Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance initially amazed with its scale. It’s a real-time strategy game in which hundreds of robots collide upon enormous maps, in which the units you build at the start of a match are the size of a metallic toenail on the Experimental units you’ll be building at the end, and in which you’ll spend your time zooming seamlessly up into the clouds just to fit all the destruction on screen.
Seven years later, the scale doesn’t impress me as much. Instead it’s the depth that continues to amaze.
I went through a phase a couple of years ago of playing SC:FA every single day. After about a year, I looked at a friend playing and was surprised by something on his screen. “What is that?”. There was a unit hovering high above the map, lasering buildings and units on the ground from a height I’d never seen any travel before. It turned out to be a UEF Novax Satellite. How often do you discover that a game you play for hours every single day contains a unit you’ve never even seen.
SupCom feels like a game where individual playstyles are writ large. Different strategies have less to do with micro-control over small numbers of units and more to do with which end-of-level-boss unit you want to construct. Are you aiming for a fleet of ships which can sprout legs and walk on land, or a flying donut often first detected by the island-sized shadow it casts beneath it?
On your repeat journeys to unlocking these destructive options you’ll learn to master the nuances of Supreme Commander’s unusual economy, where your ability to spend and build is determined by your rate of income and not what’s already in the bank. It’s possible to crash your economy by betting on future profits that then don’t arrive. Everywhere you look in Supreme Commander there’s evidence of a designer who had spent a lot of time thinking about strategy games, and who had smart ideas for how to make their systems more nuanced, more inter-connected, more full of enormous spiderbots.
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance is a standalone expansion to the original game, and it’s the best way to enter the series today. It’s got more units and races and options than its predecessor, and it maintains the scale and diversity and economic complexity that the (admittedly more accessible) Supreme Commander 2 abandoned. When paired with the essential Sorian AI mod, and perhaps FA Forever for online play, it’s the most rewarding and surprising RTS I’ve ever played.