RPS Asks: Do You Play Online RTS?

Tiberian Question Time

Today I went to have a bit of a fiddle with the upcoming Dawn of War II stanpansion (did I say it right?) Chaos Rising, my thoughts on which I will be expressing by repeatedly placing my fingers onto a series of plastic blocks arranged in a grid formation tomorrow. Today, though, I want to scratch at an itch that’s been bugging me and, quite clearly, a lot of RTS developers for a little while now. While playing – and getting roundly spanked at – CR’s multiplayer, I once again mulled over the problems multiplayer real-time strategy faces in trying to remain true to its build’n’bash roots whilst also finding ways to be accessible to folk who weren’t raised on years of it, or at least aren’t heavily invested enough to learn all the statistics, hotkeys and timings necessary to do well in online matches. Is there a danger that the new trend towards less building and more co-operation is throwing out too many babies with the minutiae-filled bathwater or, are those babies horribly mutated anyway? Whether you like to think of yourself that way or not, if you’re reading this site you’re a pretty hardcore PC gamer. You’re the audience for these games, and for the attempted changes to them. So: do you like to strategise online, in real-time? How? Why?

This is mostly about hearing the PC gaming community’s thoughts on that matter, and how their habits in this regard have (or haven’t) changed over the years, so the meat of this post is yonder comments thread below. But in the name of MATHS-POWER let’s have ourselves a wee poll too. Pray forgive the floating ns – a bizarre bug in our polling software, and also an attempt to hypnotist you into sending us some pudding. We do like pudding.


Personally: I play some RTS multiplayer amongst friends, but I steer well clear of going online unless it’s necessary for some article I’m working on. The disparity in knowledge and mastery of the game, the units and the bloody hotkeys between people who play it regularly and fiercely, and little old me, who’ll play it only until I have to/want to turn my attentions to another game, is huge. And the results of that disparity are often depressing. Or: I’m a weakling. But I accept that entirely. The question is whether I’m relatively alone in it and should indeed be jeered at, or if it’s a general trend – and, if so, should developers be striving harder to find more ways to let us weaklings in?

So, yeah. Share your RTS multiplayer habits with us: what, why, what does and doesn’t work, what do you wish the genre was doing? YOUR WORDS. WRITE THEM.


  1. Brumisator says:

    Well I mostly played RTSs in the 20th century, when my internets were not up to snuff for playing on ye internet.
    And I haven’t really gotten into any new ones to get good at them, so I haven’t dared test my skills online.

  2. DJ Phantoon says:

    I don’t know why, but I didn’t feel as much love for Dawn of War 2’s multiplayer versus its predecessor. It was more balanced but for some reason I just do not like it being to Company of Heroes-ish.

    Maybe it was the heavy weapons Space Marine groups, since the idea they would have an issue carrying giant weapons is absurd. Less absurd than super powered space fascists, anyways.

  3. Dain says:

    The more strategy games start hurling base building and resource gathering out of the window, the more I like ’em.

  4. Andy_Panthro says:

    Can’t stand playing online, unless with select friends.

    I’ve only played online a few times in the past few years, playing Dawn of War: Dark Crusade (Firestorm over Kronus) with some of the Good Old Games folks. I generally play RTS games for the single player challenge.

    On that note, Men of War (which is my current RTS of choice) is fantastic, even if the second russian mission took me about 15 goes to complete!

  5. TotalBiscuit says:

    Yeah, I play online RTS. Happily, not being 13 years old, I’m not a baby and can deal with losing, a lot. Online RTS gives the title a ton of longevity and one does not have to be in the upper echelons of competitive play to enjoy the simple pleasures of driving one’s enemy before them and hearing the lamentations of their women.

    I still prefer more traditional RTS. Company of Heroes is an exception, though it is extremely poorly balanced. General + Zero Hour + Shockwave mod is the peak of online multiplayer RTS and everyone should try it with friends at least once.

  6. Spoon says:

    I think there is plenty of room for both types, but I must admit that the classic base-building type gets relegated to friends-only games.

  7. rocketman71 says:

    Only LAN with friends, too many cheaters, disconnecters and smurfs out there.

    Also, I’m not touching C&C4 with a 10 feet pole. Or SC2 unless they pull their heads out of their asses and implement LAN support. I have enough great RTSs to last a lifetime, and I’m not buying blindly.

  8. Turin Turambar says:

    I don’t play RTS online, the only exception was CoH.

    Why? Because i don’t find in the multiplayer the same experience i find and like in the single player campaing. It’s like a different genre.

  9. Batolemaeus says:

    I love playing rts. Well, loved to. I’m a bitter old Dune2, Red Alert, Tiberian Sun Vet. Things were so much better back in the days.
    I generally don’t play online though. What really annoyed me was that most games were mostly about the perfect early build choreography and not really about having a good grasp of unit balance.

    I had one 1v1 match in Supcom where i was strategically superior. I was harassing and taking over his mexes, could kill off some serious attempts on my commander. I lost anyways: he was entirely focused on min/maxing his economy and didn’t really care for his mexes. Instead, he started spamming experimentals and massfabs. Yay..
    Same goes for C&C. You just spam and spam whatever huge ass unit your side has or just turtle until you get a superweapon. I think it’s really boring.

    Starcraft is a bit different and I might actually play it. But it’s hard to get into an rps that is established already…while in UT/Q3 you might accidentally frag a vet, you have no chance in hell in an rts.

  10. Arathain says:

    I’ll always play RTSs with friends, who are far more likely to be in the same (un)skilled bracket as me. Online? No thanks. I don’t have the time or the patience to build up those sorts of skills. I’d rather do something that’s fun now.

    That said, the more strategic thinking and less micro there is, the more interested I am. I’m keeping an eye on Ruse, for example.

    I’ve always had a problem. I’ve always liked RTSs, but I’m never very good at them, and I eventually become frustrated with the level of multi-tasking and micro they eventually require. So perhaps I am more in love with the idea of RTSs than the games themselves.

    • Wilson says:

      @Arathain – I feel like this sometimes as well. I enjoy watching CoH replays and fancy going online to face some real intelligence, but I feel intimidated by the possibility that I could end up matched up with someone of far higher skill and not stand a chance (not necessarily the game’s fault, there aren’t always many people online).

      I wish losing horribly didn’t bother me as much as it does, and I know that in many RTS games it’s considered mandatory to improve, but it just makes me grumpy (I’ll note that I remain civil and don’t rage quit/insult anyone) at which point I stop playing and feel like a failure. My problem entirely, but it’s why I personally only play online occasionally.

  11. Navagon says:

    Personally I’m definitely more of a single player RTS gamer. So having an actual campaign – either scripted like Dawn of War or engrossing like Total War – is important to me. I don’t often play multiplayer RTS, but coop is more interesting to me.

    While we’re on the subject, definitely not such a fan of base building. If nothing else it seems unrealistic to be building your production lines on the front line. Company of Heroes got base building about as right as it will ever be.

  12. the wiseass says:

    1. I play multiplayer RTS with my friends only. I can’t be arsed to get butchered by some uberhuman strategy freak, making 120 actions per minute.

    2. The best part about RTS is base building. Yes I’m an addict to building games and I easily freak out when my buildings aren’t neat and tidy. So I usually waste an awful lot of time selecting the perfect location for my buildings and defenses. That’s one reason why I absolutely HATE every RTS without an base building part (World in Conflict being the exception, but it’s not a true to heart RTS either).

    3. AoE II (yes two) is the greatest RTS ever made. This is a fact, there is no denying it. If you say otherwise you’re a monster and i do not want to talk to you again. SOASE is the second best RTS ever made. This is a fact also, but you’re permitted to debate this, I’ll be lenient on this one.

  13. Jon says:

    While voting I assumed Heroes of Newerth was an RTS.

    • JonFitt says:

      I would count any DotA clones as an RTS.

    • mejobloggs says:

      I dunno, I don’t really count it as rts

      More like…. rpg/action/rts.

      rpgarts or something :p

  14. Heliosicle says:

    I played SupCom and CoH online a reasonable amount, at least when I could get into a game on CoH, they never fixed it for me, I managed to play a few games with friends dependingon what order we joined, who hosted etc

  15. DIOakaNightmare says:

    …The disparity in knowledge and mastery of the game, the units and the bloody hotkeys between people who play it regularly and fiercely, and little old me, who’ll play it only until I have to/want to turn my attentions to another game, is huge….
    That’s why I have to play RTS multiplayer with my friends only – to compete online one have to invest tens (or rather hundred and more) of hours into training, learning hotkeys, memorizing maps and unit/building/upgrade stats. That’s achievable but sucks all the fun from the game, and I’d rather spend all the time on something useful.
    Somehow multiplayer in shooters is more accessible for people like me, at least if that’s not Quake 3 or CS (though both were fun for couple of years after release), especially with now popular coop mode (or variations like horde in Gears Of War 2).
    Maybe coop singleplayer for RTS?

    • Wilson says:

      @DIOakaNightmare: Some games do coop (Red Alert 3, though you need two copies, and Dawn of War II, though I could never figure out how to start a coop game…).

      Is everyone who plays with their friends lucky enough to have friends of roughly the same skill level? I don’t know anyone into RTS’s who has a similar level to me. I think I tend to be somewhat above beginner, due to reading strategy articles/watching replays etc, but not hardcore enough/patient enough to get to the level of most people online.

  16. JonFitt says:

    Up until recently my only MP RTS experiences were C&C1 against my brother back in 1990something. To me, RTS games are scripted campaigns against the AI.

    I have experimented with DoW, and CoH, and a few DoTA clones. Generally (hawhaw) it’s not much fun unless you’re playing with friends. Coop Men of War was also fun.

    Whereas I can be one sucky player on an FPS server, in a Team PvP RTS you engage in one long round with a few players and one bad player ruins it for everyone.

    I hear C&C is going to have some mitigating mechanics, but I’ve grown disinterested in C&C’s play style over the years and probably won’t play it unless it’s a huge departure form the last couple.

    The RTS’s trend towards optimal speed paths to success does not interest me. It’s too much RT and not enough S. I prefer to try and think up ways to outsmart, sneak up on or trick an opponent not: Rush this unit, cap four of these points, rush this tech, then spam this unit, win.

    I’m playing a coop AI War game at the moment and that’s going very well. Does that count?

  17. RagingLion says:

    I said I play RTSs but only if you count Multiwinia which is fairly atypical, but it’s completely the type that I’d actually play: stripped down, fun, arcadey I guess and doesn’t require too much heavy thinking.

    I’m sure I could get into proper RTS multiplayer if I really wanted to, but I’d feel like my knowledge of all the possibilities would have to be so thorough that’s it’s a huge initial barrier to entry and dissuades me from trying in the first place. Ultimately I’m not sure if I really have as much fun as with a single-player experience where I can just experience and enjoy things rather than having to stress myself out.

  18. Acidburns says:

    I have enjoyed many RTS games online but I find that you really need to put some work into them to get a good game out of them. I played a lot of arranged 2v2 with Company of Heroes and my friend and I are rather well ranked, but I’ve pretty much given it up because I’m finding the balance issues to be spoiling my fun.

    From what I’ve heard the number of people who play RTS games online is pretty small. You are going to lose a lot when your starting an RTS, especially if it is a long time after release. I suppose these games could be more appealing by making it more fun to lose? There is probably a lot of unexplored scope the online RTS model, look at games like World in Conflict that have as much in common with Team Fortress as Starcraft. I think World in Conflict is a good example of an RTS that is fun and accessible to newer players. Mind you some of the players are utter arses but that is hardly WIC’s fault.

    While some of my favorite gaming moments come from very close RTS matches I would like to see more co-operative play in all games! Co-op is fun.

  19. David Drahos says:

    I don’t play RTS multiplayer online. I play the single player but I save multiplayer for LAN parties.

  20. mandrill says:

    I play on lans when they happen usually with people I know are of a similar skill level as myself but every time I’ve been matched against some random bod online (even if the matchmaking is really good and matches skill levels well) I get my ass handed to me on a silver plate and flee from battle to the cries of “LOL n00b” echoing over the voice comms. This is even on games which haven’t been out for long so shouldn’t really have expert people playing them yet. mebbe I’m just a point and shoot kind of guy but online RTS games leave me cold, pit me against a decent AI and I’m happy.

    @Jonfitt. I played the CnC4 beta once and promptly deleted it from my PC. It is not CnC and IMO they have some real stones calling it so. The only thing that is even remotely recognizable from the franchise is the setting. Everything else is totally incomprehensible to a CnC vet (even an a SP one). CnC4 may be just the radical departure you’re looking for.

  21. Nathan says:

    I play as frequently as I can friends to play them with. And amongst the largely FPS crowd that I know, this isn’t nearly frequent enough. I’m too scared of venturing out into the internet where a heavy defeat is absolutely certain to ever improve my skills in that way.

  22. Doeke says:

    I don’t RTS’s, stop asking me about them!

  23. Centy says:

    I love playing with humans vs AI thats all me and my mates did with Company of Heroes usually just build a nice defense build up then crush them. I prefer that I hate playing it with strangers and in general it always feels like so much work and if you loose unlike a shooter it just feels like wasted time

  24. Zwebbie says:

    I’ve been playing RTS games since Dune 2, but Company of Heroes is the only one I played online. I actually played that quite a lot, getting to level 9 thrice – that’s some 300-400 games, I guess?

    Company of Heroes was pretty damn clever in that it actually made strategy a whole lot more natural. Units behind walls take less damage, running up close causes more damage (but the accuracy while running is decreased), tanks needn’t fear rifles, and so forth. The best parts were, in my opinion, the early battles of vanilla CoH. Allies have Riflemen, Axis have Volksgrenadiers and Machine Guns. The Allies have to flank the Axis, the Axis have to set up in such a way that incoming Riflemen face hot machinegun lead. It’s genius in its simplicity – there’s nothing involved except positioning and approach. That’s a sharp contrast to other games, where build orders and micromanagement are more important. These aren’t ignorable in CoH, but it has these moments where it’s almost chess with tanks. RTS terminology speaks of soft counters (x will beat y if numbers are equal) and hard counters (x will beat y mercilessly), but CoH has conditional counters (x will beat y if it approaches from the right direction, elseway y will beat x).

    Dawn of War II, by the way, is a game I didn’t play, save for the beta. It made a grand number of stupid decisions. You’ve got the same machine gunners as in CoH, so that’s nice, but then jetpack troops are added to the game. Suddenly you’ve got hard counters and the build order is important again. Furthermore, the game’s (noble?) endeavour of removing base building puts the pace up by a lot! It’s a constant stream of action, with no breaks in between – very tiresome, very monotonous.

    Anyway, a final word, on the daunting nature of RTS games, I’d argue that FPS games would be just as daunting if they were all played 1-on-1, so it’s not the complexity of the game (though it can be). The problem is that the amount of players in an RTS game is much, much smaller. Yes, you can try to enlarge it like DoWII tried to do, but being dead weight in a 3-man game is still not the same as being dead weight in an 18-man game. I don’t see how that’s a problem, though. Not every has to be super duper popular. Shakespeare is too daunting for most people to read.

  25. Webster says:

    I mostly only play RTSes with friends, not with random types via matchmaking. As regards this idea of eliminating base-building… I like that aspect and I’m sorry to see it go. I was irritated by the lack of WALLS in C&C3, now bases are gone completely? Bah. I don’t necessarily see it as dumbing down, but it’s certainly removing an aspect I enjoy.

    Maybe it’s the whole thing about winning the fight before the battle is really joined – finding the balance between resource gathering, unit production and fixed defence. Gathering intelligence on the enemy’s base and force disposition. It’s more engaging for me than “have some units. The enemy also has some. Go!”.

  26. Dustin Diamond's Sex-Tape says:

    increasingly it feels like company of heroes was the concorde moment for rts. every compromise in regard to standard economic rts complexity was applied to the tactical model, protection of supply lines inparticular. dawn of war 2 elements regressed this tactical model in a trade with some action rpg elements that created this extremely enjoyable, but strategically thinner chimera.

    with the original coh team long gone, and audiences being what they were, i doubt we’ll see lightning like that caught in a bottle again. especially with those production values.

  27. Joey says:

    I used to play Starcraft constantly online to the behest of my then girlfriend and family. It was the one RTS I really sank a lot of time into. I’ve had Battle for Middle Earth 2 forever now, and although I’ve been told it’s a good game, I’ve never had the energy to play past the tutorial because I remember how long it took for me to get any decent at Starcraft. RTSs seem like games that if I didn’t already have too many games to play, I would love to sink a lot of time into it.

  28. AndrewC says:

    Well I can’t stand the leety hardcore attitude of any game genre, not only because the immense disparity in skills between me and good players stops the game being fun, but also because the style of play that leetyness entails – with the min-maxis and the perfect build orders and the exploits and that – replaces fun, or even exciting competitiveness, with joyless, mechanical perfectionism. The endless repetition that the limited game systems (and all games based on rules have this, no matter how many types of units there are) encourage turns these games into the equivalent of those grindy Korean MMOs.

    To put it differently – to be the best at any particular game system, the best tactic is just endless repetition, so those who value being the best over all other coinsiderations will naturally gravitate to a play style that removes all the fun from the game in favour of that grey gruel of grind – and their presence will terminally push the game in that direction for all players.

    At least in FPSs there’s the immediate visceral thrill of direct control, but in the abstract, distant play of RTSs the effect is only strengthened.

    Also there’s the huge, though immensely satisfying to express, generalisation that these leets are deeply insecure souls who hate those lesser than them as they see their true self image reflected back at them in our mortal gaming skills. They’ll always say that it is not them who are abnormally skilled – for *everyone* should know the perfect builds – but that everyone else is stupid for *not* knowing them. Fairly strong negative energy all round, and i’ll happily avoid it.

  29. Xocrates says:

    I too am one of the old veterans of RTS. I remember playing Dune 2 and the original warcraft back in the now distant 20th century. C&C Red Alert was the first PC game I ever bought.

    That said, I usually don’t play online much. I might take a peek to the online component in the around release when everyone is still pretty newbish and there isn’t a lot of pressure. Other than that it’s fairly rare.

    However, to me, that rule applies to any game, not just RTS. The reason is simply that I don’t like other people dictating my gaming. I want to be able to play how I want when I want, and very few games allow that. RTS in particular are very punishing to that kind of thinking.

    Regarding the base removal. Quite frankly I don’t see it as neither a bad thing or a threat to the “old” kind of RTS. It’s allows for a much needed diversification of the genre and quite frankly the reason why it seems we’re seeing so many of them is because there simply are too few RTS releases nowadays.

    Consider for a moment that this year we’re supposed to see both Starcraft 2 and Supreme Commader 2 this year. Two games focused on a more “old school”, base building oriented time of gameplay.

    Other major RTS releases for the year (of the top of my head) are DOW2 expansion and C&C 4 in the newer minimalistic base building approach, RUSE in the “I heard this one has base building but don’t really know” field, and apparently some more Total War, in the “may count or not as an RTS” field-

  30. Garg says:

    I used to stay clear of the online RTS for the standard reasons Alec outlined; essentially an unforgiving skill/learning curve, further exacerbated by the problems of your inferiority often becoming apparent in the early stages of the game and yet taking ages to actually be defeated, and also being heckled as a “n00b lolz” because you haven’t invested god knows how much time into it.

    I tried Dark Crusade as my first RTS online escapade, although I made sure I watched a bunch of replays and read some guides on the forums before even playing just to make sure it wasn’t so humiliating. It worked out ok in the end, and since I didn’t go as Chaos/Eldar I could always fall back on the excuse of “well they’re playing an overopowered race, and thats why they /really/ won”. Became especially enjoyable when I got my flat mate to start playing, with me protecting him until he could unleash a “fire dragon surprise” on the back of the enemy base.

  31. Psychopomp says:

    The movement to no buildings, with a small number of squads is a godsend. RTS shouldn’t be about whoever can click the most, and can navigate the interface the fastest. The movement to, y’know, actual tactics and strategy is great.

    Now if only finding a game of DoW2 didn’t end up being a pubstomp 9 times out of 10

    • woppin says:

      No buildings removes some of the more interesting strategies, such as where you could drop in 4 zealots to destroy the enemy spire before going for an air-heavy attack (de-teching). It also removes the ability to place your buildings such that they funnel your opponent into a particular area of your base, allowing you to defend more easily. Buildings also inform your opponent of what you are creating, which means that scouting becomes an important part of the game as each player tries to determine what is in the other person’s base so that they can counter appropriately.

      I do think buildings are a good part of RTS. I used to think they were a needless part of the game that could be done away with, but since playing DoW2 online and realising how it was missing these parts of the genre I had taken for granted I have come to the opposite conclusion.

  32. ManaTree says:

    I played SC custom campaigns back in the day. Recently too, but with friends at LAN parties. And still mostly custom campaigns. I can’t handle playing like a Korean champion despite being Korean. Fail, I know. It makes me sad. :(

    I just recently got Company of Heroes, and while I haven’t gone too far into that, I get excited at the prospect of playing it, which certainly hasn’t happened before (mainly because I don’t generally play RTSs a ton). I expect that I’ll play multiplayer a decent amount once I understand the commands and get the hang of it, though.

  33. Acosta says:

    I play a good amount of RTS and I always play solo, campaigns and skirmish. Call me weird, but I like the mechanics, I like to control big armies, assault impenetrable fortress or build one. Some of my best gaming experiences are with solo RTS campaigns (Homeworld, Battle Realms, Warcraft 3:exp, Rise of Legends…). But I like to test myself against the IA, competent or not, and advance in a story, not compete against other people, and I dislike the whole idea of “mastering” a game, once I have finished the campaign and have a good grasp of every unit, I lose the interest.

    I would change my statement for a MMO RTS (not Dawn of Fantasy), something a bit like Eve but with armies. I could get behind something like that, but the usual RTS multiplayer don’t interest me.

  34. Clazzy says:

    Back in the day I used to play loads of RTS games, mostly C&C games. Played TS and RA2 loads and a bit of Generals/C&C3 as well. I played WiC, CoH, Multiwinia and DEFCON a few times over the last couple of years but I’ve mostly drifted away. Part of it is that none of my friends play RTS games any more (much more fun than playing random people online) but it’s mostly because I don’t like a lot of them. I guess I’m just too used to the classic C&C way of thinking with base-building, resource collecting and endless vehicle spam. Also, a lot of games nowadays have good enough AI for the odd skirmish and don’t hurl abuse at you constantly.
    I was lucky enough to get into the C&C4 beta as well and it’s truly the lowest point of the C&C series. I’ve played it about five times and uninstalled it because it isn’t worth my time to play. It is the same in name only with everything you ever loved about it (apart from GDI, Nod and Kane) ripped out. Now excuse me while I go and dig out my RA2/YR CDs.

  35. Jad says:

    To do a quick comparison of FPSes online (which I do play) and RTSes online (which I dont — so I guess that should be “what I imagine RTS online (and my miniscule experience tells me) to be” — I might be wrong on some of these):

    Losing in FPSes and RTSes are very different. Unless you’re getting utterly and completely dominated, you can end up fairly low on the end-of-round list on a Quake 3 match and still have had fun, have tasted victory — you may have had some lucky kill on the best player on the server, or had some shining moment, etc. In an RTS, you might get a momentary advantage over your superior opponent, but he eventually crushed you, and that’s less fun. Also, you may have had some quality battles with some of the lower-skilled guys during an FPS too, which leads into another point: RTSes have very low player-counts. You can’t hide your lack of skill in a crowd. Lastly, and this is a problem for newbies like me, is even telling how well you’re doing. You know very quickly if you get onto a Quake server where the skill level is vastly higher than your own, but in an RTS, it can take a while, especially against canny opponents, to tell if your loss is basically a given already.

    Anyway, yes, if co-op play means that a low-skilled player can have fun and help out a team, than I’d be interested. (of course, if being low-skilled means you just drag your team down, I have negative interest. I’d rather get laughed at for an individual loss than yelled at for bringing a team down.)

  36. captainpuke says:

    I have played all the C&C and Red Alert games along with SC, but never got into online play. I always played for the single player.

    The couple of times I did try to play any of these games online I was roundly destroyed. It could be that I am terrible at RTS games, but it wasn’t until later that I found out that many people cheat like crazy while playing online. My first experience being so negative definitely jaded me a bit.

  37. Vinraith says:

    On the rare occasion that I play an RTS online, it’s always co-op with a friend or two against AI. I don’t think I’ve played an RTS in adversarial multiplayer since Starcraft in ’98.

  38. devlocke says:

    I quit playing RTSs before the internet became widespread, so I’ve never played one online. I used to lose a lot at LAN parties in the mid 90s. I don’t find them threatening, though, and I don’t think there’s a huge barrier to entry compared to other online games. It’s as easy to suck at an RTS as it is to suck at a FPS. And possibly no more difficult to be good at one than the other, it’s just different skill sets you have to spend time acquiring.

    I don’t have any interest in playing anything online, except with friends. And I’m as likely to play an RTS as an FPS, in that situation. Sadly, I’m on a different sleep schedule than all my gaming friends and we never play much of anything, these days. Oh well. I play games for the story, for the most part, anyways.

  39. rxtx says:

    I love playing online RTS. Started with Myth, then a bit of Starcraft, C&C, Sup Com, DoW. Yeah it takes a bit of getting into, but once you’ve been through the process with one game it gets easier as you move onto others. I never put in enough time to be one of the really good players who play 1000s of games, but I can hold my own.

    The reason I do it is that once you’ve played real people, the AI skirmish just gets dull and predictable. Real people will occasionally surprise you even if you think you know all the tricks, so it keeps you on your toes more.

    Its not really that difficult – yeah your first few games you’ll get stomped, but if you spend a little time reading the forums, wikis and watching the odd replay you quickly pick up what you’re doing wrong. It also helps if you start out with team games – granted you’ll probably annoy a few idiots for being new, but it should help you survive a bit longer to get your bearings

  40. SirKicksalot says:

    I only played some Rome Total War battles with my neighbour back in 2005. And last year I was addicted to R.U.S.E.’s beta. Otherwise no.

  41. lafinass says:

    In my experience RTS multiplayer is a mad dash of multitasking mania. The winner is the individual who has memorized the perfect building order and has everything timed to the second. If that means dying in a zerg rush or finding yourself faced with Nth tier units while you’re still building N – 3 tier units, it still generally leaves me feeling frustrated.

    From a single player standpoint I prefer the traditional build, farm, destroy gameplay. On the other hand, Dawn of War 2 is probably the only RTS I’ve enjoyed in multiplayer this decade. Ideally I’d like the best of both worlds.

  42. airtekh says:

    I haven’t played an RTS for years. It’s a genre I really wish I could get back into and I feel I should, since I only play PC games. I just find it requires me to be more mentally invested as opposed to other genres.

    I have played the old C&C games from years ago, back when strategy games were new to me. I tried C&C: Red Alert 2 online once and got totally creamed by everyone I came across.

    Incidentally, if one of you RTS fans could recommend a Total War game to a strategy newbie (seeing as they’re on sale this week on Steam) which one would it be? The only experience I’ve had with them is an old copy of Shogun: TW, which I must have played for a grand total of 30 mins before being permanently distracted.

    • Chris D says:

      Personally I’d go for Medieval 2. It has it’s detractors but it’s probably my favourite game of all time. Rome is also excellent but a bit more dated.

  43. Phried says:

    Playing RTS against family members was one of the experiences that got me into gaming in the first place.

    I’m really sad to see base building go, especially in established, classic franchises like C&C. Base building is part of the strategy, going for certain builds and manufacturing units that compliment each other. That said, as long as the “no base building” trend doesn’t affect the typical resource gathering, base building game type I’ve come to know and love, I can live with it.

  44. jordanwise says:

    They’re just not that fun unless done LAN with people of similar abilities. Rage quitting is a huge issue, and that tank rushes still dominated the last rts i played online, C&C3 was really annoying. Dawn of War and the rest, while making things easier, are now shifting the focus from getting your clicking orders right in production queues to making sure that ever last unit is moving between the best cover/ staying out of range of stuff at all times. Nasty nasty micromanagement, go away

  45. Rick says:

    Everytime I try to play an RTS, I just get my backside handed to me on a platter, regardless of how often I try. I may be good at the single-player, but I’m just useless and confused in a RTS multiplayer match, regardless of whether its StarCraft, Total War or Company of Heroes. I start, I think I’m getting the hang of it, I’ve got as far as having a vulture bike/town militia/jeeps and oh no here comes a Terran battlecruiser/heavy cavalry/Tiger tank, and ruins my day. Just give me a decent SP RTS and I’m happy (so stop worrying about the damn multiplayer on StarCraft II, Blizzard!)

  46. malkav11 says:

    I do not enjoy playing competitive multiplayer games online. Or at all, really. With the sole and not particularly intense exception of Team Fortress 2, which lured me in with its easy-to-figure-out classes, team-focused play, and awesome artistic direction. Even that I haven’t played in ages. I particularly don’t like doing it with RTSes, because for me the no-frills matching of unit against unit without context, storyline, scripting or any of that is intensely dull, even if people played with the full toolbox instead of doing tank rushes and stuff like that.

    I’d much, much rather have stuff like Dawn of War II’s two cooperative modes, or for that matter C&C Red Alert 3’s allowing the entire campaign to be played cooperatively.

  47. Him says:

    I play a lot of DoW2 3v3. I can’t claim to be the finest player going, but when GfWL matches me with people around my skill level (TS28-30) then I’m almost assured of a rollicking good time. The game mechanics aren’t difficult to absorb or understand, the only problem I encounter is matches with a disparity of skill (2 talented players & 1 new player vs 3 talented players, for example).
    Also; super-excited about the Ork Weirdboy in the expandalone.

  48. subedii says:

    I play RTS’s regularly. Started off with C&C: Red Alert way back in the day, used to play online and with friends, it was a blast. After that I pretty much stopped playing online until Dawn of War 2. That was probably more that I just didn’t have the net connection to try really, I wasn’t much into online games in general until fairly recently.

    Anyway, whilst I could answer your first three questions (Yes, regularly, and generally hard to get into), I feel the fourth is loaded. Base building style RTS’s are just a different style of RTS, and whether one or the other they’re still quite difficult to get into if you’re playing online. I mean, your article doesn’t mention Starcraft anywhere, and whilst some other devs are going in a more immediate direction (different from “less complicated”), Starcraft is STILL the most popular and most played RTS in the world, and Starcraft 2 is going to have most of the same base building dynamics that the first game did. Then you’ve got more niche RTS’s like Supreme Commander that positively revel in the base building as an important part of the gameplay.

    So as for RTS’s in general, I’ll be blunt, they could stand to be a lot more accessible to the new guy. But that’s an inherent problem with the genre itself. The S in RTS stands for Strategy, you generally have to have a greater starting base of knowledge and think more in order to start playing random guys and winning. FPS’s are mainstream enough that everyone plays them and the playerbase is quite diffuse in terms of skill levels. With RTS’s you’ve generally got the guys starting out, and the experienced players that crush them.

    Dawn of War 2 tried to rectify this somewhat by making use of the TrueSkill matchmaking system, but they did a poor job of it by FORCING low ranked players to play against high TS players with literally a thousand games under their belt, just so that the system can “ascertain” their starting skill level. That start is going to put a lot of people off right from the start.

    With Starcraft 2, Blizzard have been talking about tailoring their matchmaking system so that new players can play against each other.

    Online RTS games are fun, they’re a real blast to play and can be incredibly involving when you get a tight match going. The main problem however isn’t that the genre needs to be simplified until it becomes a 3rd-person FPS. The problem at hand is that you need an effective means of matching people of roughly equivalent skill levels, because the competition level can easily put off anyone trying it for the first time. To anyone starting off, it’s nothing like the singleplayer they trained themselves up on, and full of arcane rules and seemingly impossible events that they can’t fully understand because the person they’re playing is so much more experienced than them.

    Online fighting games like SF4 tend to have similar problems. It’s a brutal environment where top tier players can and do regularly beat the new guy into a bloody pulp, and their options are to either stick with it through hours of this in order to get better, or leave for something else. And really, most people aren’t crazy enough to do the former.

    Unless you get in on the ground floor you’re fighting against the current right from the start. This happens in other online games, it’s just that it’s far more acute in RTS’s because:

    – Games are longer

    – Typically require a greater starting knowledgebase to even begin to grasp the mechanics at work (and often ask that you maintain a higher understanding of the game in order to get into the really good matches)

    – Have smaller numbers of players (usually only 1-3 players on a side. Compare that with most online FPS’s), making mistakes more difficult to recover from and no backup to assist you.

    RTS’s have been moving more towards more immediate styles of gameplay with greater numbers of players (I believe C&C 4’s default multiplayer mode is actually 5v5), but that’s not enough (it’s also not dumbing down, just a different style of gameplay). The key to solving the problem is getting people matched together at a similar skill level. You achieve that, you get something that’s fun for far more people.

  49. Nick says:

    Hell no, I have had few worse online experiences than with RTSs. Much hatred for them online from me.

    Well, aside from co op.

  50. Gorgeras says:

    I think RTS games are a bit too restrictive sometimes and the disparity in skill levels plays too much of a hand in matches: a slight advantage is turned into a massive one.

    When they allow for a broader skillset and the option of a player on a team specialising, I think they work better. Some people are better defenders, others are better on offence and others can do support. Too many RTS games force each player to be their own defence, offence and support. Whilst a good move by a player only seems to benefit that player, a mistake brings down the whole team.

    I liked the way Demigod seemed to naturally allow players to slip into rolls that they could specialise in, get good at and wouldn’t make obvious mistakes that ruined everything. Yes there are ‘feeders’ and they still unbalance the game disproportionately, but at least once a person realises they don’t have the twitch skills for god-to-god combat, they can go capture flags or upgrade the army and buildings instead of running on the kills and kill streak treadmill.

    An RTS where one player can choose to do the building and resource management and the others can do the attack and defence is the next logical step.

    • Starky says:

      This. Oh Non-Existing Sky Entity – This.

    • morbug says:


      There are actually at least one game that does this: Rise of Nations. Not a new game but me and a friend had a lot of fun playing this. He on defense/building/economy and me on offence/defence.