How a Game Reinvigorated the RTS by Modifying the Genre's Past

Ever since I was a child, able to game on a PC, my favorite games belonged to the Real-Time Strategy genre. In fact, the first strategy game I played, which drew me into the genre's ever-loving embrace, was Warcraft 2. I derived great pleasure in being able to command vast hordes of orcs and goblins in my pursuit to crush Alliance forces. I spent countless hours gathering resources, training troops and waging war against my enemies, an unstoppable green army that yearned for battle. And my enjoyment of the genre never waned; Starcraft, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 1 and 2, these titles only added to my continued, undying love for the genre.

These were the best of traditional Real-Time Strategy, and ones I still hold in high regard, as they helped build, shape and mold the genre into what it is today. But as years go by, and developers are purchased, dissolved, amalgamated or assimilated by a higher power, the games we have known and loved become forgotten in time, their names sullied by the very companies that should be striving for their success.

And when the old titles fall, new games rise and attempt to attain the former glory of their predecessors, much in the same way as elders die leaving behind not just a legacy, but the ones capable of shaping the future in wondrous ways. Thus is the way of the Real-Time Strategy genre. Thus is the way of World in Conflict, a title that picked up the pieces left behind by its ancestors, dusted them off, and sculpted them, the methods and ideas, in ways that helped improve the genre as a whole.

What is World in Conflict?

World in Conflict was released in 2007 by the Swedish developer Massive Entertainment, and features an enthralling, alternate history-inspired story based upon the end of the Cold War in 1989. The Soviet Union, on the verge of collapse, invaded Western Europe in an attempt to remain a global superpower when negotiations to provide aid to the struggling nation collapsed. They then turned their sights on the United States, invading the west coast, namely Washington.

How a Game Reinvigorated the RTS by Modifying the Genre's Past

The Single Player portion of World in Conflict places the player in the boots of Lieutenant Parker, whom is tasked to repel Soviet forces, both in Europe and in the United States, during the sprawling campaign that spans before, and after, the Soviet invasion of the US. The campaign is narrated by Alec Baldwin, who does a superb job bringing the story to life.

However, what makes World in Conflict so unique is the lack of resource gathering, population caps, and logistical base building. Instead, World in Conflict replaces those three main factors, prevalent in most traditional RTS titles, with the use of Reinforcement Points, compounded with Tactical Aid. In both Single Player and Multiplayer modes, players are given a certain allotment of Reinforcement Points in which to buy units to deploy to the battlefield. These newly purchased troops arrive via airdrops, which take 20 seconds to reach the player-allotted deployment zone. This represents the game's version of a build timer, much like one would see in other RTS games based around logistics.

How Does Multiplayer Function in World in Conflict?

In Multiplayer, players start with 4000 spendable points, and have 2000 points that gradually become available over time. Players will also be refunded the full cost of Reinforcement Points for each of their units that have been destroyed, and these points will also be reimbursed to them over time, rather than in one large sum. The amount of points in this trickle-down timer gauges how quickly excess Reinforcement Points will be received. The more points a player has waiting to be refunded to them means they will gain points faster, as to get back into the fight quicker, and vice versa if a player has only a couple hundred points in reserve.

How a Game Reinvigorated the RTS by Modifying the Genre's Past

As there are no bases in World in Conflict, thus no way to truly eliminate individual opponents, the game features Command Points that must be captured, which are critical to the success of the team. These Command Points, depending upon the game mode being played, can consist of two to six areas that must be taken in order to fully acquire the point. Game types are limited to certain maps, with no option for players to select different a different choice.

  1. Assault: In this game mode, one team attacks preset Command Points while the other is tasked with defending them. They must capture as many as they can before the allotted time runs out. At the end of the first phase, the roles are then reversed, with the defending team now on the attack. The winner is decided by how many Command Points each team was able to capture/defend. If the attacking team in phase one is unable to defend the first point they were able to capture, it results in an instant loss.
  2. Domination: This game type features teams fighting to control a series of preset Command Points across the map, and also shows your flag, and your opposing team's, at the top-center portion of the screen. These flags represent dominance over the other team. If the United States team controls more points than their Soviet enemy, arrows will appear under the U.S. flag, indicating that it is overtaking the Soviets', slowly pushing it off the screen. Instead of tugging and pulling for victory, players are trying to push and shove the other team back.
  3. Tug O' War: Teams are tasked in this game mode to attack one Command Point at a time. As the areas of the point are being captured, a second Command Point is revealed on the map. The losing team can successfully block the next point if they can capture one area of that point. Conversely, the winning team can block that point if they are able to overtake an area of that Command Point. Much like in Domination, the factions' flags are on displayed at the top-center of the screen in order to show who is currently ahead and behind.

Roles of Multiplayer

Players are able to choose between four available roles in Multiplayer matches: Infantry, Armor, Air and Support. Each role features diverse units that are unique to that choice, as well as other units that are available to different roles, which cost more to build. Infantry focuses heavily on riflemen, snipers and anti-armor troops. Infantry can garrison buildings as well as take cover in heavily forested areas, concealing them from the enemy. Armor consists of APCs, Light, Medium, and Heavy tanks. Air is composed of scout and transport helicopters as well as Medium and Heavy attack choppers. These units are as quick to move around the battlefield as they are deadly, however after each volley of missiles the helicopters must wait a short period before they are able to launch another attack. Finally, Support is made up of Medium and Heavy artillery, repair and anti-aircraft vehicles. Artillery strikes deal massive damage over a large area however these units must be supported by other players as they are slow and can be killed quickly.

How a Game Reinvigorated the RTS by Modifying the Genre's Past

As in most games, there is a Rock, Paper, Scissors system with each role, however minor it actually may be. Infantry is general purpose, and is quite effective against everything though they are also the easiest killed if out of position and in the open. APC's can assault aircraft and make short work of infantry, however tanks are not as effective against infantry, nor are they able to attack aircraft, thus they are mainly used to spearhead enemy positions and deal with enemy armor. Air is very effective against infantry, and their missile strikes are potent against enemy tanks and other aircraft if there are a large number of helicopters making an attack. Support is powerful against stationary targets when using artillery and can eliminate enemy helicopters quickly with anti-air vehicles; however these vehicles can be easily eliminated by each role if out of position.

With these roles in mind, during team play, it is essential for team members to communicate in order to mount a successful offensive strike, defensive play, or guerrilla tactic. For example, since tanks are unable to fire upon enemy aircraft, it is imperative that either a Support or Infantry player move their anti-air units in to assist the player in trouble. Another example of this would be an Infantry player leaving anti-tank infantry in a wooded area, telling a teammate to bait enemy aircraft, or tanks, to the position. This can result in quick takedowns of enemy units. Players must work in tandem or the team will crumble, thus cohesion and teamwork are imperative to success.

Tactical Aid: The Game Changer

The large-scale conflicts in the game, the minor battles and even the capturing of Command Points all culminate into one broad area in which the game shines: Tactical Aid. For every connected shot on the enemy, for every unit killed and for every point captured, players earn Tactical Aid points which can be used in a myriad of ways. Given enough points, players are able to call in airstrikes, radio in paratroopers and even order tactical nuclear strikes. Each option takes time to execute, however. Some attacks can strike within a few seconds, whereas others take almost half a minute to finally land, so when using these abilities players must call them in on a location where they think the enemy will be not where they currently are. A well placed artillery strike will, more often than not, obliterate any opposing forces caught in the blast radius. Napalm will certainly clear out any infantry in a forest. And an air-to-air attack will instantly knock out any helicopters caught in the area of effect.

But some of these strikes can also take out your own, and your allies', units if they are in the blast radius, so communication is vital. What appears to be a clear and decisive strike on an enemy can quickly turn into a blue-on-blue assault.

The Mechanics of World in Conflict made it the Game Real-Time Strategy Needed

World in Conflict is one of gaming's greatest Real-Time Strategy titles as it dared to do something different, casting off the shackles that bound most RTS games of the past in an attempt to stand out from the rest of them – and it executed its ideas brilliantly. It was more than your standard resource gathering, overwhelming army affair that most RTS titles so heavily rely on. Instead it concentrated on putting players in command of a small force to outmaneuver and outwit their opponents, using their allies and Tactical Aid abilities to further their conquest. Without the need to build bases and manage resources, the game placed emphasis on how one commanded their troops, how effective they were at managing their units in combat, and how well they used Tactical Aid to annihilate their enemy and support their allies.

How a Game Reinvigorated the RTS by Modifying the Genre's Past

For the first time in years, there was a true Action RTS title that centered more on strategizing, more on tactics, without the need to use some arbitrary method to stop players from engaging in a skirmish – a war game that vehemently focused on war, on battle, not economy. In World in Conflict's chaotic, always-moving combat, combined with the use of Tactical Aid strikes, each match proved to be more than units merely shooting at each other, instead it gave players the power to make each game seem like the turning point in a war. As tanks converged on a Command Point, aircraft swirled in overhead in an attempt to counter the assault; artillery rained on groups of reinforcing units, and anti-armor infantry and snipers garrisoned nearby buildings to establish a foothold on a location, all the while napalm and daisy cutter bombs struck areas for full effect, World in Conflict captured the horrific spectacle of unyielding battle better than most Real-Time Strategy games to date.

Thus, World in Conflict was the pinnacle of an Action Real-Time Strategy title, and one the genre sorely needs more of. Each battle, each match was but a war of attrition, designed around the use of Tactical Aid strikes to push enemies back, in order to gain ground in a merciless, brutal game of Tug o' War. As an assault bore down on a teams Command Points, causing players to lose valuable ground and expendable units, they could simply reinforce their battered army and counter-attack with renewed vigor; artillery, tank busters and carpet bombs cleaving a swath of destruction through their enemies in order to regain lost ground, thereby gaining more territory in the process. Never before had an RTS concentrated on sheer chaotic battle with as great effectiveness as Massive Entertainment did with World in Conflict, thereby making it a go-to game for Real-Time Strategy enthusiasts that has yet to be rivaled to this day by any of its successors.

It took the ideas so prominent in other Real-Time Strategy titles and created something new with them. From resource management they derived the idea to instead focus on managing a a small force, allotting players a set amount of resources, in which to build an army, creating balance. The removal of the all-important, base-building component prevalent in almost all Real-Time Strategy titles allowed players to focus upon the only way to attain victory in every RTS — commanding units and engaging enemies in combat. From super weapons, that could be built, and deployed, to support abilities that could be used, much like in many other RTS titles, came Tactical Aid — super weapons at each player's disposal once battle finally began. All these ideas culminated into the creation of one of the finest strategy games in existence; one superbly unique.

And now, it has been almost seven years since the release of World in Conflict, and five since the release of its expansion Soviet Assault, which added a Soviet campaign to the Single Player mode, and there seems to be little hope that a sequel will be released. What we witness instead is the continued success of Starcraft, but the steady decline of the Command & Conquer series, the closing of Ensemble, with it the greatness of Age of Empires, and the continued, slow decay of the Real-Time Strategy genre as a whole. But as we've seen, with time, new developers arise and take on the mantle of creating something new from the old, bringing back something that was once great, with the pieces that made it so, in bold and inspiring ways. And with time, great things can happen. We need only wait.