Field Report #2: StarCraft 2 and the RTS Genre

By Brian Leahy, Jul 28, 2010 4:00pm PDT A lot of times we play games not for preview or review, but just to have fun (Shocking, we know!). Field Report provides our first-hand experience with the latest games.

While I am going to eventually write a full review for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, I'm not quite ready to do that. I have, however, found myself thinking a lot about the RTS genre and its evolution over the last few years. Many felt the genre had left Blizzard behind, pointing to the work done by Relic with games like Dawn of War II as the true evolution of the genre.

Both types of RTS games have a place, along with different strengths and weaknesses. They are: base-building (StarCraft, Warcraft, Command & Conquer) and squad micromanagement games (Company of Heroes, Dawn of War II).

Squad-type games seem paced for single-player campaigns because no mission time is wasted on building a base from scratch. Players can focus on the combat and get right into the action. While retaining its base-building roots, StarCraft II takes cues from the faster-to-get-to-the-fun theory and removes some of the tedium associated with previous Blizzard campaigns. Many missions come with pre-built bases, and units receive bonuses and abilities through the upgrade meta-game layered on top of the campaign, similar to Dawn of War II.

Base-building games, however, are suited for multiplayer because of the depth added when players are required to make visible tech choices as well as build and control a standing army. The resource collection model based around worker units and "minerals" also makes economic harassment a powerful tactic, which can lead to an assured victory if correctly executed.

In a Dawn of War II multiplayer match, players can queue up new units and upgrades without ever visiting their base. The player's full attention can be placed on the fight. The action plays out quickly with the momentum shifting back and forth. Since the resources are given by holding territory, a strong army leads to an even stronger army. The losing player must save up and field more powerful tech if they hope to turn the tide. Since victory is determined by capturing and holding points for a set amount of time, though, the losing player still stands a chance to sit back and build up. In a game like StarCraft, the player with the superior army simply steamrolls the weakened opponent.

In StarCraft II, however, a player must constantly jump between his or her army and base. In fact, in most cases, watching battles play out is usually less effective than letting the unit AI handle the job and instead using the mental energy to build a new barracks or queue up some reinforcements. There's a push and shove to StarCraft II and games like it; one mistake can lead to instant defeat. If a sneaky Zerg player manages to get flying Mutalisks out, while his Terran opponent focused on ground-attacking Marauders, it's probably game over. Instead of attacking the Terran's units or structures, the Zerg merely has to kill as many resource-gathering workers as possible. With the economic advantage thereby secured, victory becomes all but assured.

This is why, in a game of StarCraft, players will call "gg" and forfeit as soon as they know the odds are stacked too heavily against them. Dawn of War II, however, allows for some impressive come-from-behind victories. Both types of multiplayer games have their place, but StarCraft tends to enjoy more strategic depth due to the importance of base-building and resource-gathering on top of battles. That type of game certainly isn't for everyone and that's fine. We're fortunate enough to have well-honed games on each side of the fence.

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  • that whole article sounds really defensive. Do you feel that is necessary? DoW2 has a fun campaign and after some patches a great multiplayer mode (finally observermode) but overall is a whole different game. It's like back in the day when people compared Guild Wars to WoW.

    SC2 is an amazing game, there is nothing that makes me think "oh I wish they would have done this or that". The only way to make it better is to make more of it.

    of course will people who prefer real time tactics to real time strategy think that DOW2 is the better game. But it's like fighting over if Madden or Fifa is the better game.

    Just from the amount of polish and content this game doesn't objectively need to fear any other game coming out this year. Additionally, in my opinion this is the best game Blizzard has made yet. And I think I said it before, this is the first game from them I would set on par with the quality of games Origin used to make in the 90s.

  • Ah the old micro vs macro religious war has begun! I'm amazed it took this long.

    Innovation for its own sake is *not* a laudable goal, and gamers really shouldn't clamour for it. If more games had as focused a design goal as SC2, we'd all be in a happier place. The unwinnable race for check-box ticking and the community's vicious savaging of anyone who doesn't get off the starting blocks is a blight on this industry. If you think SC2 fails because you can't zoom out to view the whole map, then you've missed the point entirely.

    And by the way, to the author, if you think you have to return to your base to queue unit production, you should immediately learn about the marvel of hot-keys. :)