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The Future of Strategy Games; Looking Forward At Scrolls, Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swam, King Arthur 2, and More!

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Posted October 21, 2011 - By Guest Writer








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Is the strategy genre dead? Is it just too inaccessible alongside clean-cut modern games? I don't know about you, but when there's just been a convention holding a tournament with a $1.6m prize fund for an upcoming strategy game that probably won't even see light of day until 2013, something tells me that the strategy genre ain't dead, no way sir and madam.

From the makers of Half-Life, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft, this list houses games being developed and published by some of the biggest names in the industry, and it's that talent that's leading a charge of content across PCs, consoles, and even onto handhelds in the coming years. There are millions of players passionate about the genre, and millions devoted to the individual series listed here. Try asking all of them if they think strategy games are dead.

You might need a very thick notepad.

DOTA 2 Gameplay Preview »



Defense of the Ancients 2
Release date: TBA 2012

The rise to success of Defense of the Ancients is just incredible. The Warcraft 3 mod was first released in 2003, transforming the RTS game into what's often referred to as "RPG combat" by making the support units computer-controlled and letting players take on the sole role of hero. The mod just grew and grew as a million-strong community continually supported it, and it soon became the fervent focus of Blizzcon tournaments and Esports leagues. It was huge and completely unprecedented. And that kind of thing brings in the big boys with their big old wallets.

Now Valve has lured the man who maintained DOTA for so long, IceFrog, to join the mod's creator, Eul, in the controversial development of DOTA 2. Blizzard will still wrangle about the name, but DOTA 2 was shown off to the public at this year's Gamescom as part of a invitation-only tournament with a whopping $1.6million prize fund. I was there in Germany, watching on as hundreds of players sat quietly in front of the big screen set over the platform of players. They sat and watched for hours upon hours, glued to the action as they tried to glean every last bit of detail about the game.

DOTA 2's cartoonish presentation looks like it could've been made by Blizzard, but Valve are hoping to use their experience to transform a game renowned as being impenetrable to newcomers accessible through the introduction of their matchmaking system alongside detailed tutorials and rather smartly a coaching system for experienced players to help out newer ones. Otherwise, superficially DOTA 2 looks a lot like what has come before, but there's an long time until release in 2012 (at the very earliest) and we'll expect to hear more from a (very congested) beta before then.

Defining feature: DOTA with accessibility, funding, and in the hands of Valve and its creators

Exclusive First Look at End of Nations' Tactical Nuke »



End of Nations
Release date: TBA 2012

We already talked a little bit about End of Nations both on this list last year and on our MMO list, but it's worth mentioning again here because the recently announced as free-to-play game produced by the makers of Rift and developed by the makers of the underappreciated Star Wars: Empire at War could be exactly what the strategy genre needs: a genuinely successful MMORTS.

Trying to mix the intricate balancing of a RTS game with the ongoing progression of a MMO has been the downfall of several MMORTS games over the years, but End of Nations will try to counter those problems by making players only able to bring a finite set of units into individual battles, battles which instanced and parts of larger meta-games. The MMO-like progression side will be linked to unlocking of stronger units and those units' stronger abilities, but better units will cost more of the limited number of points players can spend on their starting units for battles.

This, hopefully, is the kind of considered thinking which, alongside the basic rock-paper-scissors formula and colourful, futuristic presentation of a Command and Conquer or Starcraft game, can help make End of Nations a real success. It would be really be the first of its kind, though.

Defining feature: Instanced, balanced RTS battles which are parts of larger meta-games.





Army Corps of Hell
Release date: February 22 2012


We're celebrating PC games in this week of Epictober, but it would be totally remiss to miss out this upcoming Vita game from our list because, well, we've been waiting a long time for someone to take the classic Pikmin formula and mix it with hell, heavy metal, and lots and lots of violence.

That's essentially what Army Corps of Hell is, and that's no real surprise when you consider that it's being made by Motoi Okamoto's studio Entersphere, Okamoto being one of the writers of Pikmin. On the far less cutesy Sony platform, the Pikmin formula can blossom into a game where you take on the role of a hellish overlord, flinging his dutiful minions across the underworld, all to a chorus of booming rock and blood splatters. From what little we've seen so far, we know there's some combo-making and rhythm-based play as well as boss fights, but details are scant at this stage.

As with most other Vita launch titles, Army Corps of Hell will take advantage of both the console's touch screen and analog stick controls. Square-Enix has recently announced that the game will also be part of the US launch line-up, and it could be the dark horse to look out for.

Defining feature: Pikmin in hell on handhelds with heavy metal - what more could anyone want?

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Ultimate Ed. Launch »



Command and Conquer 5
Release date: TBA


This is crunch time for the Command and Conquer series. While both Command and Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3 were commercial and critical successes, Command and Conquer 4 was not so impacting. While we were impressed in our review, fans on the whole disagreed, and a lot of ire was directed at the game requiring players to be online at all times. With the RTS genre becoming more and more dominated by other big names, it's time for the genre's grandfather to step up and be counted.

Moreover, it's time for EA to regain some trust from the fans. The new Command and Conquer will be in the hands of the newly formed Victory Games studio led by Might and Magic creator Jon Van Caneghem, and the buzzword appears to be interconnectivity.

Van Canegham has previously talked about a "direct-to-consumer" future for C&C, with a persistent online world and more social integration in the online play. The last we've heard since was the set up of a community developer area where fans could offer their suggestions to Victory for inclusions in the new (and still unannounced) C&C game. That forum is now brimming with posts and activity, and hopefully both Victory and EA are listening. C&C is too good a series to die out so quietly.

Defining feature: maybe last chance saloon for Command and Conquer, at least in EA's hands

 

 




Scrolls
Release Date: TBA


It has been a rocky transition for the makers of sandbox building game Minecraft into their new strategy game, Scrolls. No-one was expecting such a different kind of game, but moreover it was a complete gut-punch when Bethesda initiated a lawsuit against Mojang over the trademark of the name. The good news: Mojang recently won the interim injunction. In the meantime there's a strategy game in development with very little known about it, but when it's the next game from the makers of the indie sensation of 2011 then it's worth keeping an eye on. Scrolls will mix the deck-building and card-trading of collectible card games like Magic: the Gathering with the 2D hexagonally gridded turn-based battles of a Might and Magic game.

Minecraft creator Markus 'Notch' Pearson and Jakob Porser, lead designer on Scrolls, claim that this is the game they've wanted to make for five years. While the Swedish studio is aware that Scrolls isn't going to be the runaway success that came before, they're confident that they can breathe life into genres which, at least in video game terms, have been dominated but not furthered by familiar names over the last few years. The concern is how far they can stretch from the base of Magic: the Gathering in the design, but at the same time here's a game with the potential to lure millions of Minecraft players who were maybe previously uninterested in trading card games. Watch this space.

Defining Feature: A strategy game by the makers of Minecraft - it's that simple





King Arthur 2
Release date: Q1 2012


We may have gotten this far without a Paradox Interactive game on the list, but having one game published by the European powerhouse of in-depth strategy games was inevitable. Yes, the first King Arthur was well received by fans and critics alike who praised it as an admittedly lo-fi yet still totally viable fantasy alternative to the Total War series with strong RPG elements. And now, Arthur's back.

Developer Neocore has increased the size of its team by half, and with Paradox now behind them as the publisher of the sequel they're all hard at work on making improvements in the sequel. The biggest introductions are those of flying enemies in almost every battle including creatures like dragons and gargoyles, and of the magic resistance system which will aim to better balance armies trading magic against melee.

As I saw for myself at this year's Gamescom, the campaign map is now twice the size of before, there's a greater layer of visual sheen, and battles will have a more customizable, friendlier camera. It's by no means the biggest name on this list, but King Arthur II might prove one of the most enjoyable.

Defining feature: Big open Total War-style battles with a touch of fantasy RPG flair

StarCraft 2: Heart Of The Swarm Cinematic Teaser Trailer »



Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
Release date: TBA 2012


Hey, StarCraft 2 fans: you know that there are still two more campaigns to come, right? Well of course you do, but with Wings of Liberty finally releasing and inevitably taking over your lives over the last year, I thought it might be prudent to gently remind you that the second expansion pack, Heart of the Swarm, will probably be in your welcoming hands by this point in 2012.

Now, here be Wings of Liberty spoilers: Heart of the Swarm picks up with Sarah Kerrigan now in human form following the events of Wings of Liberty. The former Zerg Queen of Blades remains curiously connected to the Zerg, and players will guide the Terran ghost psionic through a journey that somehow sees her attempting to regain control of the alien parasites - but why?

What this all means for the battles is that Heart of the Swarm's campaign will have a bit of a Warcraft 3 feel, with players able to control the hero-like Kerrigan through battles and use her powerful Zerg and Terran abilities to wreak destruction. These abilities can be advanced through four Battle Focus class types throughout the campaign, letting players choose how they sculpt Kerrigan, be it into her psionic Terran side, her corrupted Zerg side, or something else...

This is just a mere piece of the Heart of the Swarm cake, and eager players can expect to gorge themselves on new units, new characters, new maps, a bevy of improvements to the Battle.net service, and probably a whole lot more. That's it: you can resume playing StarCraft 2 now.

Defining feature: Controlling and evolving Kerrigan in Warcraft 3-like battles

Dawn of War II - Retribution Launch Trailer »



Dawn of War 3
Release Date: TBA

Gamescom came and went without a Dawn of War III reveal. THQ boss Danny Bilson had been building up a big announcement at the German convention, and it seemed odds-on that it would be the third game in the hugely popular RTS series for Warhammer 40k. Alas, no.So we're left hanging on the soundbites THQ have dropped over the last couple of years to glean any sense of what the game will be like. The recurring one has been "MMO-like", Bilson perpetuating the idea of a larger global meta-game to be the focus of the online play. There's also been a lot of talk about army customization; developer Relic's marketing manager James McDermott told Eurogamer that in Dawn of War III "your army and my army should feel very different."

All good and well, but really at this stage we'd just like a concrete announcement and a general idea of a release date to start off with. THQ said we could expect the game to be released 18 to 24 months after the release of the Retribution DLC for Dawn of War II. That happened back in March this year, but the THQ quote goes back to 2010 and the game is still officially unannounced. Still, if there's a strategy series worth being patient over, it's Dawn of War. Let's hope we hear more soon.

Defining feature: How unannounced and unclear it still is - what gives, THQ?

Honorable Mentions

There are plenty of other Paradox games to keep an eye on, of course, but maybe the pick of the bunch is dynasty-builder Crusader Kings II. I got to see it in action in Germany this year, and it might just be the most detailed thing I've ever seen with so much history to explore and play around with. Last year we profiled Kingdom under Fire 2, and it looks like its mix of hero-based role-playing and huge-scale battles will be coming to both PCs and consoles next year. We also looked at fantasy RTS Kings and Castles, the next game from Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor, and with Age of Empires Online now released we should start to hear more about that. As for the rest, there are rumors floating about of sequels to Company of Heroes and Rome: Total War.

Sinan Kubba is a London-based freelancer whose work has appeared at Kotaku, GamePro, and The Escapist. He has been known to wear his girlfriend's Pikachu slippers on occasion. 

 

The Future of Strategy Games; Looking Forward At Scrolls, Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swam, King Arthur 2, and More!
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