The Storm is Coming
September 12, 2008 – If there is one genre that has not been able to capture the console market it is RTS. In this generation specifically, the RTS genre has been trying very hard to break out of the PC sector and, so far, there have been some positive strides. Games like Universe at War: Earth Assault and Command & Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath brought what was once a PC-only experience into your living room and are fairly good. However, the main problem with RTS games when they are ported over to consoles is that they don’t have any distinguishing or unique characteristics. They all just felt like a PC game with a joystick as a mouse substitute.
But it looks like the days of dreary RTS console games may be coming to an end. Stormrise is a new title from Creative Assembly (the same folks behind RTS staples like Rome and the Total War series) that will attempt to both modernize the RTS genre, as well as give it a meaningful console-specific design. Their new approach completely does away with the map-scrolling gameplay that has been the genre’s stalling point on consoles, and replaces it with a shortcut-based system that gives you quick access to your various units.
When you select an individual unit, you will be given an instant third-person perspective. This will allow you to experience the strategy-based gameplay on the ground level, which is something never seen before in an RTS. The third-person perspective will make planning strategies a lot more involved because you’ll have to deal with obstacles and enemies that may not be immediately visible. It won’t be as simple as just looking down on your map anymore, but I think that is a good thing. The new perspective will also boost the value of scout troops, as they will be the only way to see what the enemy is up to.
In addition to changing the feel and perspective of the RTS genre, Stormrise is also challenging the environmental structure of the traditional RTS game as well. Those who are true RTS enthusiasts will know that the genre evolved out of a game that you played around a table. This tabletop gameplay generally involved uneven wooden blocks that fit together like a grid, and several teams would sit around rolling dice to move the game forward until someone emerged as a victor (or everyone fell asleep.)
Even though most people have upgraded since “the good old days,” it seems the core structure of these RTS predecessors is still intact. The environment is always stoic, and you can’t really interact with it. You just move along an unchanging and generic surface and go to fight your enemies. The fact that a video game has so much in common with a board game is unacceptable, and it seems that Stormrise will finally put a modern spin on these archaic gameplay elements.
Instead of just being a two-dimensional board-like surface in the game, the world of Stormrise will be completely three dimensional. You will not be restricted to linear movement and, instead, will have the freedom to go anywhere you want. You’ll be able to hide behind trees, venture into caves, and scale hilltops. Instead of just front, back, left, and right, you will also be able to go up, over, or under. The environment will work just like it would in a modern game, and this is another welcome change for the RTS genre. The new movement possibilities will certainly open up new strategies and will give even the most seasoned RTS veteran a brand-new challenge.
Aside from everything that Stormrise proposes to change about the RTS genre, some things will still be quite familiar. One of these things is the story. Stormrise will take place in a post-apocalyptic future (yawn) where man has separated into two factions: the beast faction and the technology faction. Think of it like the hippies versus the nerds. While this could potentially be interesting, it just seems like a vehicle for some cool animal-based powers for one side and some interesting futuristic powers for the other. Not much is known about the story specifics at this time, but it would be nice if there is a good story to go along with all the gameplay changes this title is promising.
Another thing that may seem familiar, but in a good way, will be the online capabilities. Stormrise will follow in the steps of most great PC RTS games and have online capabilities that will include custom matches as well as a “drop-in” system where you can randomly join or leave matches. It is still unknown how many players will be able to play online, but I am hoping for up to four-player support, as this is generally where enemy alliance strategies begin to emerge and the tactics start to get very interesting.
There are definitely some interesting concepts at work in Stormrise. Playing an RTS game with a direct view of the action admittedly sounds a little weird, but if it is implemented correctly it could herald a much-needed shift in the genre, and the 3-D environmental elements will definitely be a welcome change. As one who has played RTS games on an actual game board, I can appreciate the fact that a developer has found a way to move past this tiresome model.
Overall, what I am hoping is that Stormrise will finally bring the RTS genre into the modern era. The new perspective system looks to be quite promising, and the three-dimensional environments look like they will provide new depth to a genre that has been starved of innovation since Starcraft. The game currently has a release window of early 2009, so we’ll have to wait quite a bit for this one. But, hopefully, this title will be worth waiting for!