A strange thing has happened. Going through my notes on the games that I saw at this year’s Gamescom, I suddenly realised that the majority of stuff I saw was related to strategy games. Weird. Whilst I’d love to do a dedicated write on each of these games (they deserve it), unfortunately time is pressing. As soon as playable code becomes available, be sure to see more in-depth coverage from me on these games. So, without further ado, here is a quick round-up on the best of the rest of strategy games at GamesCom 2013:
WarGame: Red Dragon (Focus Home Interactive / Eugen Systems)
Focus Home Interactive and Eugen Systems are bringing us another game in their expanding WarGame franchise. From European Escalation, to AirLandBattle and now: Red Dragon. Moving away from the now war-torn fields of Europe, this alternate reality Cold War game moves over to the Far East, where China, Japan, Korea and even the ANZACs take centre stage. The main focus is going to be a historically plausible conflict between China and the USSR, which also draws in other factions old and new.
The time frame is also being extended to 1991, which will allow the inclusion of some more modern units like the Black Hawk and Tiger helicopters, among others. The unit roster is being boosted to over 1200 units all told (although this includes all the units from EE and ALB factions). The biggest change is the inclusion of naval units. With even more improvements being done to the engine, Eugen are now able to create maps with huge stretches of coastline. Everything from patrol boats to destroyers will be available, and these mighty warships can lend tactical support to the battlefield. If they’re not too busy fighting enemy ships, that is. As you can expect, the sea areas will come with their own control zones (which means there’ll also be ‘command boats’), and you’ll have to secure a sea deployment corridor in order to call in naval units. At the time of writing, there are no plans to have naval-only maps or battles, as Eugen see the naval units as just another level of tactics available to the player on the battlefield, as opposed to a force unto themselves.
There are also a whole host of other changes, including a change in how cities are generated (although how infantry etc… interact with them is the same), improvements to the dynamic campaign so you customise battle groups and actually move the naval groups for a change. Deck creation is also going to be continually improved, and some of those changes may even bleed back into AirLandBattle. Even though it’s only going to be a year since ALB, we’re still looking forward to this game – after all, if Call of Duty can get away with it, why not a strategy franchise like WarGame? We’re told that past purchasers of WarGame will receive a discount. WarGame: Red Dragon is due early next year.
Stronghold: Crusaders II (FireFly Studios)
I’ll never forgive SouthPeak for trying to bring Firefly Studios down along with them – Stronghold 3 may not have been the best of titles, but the London-based studio are a good team who deserve a final chance, free of the complicated financial pressure of a publisher on its way under. Funnily enough, you can thank Firefly’s Free-to-Play Browser MMO Stronghold Kingdoms for the existence of Stronghold: Crusaders II.
Going back to the spin-off franchise is a good move for them, as Crusaders naturally provided a lot more action-based gameplay, while also giving plenty of room for the more ‘simulation’ elements of building and running a castle. There will be resource chains and buildings to develop your castle in a lot of different ways, although the amount of ancillary buildings is less, so we’re told. The main thing that budding castle builders will want to know is that Firefly are returning to the grid’n’tile based system, abandoning Stronghold 3’s ability for freeform construction. No more penis castles. The environments in Crusaders II will be a lot different, emulating the harsh realities of the middle-east. Farms, which are needed to provide food, can only be built on fertile land, and there’s a chance that this land will be few and far between. This will be great for creating areas of interest for people to fight over.
There is going to be multiplayer support for up to 8 people, and FireFly are integrating themselves with Steam, with all the benefits that entails. There’ll also be a map editor. There will be 8 AI ‘Lords’ at launch that will have their own personalities and coded play-styles, and the plan is to release more lords and maps as DLC. There will be a custom skirmish mode, and a single-player narrative that follows a ‘Crusader Trail’. There’ll even be co-op, where you and your friend share the same castle and split the duties between you.
Stronghold 3 had a good engine behind it, but the game itself was implemented poorly. Hopefully, with everything they’ve learned adapted and optimised for Crusaders II, this will be a modern Stronghold instalment that fans and the devs can be proud of. No concrete release date yet, but it’s expected early 2014, with an Open Beta not happening until around that time.
Meridian: New World (Head Up Games / Elder Games)
I don’t recall having heard of Meridian before seeing it. It’s made by ‘Elder Games’, which is basically one guy, and published by a primarily German-focused games publisher called Head Up Games. It’s a very Starcraft 2 inspired (as in it looks a lot like SC2, rather than the creator taking direct inspiration) RTS, especially in the actual battles. You have a base, you have resources you need to collect, and then you build an army and go out to beat the AI. Missions in Meridian are often multiphased, with the map getting bigger as you complete your objectives.
It’s a purely single-player experience, and the RTS battles are complimented by a Mass Effect style RPG environment on the home ship. You get a top-down view, and your character is quite small, but you can explore the ship and talk to people, finding out more of the story as you go along. The ship acts as both an environment unto itself, and in interactive menu, as you can access skirmish mode, missions, research etc… from walking into various rooms on the ship.
It’s hard to make of Meridian, really. It looks like a well put-together game, especially considering it was one man, but I remember the last one-man-band project I saw. Gettysburg: Armoured Warfare… you may remember it didn’t turn out well. Still, the heavy focus on single-player means that a lot of resources have been out into creating a compelling narrative, so really this game will rise or fall with the quality of the writing. It’s got some interesting elements to it – the levels, for example, are streamed to you, so there’s technically no loading times when launching a mission. Probably explains the multiple phases as well. The guy is planning to release map and mission editor to go with this game, and players will be able to create missions and entire campaigns to put online and allow others to download and experience.
March of War (ISOTX)
Last but certainly not least – March of War. A “Free-to-play episodic online turn-based strategy game” (bit of a mouthful) with a slight dieselpunk WW2 theme, this is an interesting little title that’s mainly player driven, and cross-compatible with tablets so you can take the war with you. Six factions fight it out on a massive RISK inspired global map.
There will be a ‘High Command’ which will be chosen from the player base itself, and they will pick which territories to fight over, and the rest of the players simply fight it out on square grid maps that, for the moment, follow a capture-the-flag rule set. You also have to capture resource points so you can summon in more units, and there are unique unit sets that come with their own strategies. You can fight against the AI, either solo or co-operatively, or you can fight against other players in PvP. The episodic nature of the game comes through where the developers update the game. All game updates will be themed, and the players can directly influence the particulars of this through their ‘Vote4War’ system.
While on the PC this is probably a bit of a simplistic games compared to the current strategy leaders, it’s mainly the cross-compatibility that’s going to be the draw. Even on a tablet, the visual fidelity of the experience remains respectfully high and key features like the player commanded factions and player driven content mean that, as a community experience, this could actually be fairly attractive proposition. It’s already in open-beta, and the team have also released their first ‘episode’ – Tropic Thunder, so if you haven’t already checked it out, might be worth a shout.
There you have it – four new and unique strategy games, covering everything from wargames to castle builders. It’s good to see our favourite genre getting the amount of new releases it does, as the more games are released, the more innovation we’ll get in the never-ending competition for our time and money. It’s a great time to be an armchair general, that’s for sure.