Six months in and 2009 already has some strong contenders for best strategy game of the year. In all, it’s been a strong half year with a few surprises. But, with the caveat that I have not played a final buld Blood Bowl yet, I still had no trouble coming up with the three best strategy titles so far.
3) The Sims 3: The best selling PC game of the year shows why Will Wright’s formula of interactive people and amateur soap opera hijinks is a landmark game design achievements. The new version adds a town you can roam around in and puts less emphasis on bladder management so you can focus on higher RPG game mechanics. Like fishing. The addition of “moodlets” (buffs and curses) means that there is no mystery about why your Sim is happy and lets you plan trade offs to make that miserable toy person life a little less miserable. It is a sophisticated time management game that challenges both your story telling and resource harvesting skills. Gather friends! Gather influence! Gather children! And try not to go crazy doing it.
2) Demigod: You could be pardoned for not tuning in to Demigod after the rough multiplayer launch. Discounts and coupon offers have kept the game a going concern, though, and I’m thrilled because it deserves a second look. Like The Sims, this is RPG as much as RTS and it has more character and style than any other game this year. Lots of great action and artistry, but the heart of the game is the sequence of one upmanship – tactics and counter tactics and counters to those. If Gas Powered Games stays true to its promise of regular map and demigod updates, there’s a chance this game could climb higher by the end of the year.
1) Warhammer Dawn of War II: I was probably a little hard on the campaign game when I played it. All scripted missions, which is a little blah, but they do a better than normal job of teaching you the rudiments of strategy (for one faction at least) while giving you a nice variety of challenges. Relic has once again established that they are the masters of skirmish and MP design, with four different but similar factions. Of course, they haven’t broken it with patches yet. The secret to their success, I think, is that they understand the difference between epic experiences and epic-ness. I wrote before about how Epic has become a synonym for Big, when in fact Epics are usual personal stories. The small unit count of Relic’s recent RTSes means that every soldier can be a hero; there is an Achilles in all of us, I suppose.
Other things of note in 2009:
Clearly the biggest change has been the podcast. My original plan for Three Moves Ahead was to do it every few weeks, because I wasn’t convinced that I could persuade people to talk to me every week about strategy games. Tom Chick told me that was a stupid idea, so here we are – a weekly podcast drawing 1500 listeners a week and climbing. Spread the word, review and rate us on iTunes and stay tuned for a summer full of guests and interesting topics. Many developers and publisher have been helpful with review copies and beta code, and I hope that wider exposure means that we can cover other stuff in more detail. It’s really hard finding games we all have played. But thanks to Tom, Bruce and Julian for making my Sunday/Monday nights so much fun.
You may have noticed that I’ve done less review work this year. Partly that’s because of some site’s changes in emphases, competition with other writers for scarce money and space and my reluctance to work for very little. Time has also been an issue, since the book/film column at Crispy Gamer can take quite a bit of time if I’m doing it right. Still, I do hope to get more review work in the next six months or at least review more here. I do think I know what I’m doing in this business…
Coming soon, what to look for in the next six months. It could become a very busy year.