3am: RTS Steel Cage Deathmatch Fight!
TomChick - News - 09/20/04 - Link

It's going to be a terrible week if you're into real time strategy games. I'm talking $150 terrible. Not to mention all the lost hours. What if you're already invested in timesinks like The Sims 2 or Fable? What if you're thinking of checking out X-Men: Legends or Star Wars Battlegrounds? What if VU approves Valve's Half-Life 2 release candidate and it suddenly starts trickling through Steam (actually, Steam has been telling me for some time that "a locked copy of Half-Life 2 is on my computer", so I don't know who those guys at Valve think they're kidding pretending that they're still working on the game)? Us RTS folks have quite a dilemma. So if you buy just one RTS this week, here's my advice...

But first, I should say that I haven't seen Rome: Total War. I'm sure it'll be great. It's got phalanxes and elephants and burning pigs and stuff. Whatever. You pretty much know what you're getting if you've played Creative Assembly's other games. And it'll probably have a better single player campaign than the competition (Dawn of War and Kohan II just have a string of self-contained canned missions linked by goofy in-engine cutscenes). So there's that. But I can address the other two games, both of which I've played in their final versions, and both of which are easily candidates for any list of the best games of 2004.

And here's what it boils down to: although I like Dawn of War better, Kohan II is a better game. It's a brilliant design that really demonstrates what a valuable asset the developers at Timegate are to the genre. And I don't mean to diminish their talents by making the difficult choice to recommend Dawn of War. But I'm completely digging it's visceral down-in-the-trenches perspective, its grungy Warhammer aesthetic, and the Warcraft style racial variety. My preference says more about me than the relative merits of the two games.

And the really unfortunate thing is that although Kohan II is superior to the others in terms of the strength of its design, it's probably going to come in a distant third in terms of sales. It's hitting the shelves at exactly the wrong time, not just because of the fierce holiday competition, and the lack of marketing by TakeTwo, but also because of the negative pre-release buzz hounding it like a Swift Boat Veterans commercial.

Among hardcore Kohan fans who played the beta, there seems to be some sort of whispering smear campaign. They've violated their NDAs to publicly declare that the game is awful, that's it's dumbed down, that it's lacking in strategy, that there are problems with the AI, that it's ugly, that it has bad breath, and that it will kick your dog. I don't have a dog, so I can't address that last one. But otherwise, these allegations are entirely specious. Consider that the people making them haven't even played the actual game.

My guess is that they played an early version and didn't care for it. Or perhaps they resent Timegate not kissing their feet. Maybe one of the developers stole someone's girlfriend. Who knows. But for whatever the reason, the whispering beta testers have done their damage: RTS junkies are just the sort of people who can help Timegate in this crucial first week of the game's release, and they're just the sort of people who are going to be swayed by what some disillusioned beta tester posted on some backwater forum. With fans like those, who needs detractors.

And I imagine I'm not helping the situation by telling you to buy Dawn of War. But lucky for you, and for Timegate, there are demos available for these games. So if you're really pressed to make a decision, ignore me, ignore those Kohan II beta testers, and put your bandwidth to use. Or, better yet, suck it up for the genre you love and drop the $150 this week. You know you're going to do it eventually.

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