Field Report #2: StarCraft 2 and the RTS Genre

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.

From The Chatty
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    July 28, 2010 4:06 PM

    I like both style but I prefer the blizzard way. ;) Great article!

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      July 28, 2010 4:45 PM

      I generally like the Warcraft/starcraft and command and conquer type of base building RTS much more than the DoW type of RTS.

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      July 28, 2010 5:19 PM

      Same here. I like DoW II but I have to say that the layer of strategy base building and resource gathering is really what puts the S in RTS. Good article. I kind of wish DoW II had been more like DoW I but with DoW II's sense of scale. The explosions and big vehicular units really make their presence felt when they show up on screen.

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        July 28, 2010 6:16 PM

        The strategy simply moved from placing the same buildings every game to focusing instead on combat. DOW battles are so much funner than SC battles. The sqad mechanics, cover, flanking, suppression, squad customization, abilities, hero unit wargear, victory points, req/power points, etc., make for infinitely more strategy when it comes to actual battles than SC.

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          July 28, 2010 8:15 PM

          On a micro level, probably. On a macro level no.

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          July 29, 2010 1:10 AM

          You're talking more about Tactics, not Strategy... DOW is pretty much just micro... it feels more like an action-RPG, where-as SCII is macro and micro...

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