Bring Back the Real-time Strategy Epic
The real-time strategy genre was once a cornerstone of the PC gaming world. As the age of 3D acceleration dawned, their popularity started to waver. However, in this period, developers started expanding on the relatively lean story elements that these games typically featured and started creating games with stronger stories and character-building throughout. Playing through the single-player campaign went from strung together missions with maybe a bit of flavor text at the start to story-driven experiences that chronicled the characters and factions. The complexity and quality of the narratives within these games only grew as the genre reached its peak popularity.
The original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans is one of the notable titles to kick off this style of RTS, and is one of the reasons Blizzard Entertainment gained its initial popularity. It set the stage for Warcraft 2, StarCraft, Warcraft 3, and most recently StarCraft 2. However, while StarCraft 2 currently still gets plenty of support, the last release of a real expansion was a full four years ago. Warcraft 3 hasn’t been touched in sixteen years, mostly due to the existence and thorough coverage of World of Warcraft. While the MMORPG has done a great job expanding the lore, it rarely can achieve the level of player involvement the real-time strategy games achieved.
Command & Conquer has befallen a similar fate, starting its lineage of great real-time strategies similarly in mid-1990. As we sit nine years from the release of the less-than-stellar Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, the series has only recently been milked for its name – such as promoting a disappointing mobile title. It’s hard to forget its contribution of pre-and-post-mission videos featuring a range of actors, from completely unknown to quite notable, giving each game the feeling of watching a movie while making your way through. While some of these early C&C games are being remastered for release sometime soon, there aren’t any public plans for new games in the series.
Homeworld may have been one of the greatest instances of a real-time strategy epic. The story was a story-driven journey that had the player commanding an “ark” ship across the galaxy to take the last of a population to their ancestral home. Homeworld had a wonderful expansion and follow up game, but was left to wither until Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak provided a decent prequel in 2016. It may not have been quite what people expected from the Homeworld universe, but it had the same excellence in the story that made Homeworld memorable. It is still uncertain whether the franchise will continue, but the developer is working on something at this point.
Real-time strategies are tough to sell on their own these days. They are virtually unheard of in the AAA development sphere and are even fairly rare in the indie development scene. Those trying to tell a quality story are even rarer still as that involves writers, cutscenes, and all the things that usually end up in the garbage when it comes to cutting costs or saving time. Yet, it seems to me it’s the best possible time to recapture the market.
Today we’re seeing remakes and remasters at every turn. Every game mentioned here has or will have one. Introducing a new generation to these stories and mechanics while reinvigorating the original player base means the potential to release a new title to a group of people primed and ready for it. Having another chance to dive into the deep Warcraft or StarCraft lore, the zany Command & Conquer wars, or the impactful stories of Homeworld is something that would appeal to a larger group of people than ever before. There are plenty of people out there they want to get involved in an RPG-caliber story without necessarily involving all of those RPG elements. The real-time strategy epic is the perfect vessel for that experience.