The RTSC Games List


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Fantasy RTS
For something that supposedly fantasy - and by implication a wild flight of imagination - you'll be amazed how just how rigid the conventions of fantasy actually are. Nearly all of it owes a huge debt to Tolkine's Lord of the Rings. Questing adventures search for a cure for Evil in an alternate Medieval world of magic and monarchies, a bestiary of bizarre and scarifying creatures and lots of trials and tribulations in a huge Cook's tour of the imaginary land at hand. Evil is often represented by some remote and power joker somewhere, and usually undone by claiming or destroying some magic trinket.

Armies of Exigo (2004)

Armies of Exigo is a by-the-numbers fantasy RTS by Black Hole Games and published by EA Games that shows even the most addled game-nut what the term "clone" was originally coined for. This is basically a Blizzard game without the branding, repackaging it for the post-Lord of the Rings epic fantasy market. Everything about the demo reminded me of something else: the game itself is like StarCraft crossed with WarCraft crossed with the subterranean dungeon crawls of Diablo - or rather, the underground battlefields of Metal Fatigue.

There are three sides: the default Medieval humans form The Empire who use Swordsmen, elvish Archers, spell casting Wizards, airy faery magickal princesses with from the woods with scouting skills, Phoenixes, healing Monks, Gnomes who built catapults and flying machines, power housing Knights on horseback, embarrassingly naff dialogue... you get the idea. For the Ork-substitutes, there's the Beast army, a motley collection of ogres, trolls, little green guys with boomerangs (probably the best little characters in the whole game) and a heavy set bunch of pagan lizard men. ...and of course race number three: the almost obligatory slimy monster race, aka The Fallen, who corrupt and slobber all over everything, as well as providing a rich supply of swarming giant insects (just like Starship Troopers' giant bugs), tentacled monsters, evil sorcerers, the odd demon and other types of typecast ickkiness.

Like WarCraft, your Workers have to mine Gold from conveniently placed rocky expansions and harvest Wood from nearby trees and forests. Just for good measure, you can mine Gems for advanced units, upgrades and spells - and the gem mine behaves exactly as StarCraft's Vespene Gas deposit. The standard issue RTS buildings are all there, as are all the tech's, upgrades and researchable spells. There aren't any surprises anywhere, other than beautiful art direction. All your units progress through character levels in tried and true RPG style. You have an HQ that can progressively upgrade to a large citadel, a barracks building for basic infantry, a factory building for heavy duty units and catapults, a flying unit factory, not to mention the usual specialist buildings that unlock specialised units and provide upgrades for them, there's the obligatory but inadequate defensive tower, the micromanaged spells and special abilities, the Farm buildings, a 200 point unit cap... even wandering Monsters guarding rich expansions on some of the multiplayer.

One thing Exigo does add (and do very nicely) is incorporate underground battles with a network of tunnels and entrances that connect up different parts of the map. Two mini-maps in the interface let you effortlessly switch from topside or underground. Not only can you move your forces around and have battles down there, but you can even build expansions and mine resources underground.

While it uses a locked isometric point of view, Armies of Exigo is powered by a polished 3D engine that generates some seriously sumptuous imagery. The interface is slick and smooth and never gets in the way. Units seem competent, although they can get stuck one each other and spin like tops. The AI's are interesting, if not slightly unimaginative. There's a 400Mb multiplayer demo that gives you an awful lot, and a 100Mb single player demo to try and hook you into the storyline. Its slick presentation is worth a gander, and you can't fault it anywhere technically.

But there's absolutely no originality here. You've seen it all before - everything's painfully derivative. Unless you're never played a fantasy RTS before, Armies of Exigo is so familiar as to be utterly forgettable the moment you switch off your PC. This is Black Hole's debut game: all they need to do is produce a theme or idea that can match the quality of their technical expertise and they'll have a genuine hit on their hands.Back

Battle for Middle Earth series

Battle for Middle Earth (2004)

This is an epic real time strategy game based on J. R. R. Tolkine's fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings. Not to be confused with War of the Ring by Sierra, this is a full on reproduction of all those titanic battles in the film trilogy by EA Games. This is definitely one of the new generation of blockbuster games with the multi-million dollar budget, and if any of the hyperbole and hoopla is anything to go by, might just be a jolly good bit of interactive carnage. This screengrab from EA's fan kit seems to be promising a faithful and mind boggling set of production values, although most reports seem to find the actual strategy elements a bit thin. The developers had access of much of the film's original 3D models and textures - so the units you see are actually cut down versions of the characters and monsters you saw at the movies. This sounds like its primarily for the casual gamers and the tourists. Apparently "emotion" and a sense of context - that is, an awareness of what's going on around them in the field - will be applied to every unit. There's no demo.

Battle for Middle Earth 2 (2006)

The sequel comes with a demo (a whopper clocking in at 1.4Gb (what on earth do they stick in there?!), bulging with a huge trailer and lots of animated logos) and extends on the first game with the usual progression of tweaks and progressions and tosses in a few extra features. Like the first game, its very lushly produced with lots of authentic looking units and settings from the original film trilogy. Its continues with the epic battle angle, but with a considerable amount of castle building and custom hero creation. Even a small skirmish will involve large squads of guys slugging it out and big fights will completely kill your screen. The game makes use of hard counters: use the wrong units against the wrong targets, and you'll find yourself suffering heavy losses for minimal effect. The castle building and heroes are probably the game's biggest draw card; knocking up your own customised fortress with sprawling walls and towers is actually quite fun.

BfME2 borrows a few concepts that were currently doing the rounds at the time. Dawn of War seemed to be the flavour of the moment, and BfME2 made use of squads taking time out to capture the flags of neutral buildings. Capturing a boat shed gives you access to naval units while other buildings give you a variety of or special units. While it might use huge squads and counters, it has nothing on Dawn of War's detailed unit control and handling. Stances don't seem to have that much effect, and guys seem to stand around very easily. Units and structures behave pretty much like most standard issue RTS's out there, in spite of all the nice graphics and effects. Some forces, like the Goblins, have positively cartoonish buildings that undoes the epic feel and make the game feel quite ordinary. Nevertheless, it remains faithful in feel to the Lord of the Rings, even if it does feel like its pandering to the kids a bit. Back

Battle Realms (2002)

A fantasy based RTS developed by Liquid Entertainment and published by Ubi-Soft with a strong Japanese flavour. Samurai and monks do battle with barbarians and fantasy monsters. This has an interesting take on the RTS economy: villagers and horses are used both as units and as resources. Battle Realms is based entirely on an agrarian economy, using water and rice to build everything. To start with, you build huts to produce a stream of peasants, and peasants are trained up into different classes of warriors or simply used to build, repair, plant and harvest rice, collecting buckets of water at the local pond, putting out fires and befriending wild horses. You can only train one peasant in a building at a time, but you can produce interesting combinations by training the same unit in different institutions. Forces are generally very small melees as it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a large force or more than a few dozen guys. Fire can be devastating, spreading and torching your entire settlement, unless the locals can organize themselves into a bucket brigade from the nearest river! Its interesting, but not if you're into large scale strategy. The 3D environment in a 2D view is very reminiscent of WarCraft III, although not quite as cartoony.

There's a sequel: Winter of the Wolf.Back

Dwarf Fortress (2002-2008)

Developed and distributed by cottage developers Bay12. Dwarf Fortress is a classic Tolkine fantasy RPG with a strong simulation/RTS flavour - and rendered entirely in ASCII. It not only strolls along in real time, simulating the lives of dwarves, elves and other classic fantasy characters, but it also generates its own random landscapes, complete with mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests; all complete with a thousand in-game years of backstory and history and pre-generated townships to go with it.

This has an atmosphere and feel all of its own. A lilting acoustic guitar track seems to complement this title rather well. There's a bit of a learning curve, but for any old NetHack vets looking for the next stage of some homespun games, this is definitely for you.

Further info: Dwarf Fortress Wiki, and more specifically, Your First Fortress.

Like many ASCII adventure games, you'll find a number of fans producing pixel art tilesets to go with it, replacing ASCII characters with cute little icons. Check out:

Mike Midway Graphics Edition

http://dwarf.lendemaindeveille.com/index.php/Graphics_sets

You may also want to peruse the DF Map Archive.Back

Left Behind: Eternal Forces (2006)

A Christian RTS based on the End Times as told by the fundamentalist Left Behind book series. When its not lacking as a game, its clumsily trying to seduce you into a real life Conversion with all the subtly and wit you've come to expect from these sort of people. Left Behind's particular view of the world is incredibly poisonous indeed; barely sustainable as fantasy even with God on its side, let alone the rigours and perils of real life. For more ranting, continue inside. Back

Heroes of Might & Magic series

This is basically a turn based franchise, but its included because its crosses a few RTS conventions, like raising armies with role played heroes running the show. Heroes of Might & Magic is massive, and immensely enjoyable to play. Its a hugely popular fantasy based strategy game franchise developed by New World Computing and originally published by the now bankrupt 3do. (The series moved to Ubi-Soft) Everything you've seen in the classically decked out fantasy RPG is here: Heroes, character and skills development, spells, labyrinthine underground lairs, a bestiary of fanciful creatures and monsters, character classes, spell classes, Hero classes, Alignments, magical items to quest for, and everything else - reorganized into a campaign orientated real time strategy game. You build a fantasy civilisation (lots of town, building and unit classes to cavort with) and wield epic armies led by Heroes to sally forth a'conquering an' a'vanquishin' an' a'siegin' the opposition. Titles - there's a list as long as your arm:

Heroes of Might & Magic (1995)

Heroes of Might & Magic II: The Succession Wars (1996); expansion: The Price of Loyalty (1997)

Heroes of Might & Magic III (1999); expansions: Armageddon's Blade (1999) and Shadow of Death (2000)

Heroes of Might & Magic IV (2002); expansions: The Gathering Storm (2002) and Winds of War (2003)

Heroes of Might & Magic V (2006); expansions: Hammers of Fate (2006) and Tribes of the East (2007)Back

Kohan series

Kohan screenshot
Kohan, developed by Timegate Studios, is a fantasy RTS set after a great Cataclysmic event (standard issue for all good fantasy games) where rival kingdoms vie for control. This is RTS with some notable differences: the main one being the almost complete elimination of micromanagement and furious mouse clicking. Kohan looks and feels like an animated turn based game. Rather than moving individual units, players create Companies that contain a selection of different units and a leader. Depending on its composition, leader, morale, distance to supplies and "Zone of Control" the individual units manage themselves with a formidable AI that at times conspires to make the player redundant.

Townships and settlements are organised along similar lines: a settlement is like a single static unit that you construct like a building in a regular RTS game. It comes with its own zones of influence and control, and you can install various things inside it like a Blacksmith, Armoury or Market. However, you only have a limited set of slots, so you must choose carefully how you build it up. You can upgrade a town into a city and get more slots, or upgrade existing slots, but a lot of strategy comes about from how you organize a settlement. Often, its location will decide its function: mountains call for mining and metal production, forests for wood, and so on. Again, settlements manage themselves and will automatically sally forth with their own resident militias to deal with any passing threats.

The mechanics are fascinating, and its not too bad at all, but the high degree of computer self-sufficiency may make gameplay seem quite shallow for some people. Titles:

Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns (2001)

prequel Kohan: Ahriman's Gift (2001)

Kohan2 : Kings of War (2004) is the official sequel which takes the franchise down the obligatory 3D route.Back

 

Myth series

A real time tactical game set in fantasy times, with no economic elements. Your group of mercenaries fight monsters and other Myth is all about formations and battlefield manoeuvres and tactics. Its also set in a wonderfully realistic 3D environment with a sophisticated use of physics (for the time) that affect gameplay. This is one of those games where you can think up new tactics many moons after first playing. Myth is an immensely popular and extremely well crafted game series by Bungie, who also developed the Marathon FPS series on the Mac and Halo for the X-Box. You direct a group of mercenaries into battle against orcs and other monsters. Titles:

Myth: Fallen Lords (1997)

Myth II: Soulblighter (1998)

Myth III: The Wolf Age (2001)Back

Rise of Legends (2006)

A continuation of the historical Rise of Nations franchise, except this time developer Big Huge Games went for something completely different. This is Rise of Nations set in a completely fabulous fantasy world. While old strategy game has been simplified - at least in the demo at any rate - there is still a lot of the game elements that made Rise of Nations so satisfyingly effective. There is a small learning curve trying to work out what all the fantasy creatures are and what they do, but they still correspond to the old infantry, cavalry, siege weapons and unit classes of old.

There are multiple sides, but the two primary civs act out a science and magical conflict. The technologists are the Vinci, a scientifically based culture that uses clockwork steam punk dressed in high Renaissance style. The Vinci were a collection of warring city states unified by a historical figure called the Great Inventor who has lifted them above magic. The Alin, by contrast, are still very much into magic, genies, dragons and elemental creatures conjured up from living glass. The references to the political turmoil of Renaissance Italy and Leonardo da Vinci are obvious, while the Alin have a wonderful Arabian Nights feel to them.

This is no sequel. It might be fantasy, but its no WarCraft clone, either. Rise of Legends is a fantastic cross between Arabian Nights and crazy steam punk (one that doesn't rip off the Industrial Revolution, either). Spiritually, its a follow on to Rise of Nations, using the real time Civilization model given the fantasy treatment, but still preserving its strong historical flavour and detail. The demo made a big point of stating that it was a work in progress; and while it has a few technical issues there's no doubt this will be an interesting title. Its certainly gotten a few people excited.Back

Sacrifice (2000)

An interesting 3D RTS by Shiny Entertainment (now merged to become part of Double Helix Games) that places the player in the role of a magician traveling through a surreal magical realm of floating islands populated by gods and weird creatures. Everything revolves around the magician's perspective, using an over the shoulder style camera you tend to see in a console game. This egocentric approach gives the game a sort of role-playing/action game focus, except you can unleash a horde of minions and zap enemies personally if you so desire.

Like many real time strategy games with a Godly theme, there's a simple mana economy, and to conjure up creatures you need a supply of Souls, obtained by salvaging your own dead or converting heathen souls that float over the corpses of your enemies. Sacrifice has a curious storybook feel to it, and seems to have scored tons of positive reviews. Well worth a look.Back

WarCraft series

Blizzard Entertainment's WarCraft series is easily one of the most significant in firmly establishing the modern RTS in the gaming mainstream. Between it and Command & Conquer It pretty much entrenched most of the basic conventions that defined the genre's template that other developers worked from: a central headquarters surrounded by gangs of workers, resource expansions, special buildings and upgrades to produce groups of infantry, cavalry and catapults with the paper-scissor-rock trumping regime, magic users, hero units, elaborate, trigger driven maps, the list goes on. WarCraft pretty much became legendary: gripping story, epic battles, colourful characters, phenomenal production values and polish, and an extraordinarily long lived multiplayer game experience that ruled the roost until it was (almost) replaced by the even more polished and really legendary StarCraft.

Both these titles came bundled with their own amazing map editors that allowed fans to construct their own multiplayer maps and even their own custom campaigns. The fan base is vast, and has produced an extraordinary amount of maps and campaigns, but the tight art direction and high production values make it extremely difficult to produce a genuine break-the-rules custom mod. Blizzard and WarCraft are definite brands, and carefully protected. Its not unusual for Blizzard to go on the warpath and shut down would-be modders who cross the line or hundreds of thousands of Battle.Net accounts who used hacks and false CD keys.

StarCraft and Diablo might be big in the Blizzard world, but it was WarCraft that really defined it as a developer, and WarCraft that still continues to be their prime asset today.

The original WarCraft: Orcs & Humans (199?) is pretty crude by today's standards, but

WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness (1995) established a slick blend between action and strategy, followed closely by its expansion, Beyond the Dark Portal (1996) and the upgrade to Internet gaming with the Battle.Net Edition (1999).

WarCraft III: see the RTSC WarCraft III page.

World of WarCraft (WoW): Well. Blizzard's vast and all-engulfing Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (or MMORPG) is a online gaming world based on the franchise - and the current 9000lb gorilla in the online gaming market. See the RTS Basics section's Boring Theory page for info on MMORPGs.Back

WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002)

WarCraft III was the long awaited sequel to WarCraft II. Development time took a good five years with much hype and hoopla to keep the fans dangling. In good Blizzard style, the game was carefully honed and polished to a high sheen before being released. It was hyped as Role Playing Strategy or RPS, a sort of RPG/RTS hybrid where you'd have less units, but each of them would be lovingly built up like a D&D character. Unfortunately, a large chunk of this concept was dropped, and what appeared was a cut down RTS with a few nifty incremental features (like wandering monsters, an inventory for your Heroes, and RPG style character development) housed in a slick graphics engine, accessorised with a fantastic scenario editor, and satisfying a vast (and largely complacent) fan base. Its a solid, beautifully constructed mass market game with lots to offer, and for many people it epitomises what an RTS should be. I felt it's scope had shrunk, myself.Back

Warhammer: Mark of Chaos (2006)

Game Workshop's fantasy tabletop figurine game is ported across to a real time strategy game that blends a number of well worn styles together. Warhammer is Game Workshop's original fantasy wargaming franchise (as distinct from Warhammer 40,000, which is the same game premise transported 40,000 years into an apocalyptic science fantasy future).

The game feels like a blend of popular elements in RTS games. Battles are organised using a platoon based control system popularised by the Total War series; units are regiments of men or creatures, using formations, morale, and stamina as game elements. Hero units feel very much influenced by WarCraft III, especially in the single player campaign demo. The campaign demo and army builder felt like something straight out of Heroes of Might and Magic. While Warhammer is more "hardcore" than most of the current crop of Tolkine fantasy titles, names and dialogue are almost self parody, especially with the Chaos characters.

Alas, the best part of the game is probably the amazing opening trailer by Blur Studio. After that, all you can look forward to is a rather mundane game, at best.Back

Warlords Battlecry series

The Strategic Studies Group (SSG) takes time out to study strategy for fantasy games. Actually, I have a lot of time for these guys, and not just because they're Australian and into strategy (although I don't often play their stuff), its just that they're probably one of the few independent game developers left on the planet. Everything else is fast becoming the spoor of yesterdays corporate takeover. I think a part of SSG has branched off to form Infinite Interactive, a new studio founded in 2003 by one of the main designers of the series, just to handle the Warlords games separately.

The Warlords Battlecry series is the real time strategy successors to the old Warlords turn based games, which started as a series all the way back in 1990. They were well regarded and combining strategy and fantasy elements together for pretty much the first time. In Warlords Battlecry you get to play a multitude of fantasy races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and others, like Minotaurs or the usual stand-by's for evil, the Undead. For any keen role players wanting to dabble in a bit of RTS, this might just be the thing. Titles:

Warlords Battlecry (2000)

Warlords Battlecry II (2002)

Warlords Battlecry III (2004)Back

War of the Ring (2004)

A very average to middling RTS based on The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkine. This part of a whole suite of LotR games by Sierra. War of the Ring has the same candy coloured cartoon sensibilities, logic and mechanics made for snaring a mass market as a Blizzard game. Basically, The character AI's are a lot more livelier than WarCraft III's and there are a few other small touches. It is fun watching some dwarves chase some orcs out of your camp and halfway across the map, only to return again when they've been seen off. But all the resourcing is the same, all the gangs of workers scurrying to and from mines and mills to drop off resources to a Hall is the same; and in spite of all the nice animation and character "emotions", you still have bunches of units standing around bludgeoning the crap out of each other. There's lots of trigger driven story snippets. The classic build tree of any Blizzard or C&C game is here; you can only control a dozen characters at a time, and your field of view is so limited you can barely see enough map space to contain them.

This is not swarms of thousands crashing into each other in huge breathtaking vistas. This is a monotonous WarCraft III clone. You were actually looking for The Battle for Middle Earth.Back

Warrior Kings: Battles (2003)

A continuation from Warrior Kings (2002). A straightforward RTS with a number of innovative features set in medieval times. One of its selling points is a lack of different races: you only get to play Humans, and you build up different factions by choosing different build paths from the same starting position. Picking one path excludes the special buildings, units and abilities of the others. You can opt for Pagan with stonehenges, maypoles and magic, or Imperial with cathedrals. There's a third faction, Renaissance, which can be picked by either side. It offers a third way path of scientific and cultural discovery midway through both factions' build trees. Builders will relish the deep economics, with a cute system of villages providing produce and resources in a "rural" setting while the centre of your domain is a manor house surrounded by civic buildings enclosed in an expandable castle wall. When you add new buildings, the wall has to be dismantled to make room for the new construction - leaving you temporarily vulnerable.

It can take a while to build up, and the game seems to favour defensive play. Graphics might seem a wee bit blocky to the souped up graphic card brigade, the interface is a bit wonky, and some of the unit AI's are more than a bit weird, but overall though, its well worth a gander. Unfortunately its presence has all but fallen off the Web.Back


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Last modified Sun, Aug 14 2011 by Lindsay Fleay