How will AoE4 approach design issues of available strategies?
It comes sooner than later by any game release to the main and mayor problem,
what can the player actually do in the game?
It might sound as an odd question at first, but if we look into the overall situation,
while there are intentions by designers, it doesn’t mean they do carry well over to the player.
So what goes on for years fundamentally wrong within the RTS genre, without the bigger studios to realize it? Well they try to approach it by make faction asymmetrical and different, change things and include new ideas, but is the result in the end an increased gameplay variety?
Apparently exactly the opposite does occur, making the overall product worse.
Lets pick as example Universe at War
metacritic Metascore 77 and User Score 8.5
Awards ActionTrip: Best strategy game of E3 2007.
Awards Kotaku: Best strategy game of E3 2007
Universe at War stands out in a number of ways. As has been highlighted,
each faction is very unique: this game is one of the pinnacles of asymmetrical design in the genre.
The unit designs (both in terms of art and gameplay), especially for the Novus,
are some of the best you’ll see outside of Blizzard’s and Westwood’s classic RTS titles.
It does represent very well in my opinion the dilemma by “modern” RTS. While it was original and received good ratings, was it a good game? The game never received add-ons, despite having quite some hints for 4rth faction. You can’t even buy it any more despite developer (Petroglyph Games) and publisher (Sega) still are around.
What happened? What went wrong?
While receiving high ratings and score, does not mean game is going to get good sales,
it has been already for years criticized that new RTS dont provide good gameplay experience.
If the player isn’t entertained by the product, he clearly won’t spend money on it. Even by easy to design genres like Shooters, we have seen with EAs Anthem & Amazones Crucible, that big budgets and teams can’t pull off a successful product, if gameplay is overall quite boring, shallow and generic.
So, how to entertain a person with an RTS game?
As an old proverb says “It’s the journey, not the destination”
I would partition the journey by RTS into 3 phases.
-1- Preparation phase, should not be boring
-2- combat phase, should be exiting
-3- crushing phase, should not take forever
Universe at War did there overall there not a good job.
The gameplay for one of factions did consist of merely buy 3 huge walkers, than to crush anything in their way. Was extremely repetitive.
The game had overall a lot of aspects, I would describe as best as design mistakes.
They had idea, one faction would teleport its units, one faction would have walking buildings, but a very simplified tech tree and extreme unit/building limit, does not allow to have any kind of gameplay variety, as you can with same units and buildings do only same approach.
An extreme unit limit if max 7 harvester units, and 3 huge attack units is self explaining for not a big variety. By the other faction you had a building, where units could teleport next to it, but you had to build other buildings next to it to work. Overall you had to manage like 10 max 20 buildings. You will get there stick fast to same build order. The default unit limit was for just 40 units, you could increase it in custom matches till 90, but still the limit for harvesters and huge walkers did stay same. And your harvester walkers would already take 27 of 40 lol.
So, to make their idea of walking buildings work, they did simplify down a lot of crucial aspects. It did take quite a while to put everything on its place, huge walkers had to move quite slow to have appropriate pace for other factions that had to deal with base build that was dumbed down. The game suffered not only from a too slow, but also too simplified preparation phase.
Nevertheless game suffered from massive balance problems, as clearly in early phase on small maps those huge walkers would easy crush bases and on longer and bigger maps walkers would be overwhelmed.
Units in the game were not good designed for tactics either. as it was merely produce a blob of lot smaller units to attack bigger ones.
The game had very bad overview over the battlefield and units were quite clanky, while they had quite issues to move around the map, as they did get stuck a lot, I did quite wonder why didn’t they fix it prior to games launch. Sure they wanted to make their huge walkers look huge and units alien, but in all respect to ascetics: You must have by an RTS a good overview over the situation and units must move fluent.
Even worse was the economy capacity and their concept how the game had to end. While resources would run out after like 20 minutes, you had to with slow units, find and kill every last survivor. So after crushing enemies base, you had to look at each corner of map, if the enemy did not put there some random building just to annoy you. Sure in Starcraft and AoE you also have resources that do run out, but you have in SC fast units, to fast find and finish the game, by AoE you can buy for gold upgrade to see their location. Universe at War expected from people play for hours hide and seek.
But the worst was, the game had no variety of strategies, how you had to play the game, each match was same.
I would personally describe Universe at War from 2006 as one of the worst titles ever designer for the genre, but we still had to see similar mistakes ever years later in Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, BattleForge, WorldShift, Act of Aggression, Grey Goo, Empires Apart, Ancestors Legacy, Dawn of War 3, Forged Battalion, Year of Rain.
As it comes now to AoE4, why shouldn’t there the same mistakes happen all over again?
RTS used to have strategies like:
Rush: Specialized at build strike forces as fast as possible.
Turtle: Specialized at build base with good defence
Guerilla: A mix of hit and run tactics with traps
Steamroller: Build as large army as possible prior to attack
But modern RTS tend to simplify games to a point, where you can’t change your tactics. It has been some years, since we had an RTS, where it was possible to have an variety what you can actually do there.