I like Supreme Commander 2, but I totally understand why a lot of people will not.
I often think about what concepts are core to a series. What makes a Europa Universalis game a Europa Universalis game? What makes Civ Civ? How much or how gradually can you change a game before it is not really true to what people expect of the franchise?
Supreme Commander 2 is not much like Total Annihilation (its earliest ancestor) in some very significant ways. It’s not even a lot like Supreme Commander 1. It is leaner. It is undoubtedly smaller. And it is a lot more manageable.
Take the research tree. Research is centralized on one screen and as you move from faction to faction it becomes readily apparent how the three armies differ. Everything is laid out for you, so you know what you can build towards and decide which trade offs are worth the investment. The distinctions are subtle in some ways; in fact the differences are a lot like those in Sins of a Solar Empire – they seem small or negligible but do give you some insight into how these groups are conceived. The Illuminate, to give one example, can research greater Mass collection along two tracks where the UEF is stuck with it on only one. This means that if the Illuminate can get both of those things researched it will become an economic juggernaut. Because they are space elves. Or something.
In some ways, it’s a sequel that is a microcosm of the tension that Soren Johnson explored in his GDC talk about theme and mechanics. Is the Supreme Commander series about robots (constant theme) or is it a game about micromanaging resource spikes (old mechanics)? If you think that Chris Taylor’s RTSes are really about showing how well you can develop and protect the most complicated economy you can have with only two resources, then this is not a SupCom/TA game. If you think that the important thing is the construction of different sized and shaped killing machines, then it is clearly in that line.
The simplicity and smaller scale of the game (if you can call a unit cap of a few hundred small) means that some people will feel a little bit betrayed by the change. It’s not that the super hardcore TA people feel entitled to be super hardcore – it’s that this was a game and series that they supported and championed for a long time and they may feel like Gas Powered Games is “dumbing things down”.
Make no mistake, Supreme Commander 2 is a much more user friendly game. The user interface is near perfect in many ways, the strategic zoom is useful without making you feel divorced from the action, the maps (clearly inspired by Demigod arenas) have a clarity of design and focus, the campaign missions don’t give you one giant task and then zoom out to give you ten more, etc. In every way, Supreme Commander 2 is more accessible.
And maybe something is lost in that accessibility. You can’t get more old school huge than Total Annihilation, but Supreme Commander 2 is almost old school small. As a result, it is more focused in important ways, but the sprawl of the original SupCom meant that you do some pretty cool things. And the complexity of the economy had a certain perverse beauty to it – designing templates of energy reactors, finding a way to keep your collection rate climbing just as your big ass units were about to come online. As someone who loves deep and complex (but not complicated) game design, I completely understand this feeling.
Supreme Commander 2, though, won me over in ways that the original SupCom and TA did not and a lot of that is because of the streamlining and intimacy. If, as they promise, Gas Powered Games can fix the AI issues then we’ve got a game that I can unequivocally endorse. This is not a game that I expected to like as much as I did, and it’s a game that I really was not enjoying until all of a sudden things clicked.
I like it a lot. I accept that you may not.