similar to Mass Effect's system.

In a departure from most RTS games, there is no base building in DoW2. None. Instead, players immediately tasked with tactically directing up to four discrete squads of Imperial Space Marines and managing their special abilities. Moreover, the "hero" character that leads each squad can't be permanently killed, which keeps the story moving, but they can be incapacitated temporarily during a mission. The individual troopers can be squished messily however, decreasing the strength of your force.

The short version is: this game is a RTS game for people easily frazzled by RTS micro-management, and/or those that tire of the base building click-fest. People like, you know, me. Plus, we're talking WH40K here, so the setting is bitchin' and bombastic. My only complaint is that the 1P story mode is Space Marines-only. You don't get to play as Orcs, Eldar, or the Tyranids (Genestealers) in the campaign mode. (All the races are available in multiplayer, however.)

Storm that Bunker, Soldier!

So, enjoying this "RTS lite" has caused me to wonder whether I might be able to break my real time strategy game brain-block. For some time, I have found myself disliking RTS gameplay. I even attempted to play through Warcraft III a while back, having enjoyed the storyline vicariously via WoW. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get into it. It was fun in the beginning, but as the difficulty ramped up with each mission, the old cerebral sweats and stuff-to-click overload started to kick in.

Thing is, I used to really enjoy playing Warcraft and Warcraft II with friends back in the day! So, why this "new" dislike of RTS gaming? I think all the base-building and arms-race-style play is a big factor. Sometimes this mechanic feels stressful and a little too much like work. These days, with all my day-to-day responsibility, I like a game that allows me to mentally chill. It's what drives me to play, really. To be really honest, after a week of no gaming, Lance can be a very stressed-out puppy.

In any case, now I'm all RTS-curious. Since I traded off my Warcraft III Battle Chest through Goozex a while back, I downloaded the demo this morning, and I'm going to give it another shot tonight. Maybe I can break this mental blockade once and for all. I need to figure out whether to buy Warcraft III, or if my RTS tolerance is unbreakable, to just accept my handicap and scoop up Dawn of War 2.

Moreover, seeing as Starcraft 2 is looming on our horizon like a hulking, alien mother ship, and considering that I've never played through the original, I'm also thinking about giving Starcraft a shot too. If I do prove amenable to RTS gaming again, I'd really like to experience the SC1 storyline before #2 launches. I'm just very skeptical about what Starcraft will look like on my 24" iMac. I mean, the max resolution is 640x480 for cripe's sake. It's going to be like Super-Aliased Lego Starcraft. We shall see when I grab the demo tonight...

Edit: Follow-up post found here.

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