It seems a year of change. Not all of it positive. The old adage of "if it ain't broke don’t fix it" has been replaced with "lets change it to save money” with little thought to the consequences.
Girl Guide biscuits, Cadbury chocolate, Auckland Council. None of these things are the same as they were last year. I’ll let you decide which will leave the sourest taste in your mouth, as now we can add the Command & Conquer franchise to that list.
It's a series spanning 15 years, famous for its storytelling and gameplay. At its core, a base building, economy-focused RTS which has stood the test of time. Here we are, the fourth and final game in the series (of the main story arc at least) - a game that’s carefully tweaked the formula over the course of more than a decade, and at the last minute they’ve changed everything.
With a story and characters so well known, the universe sells itself to most fans. Many followers would have bought this game on name alone. There was no need to so gratuitously change the way the game played. New maps, new units, some small core game play tweaks and a resolution to the storyline is all that was really required.
I've previously gone on record stating that StarCraft II should have changed more, so it might seem somewhat hypocritical that I am complaining here that Tiberian Twilight changes too much. But I think there is a happy medium. There’s a certain amount of evolution in each series as you move from one title to the next which everyone expects. Case in point, Dawn of War II. Dawn of War was a great game. Dawn of War II is better, and yet different. But just the right amount of different. Heroes of Might and Magic is another series where evolution has been carefully managed to provide a new, but familiar experience.
So what is different? To start with, there is no technology tree as such. Units are unlocked in singleplayer and multiplayer by an experience system, which means in the early days of playing this game you can only build a handful of bottom-rung units. To unlock the good units (mammoth tanks, for example) you need to reach a certain number of experience points, which might take fifteen skirmish games to unlock. Until then, it’s a decidedly tedious experience. And, if you aren’t online, you don’t get any experience, and therefore can’t unlock a thing.
You are also limited in your gameplay style by being able to choose either an offence, defence, or support base. If you want to focus on defence only briefly, you can destroy your offence base, and call down a defence base. Except you can’t build the same units as you could when you had an offence base, so you then have to destroy that base and redeploy your offence base.
What other buildings can you build? Well, as a support base you can build a few defence towers. And, that’s really about it. Your base, which is now called a crawler, can pack up and move, but there’s very little purpose to this. Sure, you could sneak it out of the way, but since it's slow moving, unable to provide you with any units whilst moving, and relatively weak, it's best left to sit.
The idea now is not to destroy your opponent’s base or buildings but to maintain control of certain nodes on the map, until you reach a score of 2500 points. This again changes the dynamic of how the game played, and is very "Company of Heroes" in approach.
The other change is a move towards fewer units, and more of a focus on micro adjustments of small groups. As your units gain ranks, they gain damage and health bonuses. This creates a need to carefully manage which units attack which enemy units. The influence of StarCraft and DoTA shows here.
Objectively, the multiplayer game works. With a good multiplayer game and a few mates filling out the support and defence roles, multiplayer games can be a lot of fun. The pace is fairly quick, and once you have done the grind long enough to have unlocked everything, you can enjoy some of the end game units. Without mates however, you are left to rely on the AI to perform the other two roles of support, defence or offence. And the AI isn’t very good at this.
Singleplayer is also hampered by this play style. I want to be able to attack and defend at the same time. I want to win because I built a decent economy, and because I laid my base out in a way that allowed it to be easily defended. If I want to repair some units, I don’t want to have to destroy my crawler and land another one.
You do get the classic Command & Conquer cut scenes, full of bad acting, and low production values. Pity there’s no ironside this time though, as no one on the GDI side has a personality equal to that of Kane.
The bottom line is, this should have been a new IP. The game could have been a great new franchise, with a storyline designed around the game engine. Instead, they’ve butchered the Command & Conquer series to a point where long time fans of the series are filling forum after forum with angry comments. Even with a beta test period, very little seems to have been taken on board by the developers. I suspect they were committed with release dates and didn’t have a lot of options.
It could be a fun game for those who want to try something different. There’s a melting pot of DoTA and Dawn of War features than does provide an enjoyable multiplayer experience. But if you are a long time fan of the singleplayer campaigns, I must warn you that EA have unleashed a metaphorical Rodney Hide on the franchise you love.