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More on lists and one of my own

September 14th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Tom Chick has reponded to Game Daily’s Greg Atkinson’s list with his own top ten list of the best RTS ever, or at least the ten best RTS you can probably still find at EB.

Chick’s list is heavy on the present, so it is immediately apparent that he is evaluating “best” by games he would prefer to play at the moment. There is, I think, a distinction to be made between “best RTS” and “most important RTS”. (Maybe “greatest” would be some combination of the two?) But it does show the peril of lists of this nature, one nicely sidestepped by just focusing on sales.

I, however, am steeped in the past. The history of gaming fascinates me and, even though Galactic Civilizations II has made it very unlikely I will ever reinstall Master of Orion, it’s just as unlikely that it would supplant MOO2 on a list of “greatest strategy games”.

Cross era comparisons are tough. Almost pointless even. You can’t begin with a ceteris paribus even over the last five years since the industry changes so rapidly. So sometimes a list trapped in the now like Chick’s is the only easy solution to what is a really stupid problem.

If you move to “most influential” or “most important” then you are in a tough spot, too. Age of Empires II is humungous in importance, largely because of its shocking MP success, not so much in influence. Dune II is really the cornerstone of the RTS world but, frankly, it’s not that great or interesting a game. I didn’t like it at the time. (For the record, I think Warcraft II‘s quality is highly overrated as well.) By paying attention to what is Important, we lose the little quirks that lead us to read reviews and opinions in the first place. Telling me that Age of Empires III is an improvement on Age of Empires isn’t, frankly, shocking or even interesting. Tell me why you think Age of Empires III is a major step forward or surprising or better than Act of War and we can have a conversation. Try to diagnose why the Age games are so much better than any other historical RTS out there and we can have a very interesting conversation.

Anyway, here’s my list of five real time strategy games that don’t get the respect they deserve. In no particular order.

1) Empires: Dawn of the Modern World – For all the fuss people make over Empire Earth, this was Stainless Steel’s best game. It had pacing, it had variety, it took its time in letting you kill things with every unit you had.
2) Praetorians – This is a very unusual game with a unique approach to building units. Terrain mattered a lot as did combined arms. Only three factions, but a decent historical campaign in a genre with too few decent historical campaigns.
3) Kohan: Immortal Sovereigns – A great game that would have sold a million copies and been a genre transforming title if it had a name that was a little less stupid. Or was a movie tie-in.
4) Majesty – As much a city builder as an RTS, it remains the very model of “hands-off” game design.
5) Settlers II – Usually lumped in with city builders, you can make a very strong case that the territorial and resource control aspect of this game makes it more an RTS. Don’t let the cartoon look fool you. There is a lot going on here.


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