I played the crap out of Westwood Studios' Command & Conquer back in the early 90s. The fast-paced tactical combat balanced with the fun of building an uber base appealed greatly to my 15 year old self. But over the last decade, different studios have attempted to bring that magic back without much success. Now the EA-owned Victory Studios will try again, by investing heavily in a free to play business model. First up is Command & Conquer, which despite the lack of it in the title is a sequel to 2003's Generals.
I was so eager to jump in to playing the game, I missed the whole presentation due to some very noise-reducing headphones. After choosing one of 6 available general archetypes, we got to play a skirmish against an opposing A.I. The generals provide 3 unique units and a special ability on a cooldown - my general was a junkyard salvage guy who could send in planes for an AOE strike. Other generals announced so far include Red Arrow and Dr. Thrax, who, true to his name, likes a bit of biological warfare.
The first task was to build up my base. Command & Conquer abandons the tiberium collection and cooldown reinforcements of previous iterations to adopt a Warcraft III like model. The maps are dotted with piles of supplies, and you build a supply depot to harvest them to provide gold. Supply depots make helicopters to lift the freight cartons back and forth - 3 is the optimal number per depot.
Once my economy was going, I used my command center to build bulldozers, the only units that can build other buildings. I had to drop power plants to expand the limits of where I could place defensive structures like turrets or unit producers like barracks or war factories. My RTS experience let me queue up multiple tasks, and set rally points like a boss, but soon I was being invaded with tanks and troops by the aggressive A.I. My rocket troops repulsed the tank, but just barely.
I figured now was a good time to expand so I set up a supply depot in the closest expansion. That's when an associate producer at Victory, Jon Lamaitre, appeared over my shoulder to suggest I move my soldiers into the empty buildings around the map. Never turning down advice from a dev, I clicked on the building and my troops occupied it like it was a bunker. Lamaitre said a viable strategy in Command & Conquer is to quickly send out basic troops to occupy as many buildings as you can to slow down enemy advances and scout out the map.
That opened all kinds of options, and I quickly overwhelmed my A.I. opponent with a cadre of queued up tanks and rocket troops. The air strike cooldown ability was super handy, and I imagine the special abilities of each general will really cater to a specific playstyle. Lamaitre told me the team is experimenting with adding specific A.I. behaviors to your opponents when you're battling the computer, such as Red Arrow always playing more aggressive or another turtling behind defensive structures.
Command & Conquer is clearly early in development, but EA plans to open up a beta of not only this game but the persistent online service sometime this summer. There's little details on exactly how the business model would work, but I could definitely see pursuing a League of Legends model that lets you buy specific generals for a small fee, or skins on your existing generals' troops.
While I can't exactly say I was as enraptured with Command & Conquer as I was when I was 15, this version certainly was fun to play and I look forward to seeing more from Victory Studios.