Starcraft II

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Mar 25, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 71 comments

Last year Blizzard announced that Starcraft II is coming.

I don’t know if there is an official release date yet, but I expect it to hit sometime this year. Which means Starcraft II will come out a decade after its predecessor. That’s a huge length of time between sequels. (Compose and insert your own Duke Nukem joke here, thanks – mgmt.) For contrast, Tomb Raider first appeared in 1996, and has had eight major titles, eight re-releases / expansions, and seven titles on other platforms. I’m not saying Blizzard should have pumped the series (can we call it a series when the second one isn’t even out yet?) the way Eidos did for Tomb Raider, but after the smashing success of the first game I think most people expected the follow-up a little sooner.

I know it’s old, but I still dig those 1998 Starcraft graphics.  Not just in a nostalgic sense, but even compared to modern titles.  It’s not as sophisticated, but it still looks great.  The technology made it good then, but the art direction keeps it good today. (Still, I do find myself wishing I could zoom out.)
I know it’s old, but I still dig those 1998 Starcraft graphics. Not just in a nostalgic sense, but even compared to modern titles. It’s not as sophisticated, but it still looks great. The technology made it good then, but the art direction keeps it good today. (Still, I do find myself wishing I could zoom out.)
But it’s not like they’ve been sitting around doing nothing all this time. In the past decade Blizzard was bought out, suffered at least one employee exodus, refocused on the (insanely profitable) MMORPG World of Warcraft, began and then aborted the Starcraft spinoff title Starcraft Ghost, and manged to put out a title and an expansion in their other RTS property, Warcraft. They are a company with more opportunities than manpower, and I give them credit for not just hiring an army of losers to crank out sequel after sequel. The ten-year lapse may indicate they were waiting until they were in a position to do it right.

I know I’ll get the game, although the RTS genre has pretty much left me behind since Starcraft ruled the earth. RTS has evolved in much the same way FPS games did over a similar time period: Each new title introduces another layer of depth and complexity intended to please existing fans, while placing the games further and further out of the reach of newcomers. This demo from BlizzCon ’07 is a parade of confounding new elaborations for players to master:

The original Warcraft was very simple. Players could grasp the basics in just a few minutes. The sequel created a nice Rock, Paper, Scissors relationship between the unit types, giving the game some depth at the expense of a bit of a learning curve. Now Rock, Paper, Scissors is viewed as childish and quaint, a gameplay mechanic for children. Now if you want to put out an RTS to please the fans of the genre you need twenty different unit types with convoluted overlapping relationships that give rise to tactics so numerous they require their own Wiki to be fully explained, and years of dedicated play to master. Unit A is weaker than Unit B unless A has a certain upgrade or B is fighting at a distance, provided that they don’t have unit C supporting them. And this entire relationship becomes moot if aerial Unit D is present and there are no air defenses or if the allotment of resources on the map makes B and D too expensive to produce in bulk. At some point my eyes glaze over and I become irritated, “Look, just tell me which of these little doodads I gotta build.” As if this isn’t perplexing enough for your tastes, Warcraft III had all of this plus a little stats-building RPG running on top of it.

I’m not saying that complexity is bad or that the games shouldn’t evolve, but at some point they transformed into something new. The “easy to learn, hard to master” aspect of Warcraft 2 has been replaced with “tortuous to learn, impossible to master”. I have this sinking feeling that when I get Starcraft II the game I loved will be buried deep beneath the surface of bewildering modern RTS mechanics, far beyond my reach.


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71 thoughts on “Starcraft II

  1. Zukhramm says:

    That’s what makes me dislike RTSes. That, and me thinking that and RTS should be able to be vastly different from how they look now.

    I mean, Real-Time Strategy should neither have to mean you have to control an amount of units from a view from above, nor should it have to mean building bases and units.

    The third problem for me is that playing in real-time makes it hardera for me on the strategy part, which is the point of the game.

  2. Craig says:

    You know, I’ve always kinda sucked at the “craft” games. I kept buying them though, because I really liked blizzard as a company (plus it warcraft II was possibly one of the only games my dad and I could play together.) Not only did I like pretending that I could hold my own in a strategy game, but blizzard made all games not only mac compatible, but mac-pc compatible on the same disk. Even at 10 years old I was attempting to sway the computer game market with my personal purchases. It helped that I always liked the art styles, as well.

    EDIT: aww, I was hoping for a FRIST POASt… also, I agree with #1

  3. JFargo says:

    You know, I must be the only geek in existence that couldn’t get into Starcraft. I could get so far in a single-player game, and then the learning curve just took me so hard that I walked away rubbing my bum.

    That’s the way I feel about most RTS games though, so maybe it’s just a failing on my part. Maybe if I go back and start with the original Warcraft, working my way up slowly, bit-by-bit, I’ll be able to play some of the modern titles.

  4. Phlux says:

    Amen brother Shamus. The added layers of complexity rarely draw me in. I’m really glad that with C&C3 they kept the game mechanic fairly basic so that I could enjoy the part of C&C that I really enjoy…live action cutscenes.

    I was terrible at Starcraft, and I’m bad at strategy games in general. Other than C&C3, the last strategy game I really enjoyed was GalCiv2…but then the expansions came out and ruined it for me. Asteroid mining? Spies? Increased micromanagement? Pass!

    There is a very specific threshold of complexity that I can handle in a strategy game and still find it enjoyable. If it’s turnbased it can afford more complexity because I don’t have to worry about a zerg rush while I’m managing my planets, but the threshold is still there.

    The only thing that kept me playing games like Starcraft and Homeworld were the stories…and in both cases it wasn’t enough to see me through the end of the single player campaign.

  5. Cadamar says:

    I hear ya, Shamus.
    I own copies of both Civ3 and Civ4 (yeah they aren’t “real time” but so what). Guess which one I still play. And I think I stopped playing Simcity after v2. I have to think a lot for my job, I don’t want to think that hard when I game. There is definitely a threshold when the complexity of a game goes from fun to work.
    The tricky part is that the threshold is different for different people. Perhaps a variable difficulty system that doesn’t just change the AI level but actually removes layers of micromanagement from the game? Sort of a casual player to dedicated player slider?

  6. McNutcase says:

    I generally consider “Real-Time Strategy” to be a misnomer. What’s generally sold as RTS are what I would consider logistics games – resource management is the key, allowing you to build the right units in the right order and quantities. The only game I would actually call a real-time strategy game is actually Defcon, which is distinctly different. Personally, I find the base-building and resource management annoying at best, and so my usual games in this genre don’t involve either beyond “keeping an eye on my special ability ammunition stockpiles”. Said games are Ground Control (a nice squad-level game, with some added complexity insofar as you get to select your units, they can become better, and it’s possible to make a hash of your objectives if you pick units wrong) and the Myth series, which is utterly straightforward: “Here are the forces you have. Here are your objectives. Get on with it.”

    Although I rather like turn-based “strategy”. My favourite is more simulationist: Battleground Ardennes. That’s old enough that it came out on a CD containing two versions: one for Windows 3.1, and one for Windows 95. Despite that, it’s still very absorbing, even once you get to the stage of being able to reliably max scenarios…

  7. Freykin says:

    I agree with you on this too. Take a look at the jump between Total Annihilation, which for the longest time I considered the top of the RTS pile, and Supreme Commander. I can’t even figure out what to build in Supreme Commander before my opponent has overwhelmed me with shielded amphibious battle stations that pump out units while stomping through my base.

    That said, one of my favorite games to play has come about thanks to RTS’s. It’s a map for Warcraft III called DotA, and I’ve been hooked on it for about two years. It’s like a mini competitive action rpg, with up to ten players. It’s great since pretty much any computer nowadays can run it, so anyone who finds it interesting can join in the fun. Plus it’s constantly being updated and evolving, one of my favorite things to see happen to a game. I’ve probably spent more time playing DotA than I have any other game over the course of my 22 year long gaming career.

  8. Nilus says:

    Screw Star Craft 2. Where is Diablo 3 Blizzard?

  9. lplimac says:

    I’m just curious on what the system requirements are. Hopefully it’s not a systems hog, which will allow it to run on my secondary system, as it’s the one my son uses to play Warcraft III and he’d be more likely to play SCII than I would.

  10. Tausney says:

    I agree that as time goes on, games in any genre gradually add to themselves and will become more complex. Developers have to do this or be cursed with making merely clones of other games.
    But there are times when these added hooks are not merely for show but evolve the genre entirely. One of the most recent of these in my opinion comes in the fantastically intuitive zoom function of Supreme Commander.

    However complex the game mechanics may have become, that simple ability alone leaves other RTS’s gagging in its wake.
    I tried the new expansion to Dawn of War and felt someone had put blinkers on me whenever i (continuously) pulled my mouse wheel back, and could not get a worldly view.

    Games do get more complex as time goes on, it has to happen. But i hope it’s innovations like these which Blizzard are spending their time on that seem so simple, but benifit the genre immensely.

  11. Strangeite says:

    Cadamar: I have to disagree with you on your analysis of Civ. I know that I am behind the times, but I purchased Civ 4 about two months ago and find that I have to micro-management far less than I did in Civ 3. In fact their approach is brilliant in that you CAN still micro-manage the hell out of your civilization but it is not near as necessary on the higher difficulties as it was in Civ 3. In fact I would argue that Civ 4 almost already incorporates the variable difficulty system you describe.

    Now granted that necessitates that you are going to utilize mostly a cottage based economy and not a specialist based economy, since a specialist economy is entirely based around micro-management. Granted I am only two months in, but I think all players that utilize a specialist based economy are sadomasocists anyway.

  12. Ouvintes says:

    Yeah, I see what you mean. I like RTS games but I’m always frustrated because I suck. I also have to agree with Nilus: where is the Diablo sequel ?? Diablo II was one of the greatest games I ever played. Would a sequel make sense today, tough ? What would the game look like ?

  13. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I don’t think Starcraft 2 is going to get lost in the complexity. From the videos it does look like it should be slightly less complicated then say Warcraft 3 was. Complexity isn’t always a bad thing. The Empire Earth series is a good example. The first two had just so much stuff that it could boggle the mind with like 6 different resource types and at least 100 different units. When the third one came out they made it so simple that it got stupid and flopped miserably. I was very upset by that. Also I’d have to say that Starcraft’s requirements are going to be similar to Warcraft 3. They look a bit a like to me the only difference is they’ll need more juice to be able to have the larger amount of units on screen unlike the pathetic amount warcraft ended up with.

  14. Tango says:

    Having not played an RTS since Warcraft 2 until I picked up a special editon of Age of Mythology late last year, I agree that the RTSes have gotten too complex. Hopefully, StarCraft 2 does not take this route.

    Why anyone would Diablo 3 when Diablo 2 should not have been made, I don’t know. Diablo felt like someone made Gauntlet entirely too complicated.

  15. Roleplay says:

    Yeah, I didn’t play Homeworld 2 because of the added complexity… but I think the key is having the ability to get by on some level WITHOUT the added complexity. Of course, competitive gaming is going to REQUIRE that you be on top of your micro – but you should be able to enjoy the game within the first 15 minutes of play.

  16. Adamantyr says:

    I don’t know, I have better hopes for Starcraft II as an RTS.

    Starcraft annoyed me because far too much of the game relied on your logistical management skills, which could lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. The telling factor was that I had to turn on the cheat codes at some given point as I simply could not be bothered to play the same map over and over again and waste hours.

    Warcraft III, though, they seemed to ease up a bit. I remember that I was able to play through every map without cheating; the only one I did that one was the last one because I was disinclined to play through over and over again. The resource limit was good too, in that you realized that what you had at max usage was all you could do, and it was sufficient to win, handled right.

    I think a large reason why SC is so popular in South Korea, though, is the fact it requires such a hands-on approach. That makes me wonder if SC2 will bring back that, or if they’ll do something like “tournament mode” for those who don’t want aid or assistance from the UI.

  17. MadTinkerer says:

    My take on the “lack” of a Diablo III:

    Blizzard is working on it, but keeping quiet about it. (not directly confirmed for a while, but it did get a mention a while ago)

    Blizzard is also working on an MMO that is explicitly not Warcraft based. (This has been confirmed recently.)

    Now, I know it’s circumstantial evidence, but is it really that hard to put those two concepts together? i.e. Diablo III IS the new Blizzard MMO.

  18. Taellosse says:

    I’ve never been hugely into RTS games, but I’ve played, and enjoyed, all the ones by Blizzard (except for the original Warcraft). I always thought Blizzard was good at ramping up the difficulty in the single-player mode at a rate that I could generally keep up. I rarely got stuck on a mission for any great length of time (though I do remember one or two in Warcraft 3 that were a bitch to complete, later in the game). They seem to generally be pretty good at holding your hand, so I’m not too worried. And they’ve always been good at writing interesting plots–and it’s always been the story that really drew me into a game. Gameplay mechanics get boring for me pretty quickly, if that’s all there is, no matter how good they are.

  19. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I have heard that about Diablo III before too. Even if its not an mmo I bet we won’t see it until WoW starts to finally die down a bit.

  20. guy says:


    i really hate supreme commander, and the zoom function doesn’t do it for me. i recall my first game with a fully adaptable zoom function. it was called black and white. i know it wasn’t an RTS, but it shows that the supreme commander zoom function isn’t original. other RTS games have a feature that fulfills the same purpose the supreme commander zoom function is used for by me. tiberian dawn was the first RTS to use this fantastic feature, known as a minimap.

  21. Spam Vader says:

    @ Bogan:
    Empire Earth is complex? The unit rock paper scissors mechanic never made any difference, you just needed one good attack unit, some ranged units, and medics if you’re in the right eras. Online, they were all one-unit armies. It was simple. But fun. Two tried to add complexity, but failed doing so.

    Anyway, there’s one concern that I have for Starcraft II after the system requirements: Unit micromanegement. Every unit has a special ability now, and I don’t really want to have to follow my units around the map, so I can switch them to ground mode or some other great feature. This is an RTS! I have to follow things happening on more than one place on the map!

  22. The Werebear says:


    I have always been interested by the Warcraft and Starcraft stories, but I have never been able to get into the games very well. Straight up frenzied action and unit command I can do. Base building I can do. But when the two come together while getting swarmed with enemies, I get flustered and can’t handle it.

    RTS’s just aren’t my cup of tea. It’s a pity, because I really want to play. However, it isn’t worth my time and money to be repeatedly smoked by the AI on easy. I slogged through Warcraft III and Frozen Throne, but , pathetic as it sounds, I couldn’t beat Reign of Chaos without resorting to cheating on the last two missions (I freaking hate Night Elves) and I couldn’t beat the final mission in Frozen Throne, even with cheating.

    Oh, and I second DoTA as an absolutely awesome little game.

  23. Nilus says:

    I hope Diablo III is not a true MMORPG. Being a simple online game made it more fun. And I hope its still free online, but I know the chances of that are slim. It probably will be nothing like Diablo 2, which is still fun to play upon occasion honestly.

    As far as what Blizzards next MMORPG is gonna be. My bet is it will be World of Starcraft.

  24. Cuthalion says:

    I started on RTSes with Red Alert: the Aftermath. I always loved the Soviets. Then I moved on to Age of Empires II, then The Conquerors. Then Starcraft: Brood War. After that, I never did find another one I really liked.

    Red Alert 2 was all right, I guess. Impossible Creatures was a great concept that was hampered by poor, imo, gameplay and balancing. I mean, just combine moose with kangaroo and you can kill everything… Too bad I haven’t seen something since that tried to do something more with it. Battle for Middle Earth I was fun, but it was too simple, by which I mean it was simple enough as to be utterly predictable against both computers and humans. With humans, it was just going back and forth with the superpowers until someone died. I think its problems were the lack of ability to turn off powers (if I remember right) and the rigidity of base-building. They should’ve made that an option, not a requirement. Empire Earth? Well, I loved the first one with its expansion, until I got passed the progress-through-all-ages-this-is-SO-COOL euphoria and realized the game was slow, boring, and all about who got nukes first. Tiberian Sun I did not like at all.

    As for turn-based, I really liked Lords of Magic, except that it went out of synch without fail on multiplayer games (which were the most fun).

    So, I guess my favorite RTS is tied between AoE2:C and Starcraft (with or without Broodwar). I have to admit I’ve never really played the Warcraft or Total Annihilation games much, or AoE3, etc. So I have limited experience.

    What I liked about those games is that it wasn’t too complicated, while still being deep enough to allow for variety and replay value.

    I have to confess something here: I hated single-player campaigns. I still do. I just never got into them, and they were way too hard for me at the time. I suppose I could maybe have beat them if I tried again, but I really only played “Skirmish” (player-vs-computer random battles) or Multiplayer games. Sorry Shamus. So I judge these at a lopsided angle.

    In summary:
    1. Starcraft = The Awesome
    2. Age of Empires II: The Conquerors = Medieval-Geek Paradise
    3. Red Alert: Aftermath = Delicious Nostalgia
    4. Everything else I tried just didn’t do it for me.
    5. They need to do what was suggested here: put in optional complexity.

  25. Blackbird71 says:

    I think the fact that to this day I can walk into my local Best Buy and find a copy of the original Starcraft says a lot, both about the quality of the game and the current state of RTS games in general.

    Warning: game stories and reminiscing follow!

    I’ll never forget the first time I played Starcraft. It was brand new, and I was at a LAN party. The spawn option was perfect for this, allowing multiple players to use a single disc, and I’ve always thought it was a feature that contributed greatly to the popularity of the game (take that DRM! here was a successful game that actually encouraged copies, albeit limited in functionality). Since the game was so new, everyone that night was pretty much on the same level, trying to figure it out. We played one round where everyone just started spamming their basic little units, while I decided to experiment with the tech tree. I ended up crushing everyone with a pair of battlecruisers :). We did a capture the flag round that never got anywhere because no one could figure out how to pick up the flag. Ah, good times, good times….

  26. Cuthalion says:

    Hate to extend my comment any longer, but here are what I liked best about the RTSes I played.

    AoE2:C: 40 units in a group, as opposed to Starcraft’s 12
    Impossible Creatures: Customized units, but before gameplay starts
    Battle for Middle Earth: Auto-cast of certain spells.
    Starcraft: Completely different races. Made for more variety in gampeplay. Also, map editor that let you crank up the resource nodes so they wouldn’t run out.

    Maybe my gameplay style will explain why I liked those.
    1. Get resources harvesting
    2. Get base defenses
    3. Expand base with as many harvesters as sanely possible
    4. Climb the tech tree
    5. Max out the pop limit with soldiers of whatever type or combo is appropriate for the game and opponents
    6. Attack-move to the end of the enemy base
    7. Keep building and attack-moving until I win or lose

    There’s nothing in there about managing a couple guys at a time or casting spells unit-by-unit. That was my brother’s style, which is why I always beat him. 160+ hydralisks and some overlords beats a dozen dark templars, an observer, and an absurdly-fortified base every time. He’d turtle up and micromanage a small combat group, but no matter how well-defended his base was, I’d eventually crack it somehow or other because he didn’t take the offense.

    So I like the games where you can choose where to build, what to build, how many to build, and when to attack, without worrying about telling your high templar to cast psionic storm. Large armies and hotkeys are my idea of RTS fun.

  27. Cuthalion says:

    Amen, Blackbird! I HATE games that expect you to buy a copy for every person in your LAN. I don’t like single-player much, so when my brother and I want to play, we have to shell out twice as much. Then if my sister wants to play, too…

  28. Ranneko says:

    @Guy: Supreme Commander does have a minimap.

    I had the minimap turned on the entire time I played that game, but I primarily loved the ability to zoom out, playing most other RTSes afterwards made you feel like you were way too close to the ground (especially War3, it makes DotA so annoying).

    I really need to try the expansion to SupCom, especially since I now have 2 screens and SupCom supports that.

  29. guy says:

    that’s actually pretty hard. you want to encourage using complexity to avoid making it ignored, but you don’t want to give enough advantage to using it. on-off options lead to balance issues

  30. Zukhramm says:

    Age of Empires 2, I acutally liked that game. No idea why, when I dislike real-time strategy otherwise. Never played the expansion though, got to get it sometime.

  31. edcalaban says:

    I’m a fan of the way they set up the complexity in Warcraft 3 and its expansion. The basic game is simple and relatively easy to grasp, with maybe a few sticking points. But with the usability of triggers and the unit editor for map making anyone can create incredibly simple or stupedously complex game types. I can till go online to and find a game of nearly any complexity. Everything from the original setup to games where I control one unit that spawns ridiculous numbers of other units.

    In other words, simplicity of the original game is nice but the capability to expand without having to resort to full scale modding is what entices me. That and a forgiving online community.

  32. guy says:


    I know. i’m not some completely uninformed biased commentator. i don’t think that the super-zoom is really a vital feature. all i used it for was a slightly more conveint mini-map.

    i will admit that i haven’t played any RTS since, as my game-time has been absorbed by Depths of Peril

  33. tom says:

    I still cant beat the last terran mission on starcraft, because everytime i try it, the enemy sneaks in the ONE hole in my defense and kills everything important, and only then does the game warn me “your under attack”. either that or they assasinate raynor

    annoying as it is, its still fun too get so close to winning.

  34. Ranneko says:

    @guy: Sorry, but the way you put it in your original post seemed to imply that Supreme Commander lacked a mini-map entirely and the full zoom out was all that was available.

  35. guy says:


    The doctor prescribes more seige tanks. and taking the ramps.

  36. Bogan the Mighty says:

    @ Spam Vader

    Well I considered the large amount of units even though they were never all that different and having more then two resources to gather in a rts to start becoming complex. Plus I only really played the second one very much too. Never played online much though, but I do see what you mean by armies of one unit.

  37. Joshua says:

    I have to agree with Strangeite that Civ IV was generally an improvement over Civ III as far as Micromanaging, while also allowing more actual options and strategies. However, my wife and I both were not that impressed with the Beyond the Sword expansion, finding the Espionage point counter more than we wanted to deal with. I wish that was one of the options you could select to be on or off to manage complexity.

  38. Gaping_MAW says:

    If there is no complexity there is no gameplay depth. Great RTS games (e.g. Company of Heroes, War3, SupCom) are great because of the huge variety of skill levels that can play and enjoy the game at whichever level they are at…… so what needs to happen is that new players need to be gradually introduced to that depth rather than dropped in the deep end.

    Gradual and engaging SP campaigns and then Multiplayer ladders with good matchmaking are the key to this.

    Wishing for everything to be ‘easy’ will not result in new and interesting content and new ways of playing games. Be careful what you wish for Shamus.

  39. Dillon says:

    I wonder if game companies could make money by taking old games, pumping up the graphics a bit, and updating them for current day users. (Stuff like Simtower and civilization 2 might be fun for me to take up again, if I could find them and find a copy that works on newer operating systems.)

  40. Scott says:


    Dune II conveniently offered a mini-map 3 years before C&C.

  41. Cineris says:

    I have to say, I don’t really think complaining about the lack of rock, paper, scissors design is all that legitimate.

    What people mean when they say they want to move away from that design is they don’t want your entire army to be effectively useless when you’ve got 8 Tanks and 8 Marines and the enemy comes at you with 12 Swarms, when the ideal counter unit for Swarms is the Flyswatter.

    Additionally, if I have 8 Marines now, why should they become useless in 10 minutes once I get the Mech facility? They shouldn’t. That’s the point of thinking beyond Rock-Paper-Scissors. Having every unit be useful throughout the game is a learning-curve-friendly move. High level players will have scouted their opponent and know exactly what he’s building and what to build to counter it. Soft counters just mean your average player won’t get utterly annihilated for not building exactly the right thing.

  42. GAZZA says:

    Just another “me too”. Exactly like you, Shamus, Starcraft was pretty much the last RTS I played (and still play, occasionally). I have no stomach nor desire to master 20 different unit types; even in Starcraft I tended to under-use the highly micromanaged units (like Defilers and the Terrain research ship).

    Of course Starcraft DID have a sequel of sorts (Brood War – OK, more of an expansion than a sequel, but it DID change the game a fair bit – Mutalisks go from awesome to pwned). I prefer the original sans-Brood War for multiplayer, though the single player campaign was fairly interesting.

    Anyway, I trust Blizzard. I think Starcraft 2 deserves at least a look – they’ve got a (good) habit of not following the Jones’s, and I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt that SC2 will be as playable as SC1 – at least until it becomes clear that it isn’t.

    Strangely enough I don’t ALWAYS mind micromanagement – part of the reason that I prefer Civ 3 to Civ 4 is that I can see what the consequences of my actions are much more readily in Civ 3 than 4 – part of this is no doubt due to the fact that I’ve played the former far more often than the latter, but the REASON that I haven’t played 4 very much is because it doesn’t really compel me to do so the way that 3 did. There is no accounting for taste; I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is about 4 that turns me off.

  43. tussock says:

    “If there is no complexity there is no gameplay depth.”

    That depends on how one measures complexity, and if any of it leads to interesting behavior in the players rather than getting lost as noise.

    Chess (for instance) is turn based, with only one unit moving per turn. It has 5 1 unit types that all automatically kill any other unit they move onto. You get the same number of units each time, the same for both teams, and they all start in the same place on the same map. The map only has 8×8 spaces to stand and no terrain features, with the most common unit unable to access most spaces. You lose only when the key unit is destroyed.

    The “complexity” comes from them moving slightly differently and so threatening more or less opposing units with destruction depending on where they and the others stand.

    It’s a very deep game, with dozens of known “good” start patterns that quickly diverge to billions of “good” mid game patterns, with traps, defensive and offensive styles, risky gambles to be made. Still, it’s /very/ simple.

    Most RTS games, OTOH, are infinitely more complex, with far less depth.

  44. Daktylo says:

    If resource management turns you off, then switch to Dawn of War. The management of resources is a lot simpler and you don’t have to get bogged down with telling your worker bee units to slave away at a mine or gas factory.

  45. Nathanael says:

    I began playing RTS games 15 years ago and I still play them today and absolutely love them, so my view is a bit biased. I mean, one can only speak about what he experienced. So, my recap:

    1. Dune II – Great story (I really like Frank Herbert´s saga), first introduction to RTS gameplay, simple to play with only one resource to gather. 3 diferent factions, but not distinguished enough in a way you would have to learn how to play them differently.
    2. Age of Empires – For the ancient history buff, that game was gold. Introduced the concept of multiple resources and There are over 10 factions to play different strategies and when I first played online I got a feeling of how RTS are a different game on multiplayer.
    3. Age of Empires 2 – The perfecting of a great formula. The game improved on every aspect in relation to the previous game, though not in a revolutionary way. The online multiplayer aspect of the game was what got me really hooked up on the game, where I spent precious time perfecting strategies.
    4. Age of Mythology – After moving away from RTS from some time, I got back to the Age series to find they went 3D and that didn´t changed much in terms of gameplay. The new additions, like god powers, are nice and remember me of Populous. Oh, and the campaings are a blast.
    5. Warcraft III – My first tackle on the Blizzard field. Very engaging story and great gameplay, focusing on less units and more tactics on the combat. At first I thought it would be something like Age of Empires for children but it gradually built on me and I learned to love it, though I still suck when I play online.
    6. Age of Empires 3 – More development of the gameplay and some nice concepts, but pretty much more of the same. Still, I loved the online game and the fact there were lots of opportunities to create and improve on your strategies. The campaings sucked though.
    7. _____ – Well, I’m looking for a new RTS to play and I´m just not sure where to look for. Heh, there are hundreds of options, but I still don’t know. Maybe Company of Heroes?

    On a side note, I think great games like the Civilization series, GalCiv2 and the Total War series shouldn’t be compared to RTS as they are more turn based, even though Rome Total War and Medieval 2 Total War have great RTS battles.

    Yeah, no thoughts on C&C, Total Anihilation, Empire Earth, Homeworld and earlier Warcrafts as I never played them, but I’m sure they are great. I did play some Starcraft thought, but that was just a little bit last year and only out of curiosity. The game seems quite nice, but I couldn’t tackle the whole campaign.

    I’m looking forward to Starcraft 2. I hope it plays a bit like Warcraft 3, but as Shamus said, doesn’t add to the complexity. Babysitting units with lots of different skills and weakness in real time is overwhelming.

  46. Jeff says:

    Loved WC2, didn’t particularly like WC3, although I did beat the campaigns and expansions, so…

    Never really got too into SC, although I think I did beat at least the human campaign.

    My friends and I are still playing Dawn of War and C&C:Generals over my LAN, hah. Complex enough for us, we don’t have time to play all the time.

  47. AlanFrost says:

    Reading through the comments, seeing what the opinions are on complexity, real-time vs. turn-based, and every permutation of strategic and tactical gameplay… I’ve got to take a moment to share my current (and long-running) favorite, Sword of the Stars. Like the Total War series, it has turn-based empire management with real-time tactical battles between turns. The UI is not the most intuitive, but the community, forums, and Wiki are really helpful. One of the more dedicated fans even made a series of tutorial videos. There should be an updated demo for it in the next few weeks. As a bonus, the developers have followed most of Shamus’s ideals for being not-sucky regarding copy-protection and community relations.

  48. A Gould says:

    My complaint about RTSs is the same it’s always been – in order to keep up with the computer, you don’t have time to think about your moves as they happen – you have to either have it pre-planned (which makes the game homework) or just twitch-game it (which means you’re playing FPS from a great distance). I remember an older game (some sort of real-time chess thing) where you could see what piece the opponent had selected. In the time you could select one piece, click it’s destination, and the action I wanted it to take (three clicks total), the computer had already given orders to *all* sixteen of it’s pieces.

    I’ll keep to my Civ, thank you kindly (or at least a game I can pause and plan my next few moves).

  49. Plasma says:

    Your fear seems a little weird to me, compared to what I’ve read in other places. Apparently they’re adding a number of features to reduce the necessity for micromanagement (the ability to select multiple buildings is one, I think. Some sort of automatic resource gathering is another), and the starcraft community has been up in arms, complaining and whining and griping endlessly with claims that this will ruin the game and mean Starcraft 2 will never be played professionally in tournaments like the original is.

    Me? I mostly liked Starcraft for the story. Well, the backstory, really. At least, I’m looking forward to StarCraft 2 because of the story. On the other hand, I’ve been playing a whole lot of Age of Empires 3 lately, and I play that for the gameplay. Also the physics. When you fire a great bombard at a settler, she goes flying realistically halfway across the screen. Come to think of it, I spend a lot more time massacreing civilians than is probably healthy.

  50. Chris Arndt says:

    I love Starcraft but I can’t play Brood War.

    This news makes me wonder two things:

    1) should I just wait for the Treasure Chest with the Expansion pack?

    2) I probably won’t have the power in my September 2008 class laptop to run this, will I?

    I appreciate Blizzard for keeping its awesome games in print for as long as they sell, something LucasArts won’t consider doing.

  51. Studd Beefpile says:

    Age of Mythology is a great game that it seems no one has ever heard of, becuase it did something really neat with unit balance. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, its basically Age of Empires 2, redone with races and cultures from myth, e.g. the Atlanteans and Greeks. All the sides produce a fairly standard infantry/cavalry/archery model, but they also have a second type of rock paper scissors model. Each side can produce myth units, which are critters like minotaurs and gorgons. These will generally defeat human units but are defeated in turn by human hero units, which are not cost effective if used against normal human soldiers. It makes for sort of a rock paper scissors figure 8 that keeps any particular unit from dominating and making gameplay very dynamic. It represents a significant advancement in game design, the same way Warcraft and Starcraft did.

  52. Mark says:

    The complexity, I can handle – it’s the speed that’s too much for me in most RTSen. But have you ever seen Globulation2? It’s an open-source RTS with a nifty gimmick: you don’t control your units directly; instead you say “build this thing here” or “I need some warriors over here” or “harvest some of this” or “explore this area” and the little globs work it out on their own.

  53. Zukhramm says:

    “If there is no complexity there is no gameplay depth.”

    Somone up there said. I’d just like to ask however, do all games need that amount of debth?

  54. Cthulhu says:

    In my opinion, many modern RTSs have actually lost depth by adding complexity. I found the gameplay in Warcraft 3 was too easy, despite the unnecessary complications; they had a complex system of upgrades, but they were so worthless that everyone just swarmed with weak units early on. Any modern RTS starts to feel repetitive after you’ve played it for a while. In old RTSs, like Age of Empires II, the strategy was in where you placed buildings, and in what technologies you researched, and where and when you attacked. With new RTSs, you just march your units in, and whoever picked the right units wins.
    In old games, if a unit beat another unit, it was for mechanical reasons: cavalry beat archers because they’re fast, while archers beat infantry because they shoot them before the infantry get into melee range. In a new game, the range and move speed don’t matter; cavalry beat archers because they get bonus damage or some such. The strategy is artificially inserted, rather than being a core part of the game.
    Oh, and for those of you who think extra complexity adds depth: Ever heard of the Japanese game Go?
    It has maybe two rules. The only pieces are white stones and black stones.
    There are people who spend their entire lives playing this game.

  55. WoodenTable says:

    I don’t know if you’ll actually see my post this far down, Shamus, but Earth 2150 has a fairly easy learning curve if you’d like an RTS with less of a “counter this with that or die” type of gameplay. Stardock sells the whole trilogy cheap as dirt at about 10 bucks. Ironic, considering it’s easily one of the Top 5 games on the list, in my opinion.

    For example, learning to counter heavily energy-shielded enemies by using physical weapons works wonders. But so does cramming energy weapons on all your units, and just spamming those suckers till the battlefield is a literal light show. Energy weapons can’t hit aircraft, though, so watch out… or just strap Rocket Launchers on top of all your energy-weapon megatanks. ;) Sure, making an army of supertanks is expensive and takes forever to build – but who cares?! They’re awesome!

    Resource gathering is as easy as mining pie, too (if the planet’s crust were a pie crust, I mean). Resources are generally quite plentiful, and mining them is a snap (even though each side does it differently). And you can mess with the settings when setting up a skirmish map anyway – resource installments every minute or so, bounties for kills, nigh-unlimited mining… lots of playstyles can be accommodated with that.

    Your mileage may vary, but all the reviews are good. Be aware the 2 sequels are more like expansion packs content-wise, but it’s still a great deal at 10 dollars.

  56. Mistwraithe says:

    Interesting topic. I have one serious comment to make though (relevent to Cthulhu, Nathanael and others):

    Any and all of you who used to love RTS but are bemoaning the evolution (or rather devolution) of RTS games over the last decade owe it to yourself to at least try the Kohan series from Timegate. I think Kohan Ahriman’s Gift (KAG) is the best of them, but Kohan 2 is pretty decent and ticks more of the boxes modern games are meant to tick (eg 3D engine).

    I say this because both of the Kohan games are REAL strategy games, instead of Real Time Tactics (RTT) games masking as strategy games. I could go into what makes it a proper strategy game but many of the points of what makes good strategy have already been mentioned above and I don’t want to put up a huge wall of text!

    Instead, to put it into context for some of you who have mentioned Total Annihilation, for a long time I believed Total Annihilation was the best RTS game ever made and I played it online pretty heavily. However for the last 5 years I have thought TA was only the second best RTS game ever made… ;-)

    Sales pitch over! Cheers.

  57. Mephane says:

    Well, what you describe here, Shamus, is the very reason why I do not play any RTS anymore. I remember the old times with Age of Empires I+II, the first three C&C games etc… The last RTS I have play was Empire at War, which became somewhat ridiculous with the first expansion in my opinion, I have tried Supreme Commander, and while technically impressive, I couldn’t really get into it.

    However, contrary to some posts above, I like the whole based-building and researching very much, (especially the base building), defeating the enemy with superior technology and not be the sheer knowledge of every fuzzy detail about how alle the units act together. I had the most fun at AoEII and SWGB when building real fortresses, and building a small but super-developed invasion force inside and then heading out, taking apart the enemy piece by piece while being actually outnumbered, but outgearing them.^^

  58. StingRay says:

    I haven’t seen it mentioned, so I thought I’d recommend Sins of a Solar Empire. I always enjoyed Starcraft and Warcraft (whatever iteration), but I never had a lot of luck on the later levels and harder difficulties. In order to continue the story, I’d just find the “Give me 1000 of X resource” cheat code, and then continue on. The game was always just a little bit too much for me to handle everything at once.

    While I haven’t bumped up the difficulty yet, I still really enjoy Sins. It’s got a slick, well-thought-out interface and SupCom’s super-zoom. It’s slower paced, but there’s still plenty going on. Your troop’s AI is smart enough to get the job done, but you can micromanage to your hearts content. It’s really cool.

  59. Silfir says:

    The best RTS to date in terms of depth, diversity and balance IMHO is Starcraft. I mean, it has become the freaking national sport of South Korea, just as chess is a national sport in Russia and other formerly soviet countries. At the very least, this means that the best Starcraft games in the world – the ones played with the highest skill – are exciting to watch.

    Let’s face it: A lot of our personal preferences regarding RTS games depend on which one appeals best to our personal abilities and playing style. An excessive turtler would despise Warcraft III because it makes turtling effectively impossible. I, on the other hand, love Warcraft III probably mainly because I can do the creeping thing and because you are rewarded for making do with a small army, and even the large armies are still small enough for me to retain some degree of control. The resource gathering also is pretty straightforward – you pretty much count five workers per goldmine, and you only need a pretty fixed amount of wood because your units are made mostly with gold.

    @Cthulhu: In my personal experience upgrading is rather vital to success; and a personal dream of mine is to get my base assaulted by armies of weak units early on so I can crush them…

    I have really high hopes for Starcraft II in any case. Blizzard has always had a tradition of producing games that were not shitty, taking their time to develop gameplay, balancing and all the other things that are more important than awesome graphics. If you look at demos of Starcraft II, you’ll notice that the graphics are pretty much done. Read the Q&A batches at the page, and you’ll see that pretty much all they’re passing their time till the release with is balancework. It’s mind-boggling. “We took the firebats out – now we’ve put them back in – now we took them out again – currently they’re in”… They’re really doing their best out there.

    EDIT: As for Sins of the Solar Empire, the zoom takes a LOT of getting used to, to say the least, because it ain’t smooth a bit. The game itself is good.

  60. Vegedus says:

    Thing is, some people have the opposite fears. Some people are opposed to the introduction of some of the interface simplifications and improvements we see in Starcraft II. The game SHOULD be impossible to master because else professional and high level gameplay starts to be decided by luck.

  61. Strangeite says:

    GAZZA: I actually felt exactly like you did at first about Civ 4; but, then I read an excellent article over at Civfanatics for Civ 3 players that hate Civ 4. After reading the article I realized that I was just trying to play Civ 4 exactly the same way I played Civ 3 and my previous exploits just didn’t work. Once I realized that I needed to actually look at the game afresh, I realized that it was far more powerful while remaining fairly simple on the surface. That is why I suggested that Civ 4 almost uses a variable complexity sliding scale.

  62. GAZZA says:

    Civfanatics, you say? I used to regularly play their GotM for Civ 3… perhaps you’re right, and Civ 4 deserves a second look. I’ll definitely check out the article, anyway.

    Assuming I can tear myself away from Sims 2, that is.

  63. SWCrusader says:

    I’m shocked dawn of war has only been mentioned once on this thread. Less logistics and more tactical this is my favorite RTS. The easiest race to play is still good even after 3 expansions for the game (marines) and you can stick with them through thick and thin. Cover actually means something. Plus the thrill you get from a dreadnought gutting an infantry unit is great. you never forget your first disembowelment!

  64. Noumenon says:

    This is probably the Civ 4 article for Civ 3 lovers. Basic point is, “You only hate Civ 4 because you don’t want to adapt from Civ 3.”

    The only thing wrong with Civilization 3 was the corruption. If you can conquer the world, but every city after the 20th can only ever produce one shield a turn Courthouse or not, that’s not Civilization-like. Everything in Civilization 4 is Civilization-like to the max. When you go back and play Civ 1 (my brother gave it to me for Christmas) all you say is “Wow, how far they’ve come.”

  65. Lonster says:

    For those of you looking for another RTS, “Rise of Nations” with the expansion is nice. We play at all our LAN parties, usually doesn’t take longer than 45 minutes to an hour. It’s rather like Age of Empires II, but goes from sticks-and-stone weapons to nukes (so…a Civilization type tech tree, but it’s an RTS).

    “Rise of Legends” is by the same people, and it’s more Starcraft-esque, in such that there are only 3 factions that are vastly different, but strangely balanced. It is also an every-LAN event.

  66. Winter says:

    Regarding Rock, Paper, Scissors: Sirlin (for instance) suggests that’s actually the fundamental “mechanic” of a lot of games–including Starcraft and just about all other RTSes.

    For instance:

    Rock, Paper, Scissors
    Yomi Layer 3
    Ch 7 of his book Playing to Win: Yomi: Spies of the Mind

  67. Cthulhu says:

    @winter: love the rock, paper, scissors article. This is exactly what’s wrong with modern RTSs: all the unit types are so balanced, there’s no relevant differences between them. Back when there were differences in power, there was strategy involved, and not just random guessing, but all their complex counter systems have made their games feel MORE like rock, paper, scissors, not less. Maybe we should start calling them RPS games instead of RTS games…

  68. Kizer says:

    On the bright side, Blizzard is very good about cheat codes for their RTS games, which is great for gamers like me (and possibly you) you suck at RTSes but love the story. I basically enter the God cheat in, built 12 units, destroy the map, then watch the next cut scene/dialog session/briefing scene. :)

  69. Hyrum says:

    I’ve been playing rts games for a while. I started off with rise of nations, and then moved on to the battle for middle earth series. These are both great games. Battle for Middle Earth is great for beginners and the original game has a very fun campaign. It diverges from the rock paper scissors format with heroes, powers, and monster units. I also really enjoyed the total war series. It takes a little bit of effort to get used to the battle controls, but after that it’s a very fun satisfying game. Age of Mythology is also a good game. I got starcraft 2 lately, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. It definitely has a high learning curve, though.

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