MMORTS – Past, Present, and Future
Real Time Strategy, RTS for short, is a distinctly PC genre. RTS games have been tried on consoles over the years, but they all managed to fall flat. The reasons given for their failure vary, but a lot of it has to do with the input device. Somehow a controller just doesn’t provide the scope of movement required to command a vast army, micromanage an economy, and build defensive structures all at the same time.
With nearly all MMOs and MMORPGs being released for the PC platform, its a wonder why we haven’t seen more MMORTS games. The genre is certainly popular. Games like Age of Empires, Total Annihilation, and Starcraft laid a strong foundation and new additions like Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, and Rise of Nations continue to innovate the genre. RTS games certainly lend themselves to the lobby based system found in MMO racing games and MMOFPS titles. Its not all bad news for RTS fans. There are signs that the genre is finally ready to take off. To prove my point, let’s look at the beginnings of the MMORTS genre and chart its progress over the years.
Developer: KRU Interactive
Release Date: 2001
Shattered Galaxy was the first game to mix MMO, RPG, and RTS elements. The result was a subscription based game that soon offered an unlimited free trial. While Shattered Galaxy never took off, the official server is still up and running. It made use of a large, persistent world where players battled on instanced maps against one another for control of territory. There’s no resource gathering or building construction in Shattered Galaxy, but players did control a small group of units in a very RTS-like fashion. The graphics are reminiscent of Armored Core, but gameplay more closely resembles those Starcraft campaign levels where players control a small group of units and must fight their way to the end.
Developer: LockPick Entertainment
Release Date: 2007
Dreamlords was the first free to play MMORTS to take the genre into the third dimension. Players take on the role of a powerful Dreamlord whose task it is to command armies and conquer territory. The game offers both PvE and PvP components. Each Dreamlord has his own exclusive island area to conquer, but most fight against other players for control of additional territory. While battles and the bulk of gameplay take place on a client, players must manage their units and handle other long term strategy planning on the official website. Though it was originally released in 2007, Dreamlords still carries the ‘beta’ tag. At one point Aeria Games published Dreamlords in North America, but it was quickly discontinued. The official servers, located in Sweden, are still up and running for those interested in Dreamlords.
Developer: Silverlode Interactive
Release Date: 2008
Dubbed a ‘collectible online real time strategy game’, Saga was first released in 2008. The game is available free to play, but a full version costs $19.95. In Saga, players chose from six nations and must build up their city while sending their units out to complete various quests. The game is heavily instanced, there is no persistent world, but players can attack one another. Access to additional units require the purchase of Booster Packs. The graphics and interface have been compared to Rome: Total War. Like the Total War series, players don’t command individual soldiers, instead they command squads which together behave as a single unit. Saga did have potential, but it now suffering from a severe lack of players and hasn’t received content updates for several months now.
Developer: Dark Sky Entertainment
Release Date: 2008
Like Shattered Galaxy, Beyond Protocol is a subscription based MMORTS with a Sci-Fi theme. Luckily, free players can enjoy the game for as long as they want though they’ll be restricted to the trial solar system. Unlike the other MMORTS games on this list, Beyond Protocol actually has a persistent world. Players will be able to construct buildings on planets occupied by other players. This leads to plenty of conflict as players vie for control of property and resources. The interface is confusing, there’s a steep learning curve, and the game is generally slow paced. But those who can look past those flaws should take a look at Beyond Protocol. Those who take the time to master BP will be able to design their own starship units, and take part in some sophisticated intergalactic diplomacy.
Developer: Electronic Arts – EA Phenomic
Release Date: 2009
Combining TCG, RTS, and RPG gameplay elements into a cohesive whole is no easy task. EA’s Phenomic studio managed to do just that with BattleForge. Besides mixing so many genres, BattleForge has a great presentation. Unlike some of the other games on this list, its easy to approach. Players design their armies in the form of decks and go into instanced maps that have a classic RTS design to them. Players must take control of strategic locations that generate resources and must summon troops with which to do battle. BattleForge has several full feature campaigns that offer dozens of singleplayer and cooperative stages. 1v1 and 2v2 PvP battles also make up a large portion of the game’s content. While BattleForge is free to play, players must purchase booster packs to gain access to more powerful and specialized units.
Company of Heroes Online
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Release Date: 2010
Company of Heroes Online is not yet released as of this writing, but the core gameplay will be very similar to what’s found in the original title. COHO will use a simple lobby system to connect players and allow them to face off in the game’s fast-paced RTS battles. Relic is the same studio behind the Dawn of War series, and the mechanics here are very similar. Players will have to secure control points to generate resources. Company of Heroes Online promises to be the most mainstream MMORTS to date and should be immediately familiar to fans of the genre. While there is no persistent world, the developers have promised a meta progression system where players can upgrade their commanders as they play more matches. We will have to wait to see the details, but there’s no doubt that Company of Heroes Online represents the best chance at propelling the MMORTS genre into the limelight.
There it is. Six games that chart the progress of the MMORTS genre from inception to the yet unrealized future. Despite some experimentation with persistent environments, it seems the RTS is still best suited to the lobby based system. More experimentation may yield different results, but for now its good to see the RTS finally have a strong presence in the free to play market.
Do you play any of the games listed above? What are your thoughts on the RTS genre and where its headed? Share your thoughts below!
By, Erhan Altay