I’m not very good at real-time strategy games. I attribute this to my inability to multitask well, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy playing them. The biggest problem I have with them is that most revolve around micromanagement, and since AI War, with its seriously robust automation and smart unit management, I’ve become more of a macromanagement kind of guy. Why? Because it means I can focus on the strategy part. You know, the important part. Not the frantic juggling and tedious busy work part. Homeworld and Company of Heroes, allegedly two of the finest real-time strategy games evar, turned me off because I had to nanny certain units. I’m sorry but, engineers, you need to fix those tanks right in front of you. And repair frigates, those nearby damaged ships need looking at. Do your fucking jobs. The more granular my level of involvement the more distracted I am from the strategy, and for me, that’s a problem.
I’ve tried getting into Sacrifice twice now simply because I’ve heard so many people saying it’s an overlooked classic — and overlooked classics are usually the best kind.
The first time was a couple of years ago after finding a demo of it in some dusty corner of the internet. I got frustrated with it and promptly struck it off my list.
Earlier this year however, after seeing it top Tom Chick’s refreshing ‘Ten games you should still be playing’ list — a reaction to the E3 froth-fest — and coupled with my enjoyment of Brütal Legend (another third-person RTS apparently influenced by Sacrifice, albeit one with more hacking and slashing, heavy metal and Jack Black), I decided to pick it up off GOG and give it another go.
Suffice to say I got frustrated with it — apoplectic even — and struck it off my list, again. Sorry Steerpike, I know you love(d) it, as do many others — the Metacritic page for Sacrifice has your Four Fat Chicks review right at the top there! Get ready for the hits! No wait, this is a 2000 game, never mind — but I couldn’t just angrily stop playing it and walk away. No, I felt the pang of a rant coming on.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot I love about Sacrifice. The irresistibly kooky artstyle; the voice overs, writing and characters; the non-linear mission structure (this I particularly love); the intriguing story and setting; the enduring engine and graphics; the vision of it all. But none of that matters because it just made me want to snap the disc. If only I’d had one. Here’s why:
- The tutorial tells you that good leaders keep a distance during battle and know when to enter the fray, but thanks to the third-person perspective staying back makes identifying, selecting and particularly targeting distant creatures incredibly difficult, often leading to countless “Your target is out of range!” or “Invalid target!” remarks as you fumble and mis-click. If you wade in to get a better view you’ll get dogpiled and wiped out, or, at best, struggle to make sense of what’s happening amid a whirlwind of brawling creatures.
As far as I could tell there’s no detailed hard information on the properties of your units, spells or abilities anywhere in the game so working out what anything is good for, and how to effectively use it, is a crapshoot at best. No, you’ve got to consult the wiki or read the manual, which I don’t have a problem with for brushing up on minor details and lore, but when some of the game’s fundamentals are hidden away in there, stuff like: “Sacrifice’s creatures adhere to the rules of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ when on the battlefield. Flying creatures counter melee troops, which have no air attack. Ranged troops counter flyers. Melee troops counter ranged troops.” on page 54 it beggars belief. This would have been handy to know in the tutorial. It reminds me of those pieces of art you see where the only way of having any idea what they’re about is looking at the artist’s information plaque next to it. Age of Mythology in 2002 had all the information you could possibly want built into the game itself so you were only ever a few clicks — or even a moment hovering over an icon — away from finding out what something was and how best to use it. There was no guesswork or cross referencing the manual with a patchy wiki rife with stubs; it was all there in the game. If you hover over a summon creature icon in Sacrifice all it tells you is their name, how many souls it costs to summon and how much mana they have. Brilliant. Thanks Sacrifice.
Scenery and creatures often obscure your view — particularly nearby creatures — causing you to mis-select, accidentally issue orders to guard them or misfire spells “Invalid target!”. In the manual under hints and tips there’s a section that reads: “After summoning your desired number of Manahoars, order them into phalanx formation and tell them to guard you. This keeps them out of harm’s way, and keeps them from blocking your line of vision.” Oh really? It keeps them from blocking my line of vision? What about Shrikes then? Or Brainiacs? Or any other large flying ranged creature that seems to end up in the way if I put them behind me? An opacity effect might have helped but that wouldn’t prevent the mis-selecting. It’s an almost unavoidable problem with a third-person perspective: things inevitably get in the way. In an RTS where you’re having to track and select numerous targets, it’s an even bigger problem.
You can only select a mere twelve units at a time so moving your force involves constantly switching from one group to another and issuing orders. You can make your creatures guard you (and each other) to keep certain groups together, but these orders have a tendency of breaking at the first sign of trouble and creatures guarding you can also block your view (see above).
The mini-map, which can be zoomed in and out, can be used to select units and issue orders too. I say ‘can be’, it’s almost expected that you use it in light of the third-person issues detailed above. Without the mini-map I suspect that Sacrifice would be unbearable. The problem with the mini-map however, is that it takes about a twelfth of the screen up (similar to the new Gmail compose window — nice one Google!) and can’t be enlarged so it’s as fiddly as hell to use. The mini-map’s like a peep hole into an alternative top-down version of Sacrifice and strikes me as an odd concession or compromise with the difficulties of mashing a third-person perspective into an RTS. “This third-person commanding malarkey isn’t working out… perhaps we should stick a mini-map in to help?”
If you have a mixed group of creatures selected you can only use the highest ranked creature’s special ability so in order to use the special abilities of the lesser creatures you have to reselect them individually, which, as mentioned above, can be problematic, particularly during a fight. This just seems like unnecessary busy work when a few extra slots beside the selection pane would have allowed you to activate a salvo of specials in quick succession without reselecting anything.
Many creatures look very similar which makes quickly taking stock of your force — as well as the enemy’s — very tricky. Sure, everything looks really unusual and cool closer up but when the camera’s panned out and you’re some distance away it’s hard to make out what’s what, even when stationary. In fact, I often sat there wondering what certain bizarre looking creatures were, and what sort of attacks they were using, so I had no idea how best to counter them.
Creatures are also hard to make out against certain terrain so it wasn’t uncommon for me to glance at the mini-map and notice I’d left several of my own behind.
Teleporting to structures involves clicking on unnecessarily tiny arrows around the edges of the mini-map (you might be able to spot them in the screenshot above) and is obviously really finicky for such an important ability.
You can only summon creatures using souls one at a time. If that wasn’t bad enough, ‘banking’ souls takes a fair while (even after casting Speed Up). You have to summon a Sac-Doctor, wait for it to arrive, wait for it to retrieve the soul then wait for it to return to your altar to bank it — that’s just one soul and there are often many lying around after a tussle. Once you’ve banked the souls you’ve then got to spend them one by one summoning new creatures, punctuated by cooldowns. Summon a creature. Wait. Summon a creature. Wait. Summon a creature. Wait. It’s incredibly tedious, and, astonishingly, makes up a large portion of the experience between and during fights. I’d like to have seen a way of mass/stack summoning creatures, including Sac-Doctors. Hell, have the Sac-Doctors as controllable units so you decide how long they stick around collecting souls before heading back to the altar. This would introduce a nice risk/reward dynamic.
Spell casting is no better either with a large number of them (the early spells at least) being individual and not area of effect, and worse, requiring you to select a spell and acquire your target each and every time. Select a spell, click on a target. Wait for a cooldown. Select a spell, click on a target. Wait for a cooldown. Select a spell, click on a target. Wait for a cooldown. Don’t click too soon! “That spell is not ready yet!” And that heal spell you have? You can only heal one unit at a time with it and you have 14 units brawling in a tangle of polygons and particle effects in the distance. Good luck targeting that one creature who’s looking a bit worse for wear. Other spells are no better; the Wrath spell, a blast of energy that you also have to use on a single target is very difficult to get a vector on your intended recipient — like an enemy wizard for instance — when they’re dashing around and all hell’s breaking loose around them. Oops, “Invalid target!”. D’oh, “Out of range!”. Damn, wrong friggin’ enemy.
Sacrifice features no unit stances either so your creatures engage enemies at will rather than staying in formation and standing their ground while your ranged units attack. Every engagement quickly descends into chaos, with creatures breaking rank and incessant cries of “Your creatures are under attack!” and “Your creatures are dying!”. It’s really quite amazing how irritating the otherwise excellently voiced Zyzyx becomes (just watch a multiplayer game for death-by-Zyzyx). It wouldn’t be quite so bad if you could keep your distance and just hurl spells in there summoning more creatures from afar, but often you’ve got to dive in to retrieve lost souls or risk losing your edge over the enemy. All this while trying to manage your units; select, target and cast spells; summon more creatures to make up your dwindling numbers and, ultimately, stay alive. You hear that? That’s the sound of strategy whizzing out the window.
Pausing and issuing orders is probably the only surefire way to get a good hold on the slippery and frantic combat but aside from it breaking the flow of the game, it almost entirely defeats the purpose of it being a real-time strategy.
And finally, the resource model/strategy of the game is one of attrition: throw your blob of creatures at the enemy wizard’s blob of creatures. Pick up as many lost souls lying around as possible while trying to kill the enemy wizard so they can’t take them. Summon more creatures using said souls to add to your blob. Hope that the net result of each skirmish leaves you with more souls than the enemy wizard. Rinse and repeat until one wizard’s blob can’t compete with the other wizard’s blob.
There’s a reason why Eddie Riggs can fly above the battlefield in Brütal Legend: so the player can see what the hell is going on and react accordingly. There’s no cop-out mini-map in the corner: you take to the air, make your moves and drop back down again into the fray. It’s fluid and it works. Double Fine must have realised that third-person ground-based commanding was limiting in ways that Sacrifice pretty much lays bare: it’s messy and restrictive — even with a mouse and keyboard. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t work out how I was supposed to play Sacrifice with any sort of grace or finesse. It just felt like clusterfuck after clusterfuck, fighting with my creatures’ misbehaviour, the third-person perspective, the lack of information, the controls and UI. In one Let’s Play I heard a guy say ‘That was a messy fight’: welcome to Sacrifice buddy, in my time with it I found almost all of them to be like that and watching seasoned veterans playing it in multiplayer didn’t instil me with confidence that it would get any better.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when I’d spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes collecting souls, summoning creatures, organising and hotkeying them into groups before setting off to take a nearby mana fountain. As my horde made its way across the expanse of charred earth between us and our quarry, a volcano erupted from the ground spewing out magma and frazzling everything in the vicinity — namely us. Back to square one. It’s time for you to load your last save Gregg and build and organise that army again. No, Sacrifice, it’s time for me to uninstall you. (Actually, I wiped my hard drive, but that was for another reason).
Reading the gushing reviews and comments across the web I honestly feel like I’ve played a different game. Have I missed something glaring in the tutorial? Am I doing something horribly horribly wrong? It’s one of the few games where I struggle to understand how people can hold it in such high esteem and overlook what seem like glaring issues to me. What on earth is going on? Have I got to give it more time?
You know, every time I see screenshots or videos of Sacrifice I want to give it another go because it’s so deliciously unique and beautiful — honestly, look at those screenshots, this is a 13 year old game — but I know I’ll wind up feeling the same about it. Three attempts at getting into the original Deus Ex and 20-30 hours later and I still felt the same indifference towards it as I did the first and second time. I don’t intend on doing that again. No, I’d rather play Brütal Legend again, or continue with the Titans expansion for Age of Mythology, or even give Divinity: Dragon Commander a whirl. Onwards I say.
To contact the author of this sacrilege please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ok, so, like Steerpike, I really liked Sacrifice, and I remember liking it on a revisit about five years or so ago, too.
So, now I want to revisit it again just to see if it still holds up how I remember it. I’m not generally good at RTS games either. But I loved this one! Or at least I certainly remember loving it, but all the points you raise seem like they would suck, so, hm.
That’s quite a hammering, Gregg!
I’ve not played Sacrifice, though I do have a copy on some dd platform or another. You’ve, uh, dissuaded me from taking a look at it any time soon.
It’d be interesting to read a response from a fan who has played the game recently…
I can jump in on that Shaun!
I adored Sacrifice. It took me a few tries to get into – the first time I played it I got destroyed and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong (answer: failing to use the Guardian spell). After that it took me a while to get the hang of the chaos, but once I did I loved it and played through probably seven or eight times. It may well be a close second to Portal in terms of games I’ve played most often and most completely.
Which is not to imply that Gregg’s complaints are inaccurate. They’re right on the money. If you don’t want to strangle Zyzyx by the eleventh time he says “You are out of Mana” or “Invalid target” or “Your target is out of range,” well, there’s something wrong with you. The wild camera swings, propensity of things to get in the way of other things, and general clunk of controls do not make it an easy game to love.
I recall feeling a turning point somewhere in Sacrifice, when the ability to deal with the huge control deficiencies became instinctive enough that I rarely noticed problems, and that’s when I really started to fall in love.
WHY do I love it? Oddly, not the story, though usually it’s story or theme that draws me to games. The story’s okay. The setting is delightful. The mystery of customization – not knowing what you get for choosing one god’s mission over another’s before you take it, at which point there’s no going back – really encourages replayability. Really it’s something about the gameplay that stayed with me. Something about seeing a distant army from the top of a hill; seeing an enemy wizard bearing down on you surrounded by troops; prepping a sacrifice for a big desecration while the enemy wizard mills around in ghost form waiting to recover and kick some ass; even the long delay between action and reward. That last is best exemplified by the delay between summoning a Sac-Doctor and receiving an enemy soul. I liked that.
On my PC, at least, Sacrifice does not modernize well. It has a limited maximum resolution and ran at about four frames a second until I switched on compatibility mode; after that it ran all right, but given its resolution limits it’s not a game that was designed with widescreen, or LCDs and their native resolutions, in mind. Controls mapped okay but not as well as I’d have liked, and the cursor in the menu was horribly jerky. Still, I managed to play a few missions and, based on that, re-declare Sacrifice “awesome.”
I don’t know, Gregg… Sacrifice, Journey… it’s getting suspicious! 😉
I never mastered the control interface (I’m generally bad at strategy games unless they’re slow paced like the Total War games – I just get overwhelmed by the speed at which I have to make decisions) and that led me to quit the game fairly quickly, but the story blew me away and stayed with me. I made the mistake of siding primarily with Stratos my first playthrough. I never saw it coming. A lot of games have tried moral ambiguity but never remotely in that way, or given you those kinds of feelings- trapped and without allies, horrified that you’ve unknowingly doomed everyone despite your best intentions.
Haha, Shaun, don’t let me dissuade you! I am but one hater in a sea of lovers and in all honesty, even I’m not wholly convinced I outright hate it. I feel like I should and could still love it, but I’ve tried playing it twice now and have stumbled on most of the things listed above both times. I was so fired up to get into it this time as well; I even dismissed the issues I remember having with the demo, hoping that the game would pull me round: ‘Come on Gregg, stick with it. You’ll get the hang of it. It’ll come good. Keep thinking of all that glowing praise. Mmm, glowing praise.’ But eventually, after hours of slow chipping away at me, I just snapped and put pen to paper.
I’ve read numerous reviews while writing this to see if others have suffered from any of the issues I’ve described above, and they are mentioned out there, but briefly. Only in the 2000 Eurogamer review did any of these problems taint the reviewer’s overall opinion; most other reviews considered them as fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. Closely echoing my own sentiments, the Eurogamer review said: “Sacrifice isn’t a bad game, just frustrating. If I drop dead from a heart attack tomorrow, it will be because of the massive increase in blood pressure I’ve suffered from while playing this game. The camera view is frustrating, the controls are frustrating, the AI is frustrating, the resource system is frustrating, the missions are frustrating, and above all the fact that this game isn’t half as good as we were all hoping it would be is very, very frustrating.” You can read it in full here for a bit more insight: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/r_sacrifice
@Arouet: damn, that’s so intriguing because I loved the decision-making between levels and I erred more towards Stratos and James. Persephone seemed a bit too self-righteous and Pyro and Charnel a bit too destructive and selfish for my tastes. Grrrrrargh, I want to play it again. Maybe in the future.
@Steerpike: I obviously and unfortunately didn’t reach that turning point. I wonder when or if I would? I played the GOG version and it ran beautifully, even supporting forced anti-aliasing. One of the things I really loved about Brutal Legend was running around with an entourage of headbangers, razor girls, metal beasts and roadies — it was pretty freakin’ badass — so I can totally see why ‘lumbering across the horizon with a vast cavalcade of beasts in tight formation’, as you put it in your Sacrifice review, would stay with you.
If I ever do play Sacrifice again, and come to enjoy it, Tap will be the first to know.
Arouet makes a good point about the moral ambiguity (spoilers) – it’s one of the only games I can recall where you will not guess the villain’s identity until it’s potentially too late. All five of the gods are unpredictable, and to understand the motivations of each requires more than one playthrough. Years ago in the review I thought I was being oh-so-cleverly-mysterioso with my veiled remarks about who was who, and the game tricks you at almost every turn.
(spoilers) James is far and away the most dangerous and brutal of the gods; it’s a convoluted path to make him go ballistic, but if he does you’ll experience (and/or supervise) a most appalling genocide in the name of the overall-clad worm. Persephone gives off a miasma of hippiedom and tree-huggery but she’s really a power-mad witch. She’s crazy evil and the only one who considers destroying the world a valid option in the face of defeat. Stratos, of course, is… well, Stratos is Stratos.
Pyro is completely honest, decent, and fair (to his employees). Serve him and you’ll never be lied to or manipulated. You spend half the game narrating your conviction that he’s about to betray you, but he never does. In fact, show him loyalty and he’ll support you to his own detriment. Charnel is a spineless wimp who dodges committing to a side until it’s too late to influence the outcome, and winds up overseeing his own transition to deific insignificance.
Rereading my own review, I see I called Sacrifice’s controls “graceful.” Assuming that word means what I think it means, I must have been in a very forgiving mood that day… though thinking about it, my guess is that we were a lot more willing to tolerate stuff like that (and info not being revealed until page 56 of the manual) in 2000 than we are today. Things have changed, even for the coriest of core gamers!
The GOG one plays nicely, you say? Hmm. Your words intrigue me.
The funny thing is I had Charnel pegged as the guy who you described as “deeply honorable despite protestations of monstrosity.” Nope. Although I did guess correctly that James was the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Well, you wouldn’t be far off. As I recall Charnel is very trustworthy should you choose to work with him. They all treat you well if you’re loyal, but those two get extra points because you sort of assume the worst from them.
Something I remember: on your second mission you should work for Persephone, because you get Scarabs, which fling globs of Heal at your troops for you. At some point later on you want to do one of her missions again, netting you the Resurrect spell, which is a lifesaver (see what I did there? eh? eh?) if you lose a big battle. Nothing like resurrecting a creature right out from under an enemy Sac-Doctor.
Gosh, this is making me want to play Sacrifice again. Curse you, “B”… if that is your real name.
Arouet, I forgot to mention: interesting that you got along more with the slow pace of Total War because I’ve been meaning to check one of those out properly since the first Shogun… many years have passed since then. Jason here at Tap, was a big fan of Shogun 2. Any personal recommends from the Total War series?
Initially this article was going be called ‘Quest for an RTS’ because I’m wanting to explore the genre to find a sweet spot for myself but I retracted the title for fear of creating another feature that would eventually flat line. Instead I’ll roll it out when I can. I’ve got Darwinia, one of the Total War games, perhaps Perimeter, Men at War, possibly Supreme Commander after Shaun wrote about it over at Arcadian Rhythms and Original War on my short list so far. Oh and Divinity: Dragon Commander. That looks quite interesting. Sacrifice was my first port of call.
With Rome II out on September III, Gregg, if you don’t mind paying full price I’d say your best bet for the most robust Total War will be that one. They tend to make improvements every time, though not all the improvements work out.
The last one I played heavily was the original Rome TW. Jason has played them all. Like most, Empire didn’t do it for him, though he appreciated what it tried to do. He really liked Medieval 2 and Shogun 2, both of which are often available at low prices on Steam.
Like some of the other commenters, most RTS games don’t really entice me, but I love the ones that do. In the case of Rome, there’s the whole historical period interest and my ongoing effort to find a use for a degree in Roman history. Despite the many fictionalizations (there was no such thing as a a “head hurler” ranged unit among the Cimbri, though that would have been awesome and it’s amazing they didn’t try it) I felt comfortable in the structure of the game. My big complaint about it was that any good effort to simulate Roman Times requires equal parts military and political, and the latter came up pretty short. I’m hoping for more in Rome II, though to Creative Assembly’s credit they’ve never claimed that they’re making political simulations. Plus getting all the nuances into a game that people without a degree could enjoy would be pretty tough. A combination of the Total War battle system and the Crusader Kings politics, with a friendlier learning curve, would be really amazing… but it would also really be two games.
Of course, feeling comfortable often screwed me, because games are games, and where you ought to put the Triarii in a game is not where you’d put them in the real world.
As a lover of all things stylishly visual, Gregg, you’ll enjoy Darwinia. Maybe not enough to play all the way through, but enough to get some hours out of its strange beauty.
Have you played Homeworld? That’s one you might adore.
I’ve had a lot of fun with the TW series but I’ve also had moments where I wanted to chuck the games in the trash. Piece of advice: stay away from MTWII, Empire, and Napoleon unless you hate yourself. Just trust me. Rome had the fantastic civil war mechanic and great unit diversity among factions, but unfortunately the AI absolutely sucked and there were TOO FUCKING MANY small battles that made the game tedious (and you got bogged down by city management, which is not CA’s strong suit).
Medieval 1 was by far the best TW game: great unit diversity leading to very unique playstyles with each faction, legitimately excellent AI that understood the concept of combined arms and realized when you were trying to flank it (trying to beat a Turkish army without light cavalry = really hard; their horse archers just wouldn’t let you trap them, so I had to wall off a part of the battlefield and force them to engage my infantry archers), a board game style map made the campaign map easy to deal with, and with the way the campaign map AI was done it turned into a game of chicken between you and the AI to see who had the balls to attack first. But the biggest thing was that morale was everything in that game. You could beat an army by only killing a small portion of its men if you made a well executed ambush or a flanking attack. This made the battles both more realistic and more fun. There is nothing in the world better than watching a massive army twice the size of yours fleeing the field. When they went to a 3D engine not only did they forget how to make an AI but the games turned into much more of a slaughterfest. And you could do absolutely horrible and awesome things in Medieval like force a brother and sister in your royal family to marry each other, or order your own assassin to kill you. And I really love Byzantine history and the game let me live out my fantasy of reconquering all of their lost territories and forcing the Pope to submit to the true legitimate Roman Empire.
With Shogun II they finally made a somewhat competent AI, made morale more important, and really simplified city management. It’s not as fun as Medieval I, mainly because everyone uses the same units and battles are won mostly by infantry instead of cavalry, but it’s good enough that I’m definitely getting Rome II.
Homeworld is so good. I couldn’t quite appreciate it at the time it came out, but playing it again later (along with Cataclysm) was good stuff.
As far as Total War games go, I never played Empire, but I played (and rather liked) Napoleon, even though it felt somewhat smaller than other entries in the series. Still, nice to have guns and cannons and stuff. I played a lot of classic Shogun and Medieval and I have heard good things about the sequels to both, though I haven’t played them yet (picked up Shogun 2 during the summer sale, though). Also, someone tell me if Divinity: Dragon Commander is worth my time. It entices me slightly but also I am not enough of an RTS player to get into anything that doesn’t really bring something different to the table.
Did anyone else play King Arthur: A Roleplaying Wargame? It is really cool for those that like the Total War style but wanted both a greater dose of fantasy and some roleplaying elements. That’s probably the last grand strategy game I played the heck out of.
I might need to try Sacrifice if I get wild and want something older. You know, when I finish my backlog. (HA!)
Oh, and Homeworld had a cool theme song. Which is the most important thing, really.
Well, GB, you’ve really done it, haven’t you? You set out to politely shit on Sacrifice, instead everyone who reads this will apparently be giving Sacrifice another whirl. Bless you, Gregg; Blegg.
Ooh and the Homeworld soundtrack; that one’s a keeper. Yep.
Also: The best real-time strategy game ever is Total Annihilation. And that’s not because it’s the best real-time strategy game on a technical level. On a technical level…I don’t give a rats ass. On every other level: Total Annihilation. Do I have to say more? The two words need no explanation. It’s also the second best named video game ever. Just say the words: Total. Annihilation. Ahhhhhhhh. Indeed.
Dare I ask what the best named video game ever is?
I can’t think of anything better (especially for an adventure game) than The Longest Journey.
I’m getting good at bashing a game while inspiring people to play it. Perhaps I should start bashing the games I love?
I have played Homeworld yes; once when it came out and again a couple of years ago. The first time I played it I stuck with it for a while but then drifted away from it for no apparent reason. The second time I played it I got really ticked off with units having no basic autonomy or initiative and having to nanny them. I mention this in the first paragraph along with Company of Heroes which also suffered from this problem (“Do your fucking jobs“). It’s just unnecessary busy work, and even more annoying after playing AI War which totally nails all that stuff. I’m glad a game with a title like ‘AI War’ has those sorts of smarts too, I just wish more games would learn from it. Having said this, neither Homeworld nor Company of Heroes pissed me off quite as much as Sacrifice (though for other reasons), so they’re games I may go back to to see if I can muscle through them — Homeworld at the very least because that’s a really beautiful game.
Thanks for the advice on Total War! Looking across the net, there appears to be no consensus on which is the best. Rome gets a lot of mentions, as does Shogun 2.
When Homeworld came out I don’t think RTS units had much in the way of personal AI, from what I recall, so I find it difficult to hold that against it. In Company of Heroes I’ve come to see that as a more intentional part of the game design, and part of the reason the unit cap tends to be relatively low in that game, because there’s a lot of engaging (I think) play that can come from the tension of deciding just how long that machine gunner can stave off an enemy assault before retreating, but I can understand how taht’s a turnoff for some players who want a higher-level strategy experience. Other than perhaps AI War I’m not sure there’s a lot that sits in that middle ground…
Yeah tell me about it. Shaun over at Arcadian Rhythms was recently talking about Supreme Commander quite favourably in that regard so it’s something I’d like to try out.
With regards to Homeworld and personal unit AI: Command & Conquer: Red Alert from ’96 featured medics that automatically patched up nearby injured infantry so it had definitely been around. Note however, that this bugbear was only present when I played Homeworld recently, not when I played it back in the day. I’ve obviously become more sensitive to these issues in recent years.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not complaining about that sort of tactical decision-making tension — on the contrary, that’s the good stuff — I’m complaining about units idling when there are things in their immediate surroundings that need sorting out, things that are hugely important (like repairing two battered tanks on the frontline when the enemy is making a push). When I park some damaged vehicles in front of some engineers I expect them to get repaired, especially in a 2006 game. It makes me want to slap them Dungeon Keeper style. I just don’t see how that level of involvement can add to the experience. If anything it detracts from it because it makes my units look brainless. Of course, I don’t expect total autonomy but some degree of it would help pull the focus out more towards strategy than spinning plates.
I remember Revenge of the Titans shifting from manually collecting refined crystals to automatically collecting them and at first I was like ‘No! That’s what made it so manic and intense!’ But when I played it I realised it brought all the other elements of the game sharply into focus; it was a small change that made a massive (and positive) difference.
And now I’m thinking of the commanding in Natural Selection 2 and watching your men (and now women!) get on with things — repairing, attacking, falling back, defending, flanking, building — all while you worry about the overall strategy. Damn, it’s pretty cool.
Oh and that King Arthur looked pretty cool Dix. Reminded me a little of Warhammer: Dark Omen.
I don’t remember an RTSG I’ve ever liked–and I’ve tried a lot. Chiefly I haven’t liked them because it’s always seemed that the “real-time” elements simply were shortcuts by developers to add tension to games that kept them from having to worry about trifling other matters like gameplay.
Still, I can see how real time could appeal to gamers who want to test themselves against other players. But real time in solo games always–I mean in every game– has seemed just silly and arbitrary, as computers could run as quickly as the devs could program them to run and thus are slowed-down artificially to give players (see above) the illusion of tension.
So really it’s a philosophical thing.
All I remember about Sacrifice is watching all these mutants swarm from nowhere and wipe me out again and again. I tried it on SP’s recommendation but gave up after about 4 hours. To me it was utterly incomprehensible. It was cool watching all the little monsters approach though, knowing I was about to slaughtered.
I guess i don’t understand the rules for most games. I guess the geniuses who make them assume I do. Well…I don’t.
Hi Ernest. It’s a fair criticism but I think while AI can operate and multi-task far more efficiently than a human can, their actions are rarely as sophisticated so once you’ve worked out their modus operandi you can counter them more effectively because they rarely deviate from it like a human player would. However, a lot of real-time strategy games have AI personalities or play-styles, so it’s not so easy to read their actions.
I think it’s more a case of what’s challenging, fair and fun. I’ll take an artificially weaker/slower opponent if it means I stand a chance, whether it’s racing in F-Zero GX, bot matches in Unreal Tournament or rival Gods in Age of Mythology. And I’ll take that sort of illusion of tension over trendy cinematic set-pieces where there’s no real danger at all (I’m looking at you Bioshock Infinite, Uncharted, Enslaved et al). Now they’re silly and arbitrary!
@Mike: Finally, somebody who shared my pain! 😉 “To me it was utterly incomprehensible” — this hits the nail on the head.
And just like that, I’m off the bandwagon forever. Graphics are choppy on low in a very good machine (Radeon 7850 and a core i7), which CA is promising a fix for, but more importantly they’ve turned the game into pretty much a typical RTS. In other words, battles are quick and morale barely matters at all. Just kill kill kill. Sigh. I spose I’ve blown 60 dollars on worst stuff. Won’t be doing that ever again.
Sorry, forgot to say I was talking about Rome II, which you definitely should not get.
However I still have an intense craving for good strategy left unsatisfied so I’m going to reinstall AI War and not be intimidated by the tutorial this time.
Shame to hear that about Rome II! I admire that you value morale because I find in real-time strategy games I’d rather use less men wisely than just keep throwing more units at a problem until it’s solved. Sometimes I wish a game would roast you for wasting human life.
I’ve always wanted to give the co-op a go on AI War, that could be lots of fun I think. I too hope that the tutorial doesn’t intimidate you because there’s a very intelligent game under all those layers. I highly recommend trying to understand the different ways of managing your units across different star systems; it makes it so much easier, in fact, when you get the hang of it, it’s a joy compared to most strategy games out there. Good luck! And feel free to report back! You never know, you might compel me to join you because all this talk of AI War has been warming me up to play it 😉
Argh, that’s a pity to hear Arouet. I haven’t started Rome II yet since a new bout of Dark Souls has had me occupied, but I should be getting into it tonight. I always wished they’d do a little less with the RTS and a little more with the political simulation.
The RPS review wasn’t exactly glowing, either. Seems CA might have missed the mark somewhat on this one, which is really too bad. There’s a lot that can be done with that period.
The whole point of the playing a Total War game is that so you can pretend to be Hannibal. To do that you need battles to be slow paced to get a sense of fighting a real battle, with the tension as the armies approach each other abruptly terminated by the excitement of thousands of people trying to kill each other. You need morale, terrain, army matchups to matter so flank attacks and ambushes and how much mass of men you’re throwing at a critical point in the enemies line matter, so that we can pretend to actually be stepping onto the battles they show on the History Channel. You need a beaten opponent to flee well before he’s nearly slaughtered to the last man if he has an escape route because numbers matter more in slaughter-fests and tactics less. And the AI has to be great for this type of game; it needs to challenge us with fundamentally sound tactics and throw us a surprise out of nowhere every now at then, because we need to be forced to be use all the fancy tactics we can think of instead of just waiting for the AI to do something dumb, so when we do pull off a heroic victory we feel like Hannibal right after he destroyed the entire Roman army at Cannae. Creative Assembly does not seem to understand this, or why Shogun II worked so well.
CA obviously believes they can sell games just by wowing gamers with an immense scope and epic feel, because Shogun II excepted that’s where they put all their work for all the games after Medieval 1. Here’s the problem; that’s not unique. If I want to make an massive empire I can play Civilization or Europe Universialis. Those games both do it much better. But those battles that actually play like what we read about in the history books? Getting to pretend to be Caesar at Pharsalos or Hannibal at Cannae? That’s a niche. That’s special. Only they do that. If a gamer wants that experience he’s gonna have to buy a Creative Assembly game. So why isn’t that where the developers put most of their work? What if CA somehow hired the guys from AI War to make a killer battle AI for them. How many hours would you spend playing THAT game? Seriously, how many hours would you spend? 200? 400?
Hey AI War fans! What do you think of Shattered Haven and Skyward Collapse? They’re bonus games for the Humble Weekly Sale, which I’ll probably pick up for A Valley Without Wind and I guess people like AI War. But are the bonus games worth it?
[…] have a deadline and we’re encouraged to review old games if we feel like it, like Gregg B did earlier this week. No one made me post the Grand Theft Auto V trailer, and when I finally did, it was […]
Where is the second picture from? It looks like some mystery level I’ve never seen before. I also remember playing a level in desert terrain with A LOT of altars next to each other but I was the only character there. Really weird, no idea how I got there. There is even a possibility that it was just a dream. I think I’ve desecrated them all.
So the question: Are there such “secret” levels and if yes, how to get to them?
Sorry, I didn’t mean the second picture, but the picture with a massive green land and Stratos creatures.
Confession: I only took the second picture (after the header image) and the Age of Mythology one. The rest were grabbed off the internet. Sorry I can’t help more!