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Played in 2023
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I was there in the portentous eruption of RTS games in the late 90's and early 2000's. From Command and Conquer, to Rise of Nations, to Age of Empires, to Empire Earth, to Total Annihilation, a clear and obvious trend established itself.
Difficult as it might be to imagine now, the RTS genre was once novel and was a prestige genre for the PC, displaying it's computational capabilities and the open-endedness of the mouse-keyboard as an input system compared to the controller of a home console. The trend was quickly established, that every game just needed to be bigger than the last. Larger supply caps, bigger armies, larger maps, more resource types, ages, eras, more complicated tech trees. The creeping growth in content belied the actually languishing of the genre -- there was no growth or innovation in design, or style. No matter how big the battles or how long the game lasted, you could not escape the feeling that you were just playing the same game over and over again.
Warcraft III took a different approach. They shrank the scale of the average RTS game, and forced a focus on intimately and intricately controlling small amounts of units in interesting ways. The upkeep mechanic forces the player to choose between an efficient economy and a large army. The heroes, the leveling, and the items on the map tax the multitasking of the average player, forcing them to attend actively to their army. The strong emphasis on skirmishing and micro, and the intentional nerf on the macro side of the genre, was a genuine innovation, and Blizzard countered the boring fungal growth of "scale" as the definitive feature of the genre. They went the opposite direction of the industry at the time, and in doing so, they made an RTS which is even today utterly unique. You will not play another game quite like this.
The presentation in this game is simply amazing. The soundtrack is incredible, instantly resonating with me. the visuals are not only technically impressive but genuinely gorgeous in the way that only facsimiles of low-poly early 3D graphics can be.
The issue is the gameplay. 3/4 of the ships available to you will only smear across your screen like frozen molasses in vain attempts to dodge unreasonably swift bullets, while you're lugging around a gargantuan hitbox. The sprite scaling is off: This is a vertical STG and the screen is just too crowded. There is very little room to react or maneuver. It plays like it wants to be a TATE game, but it sadly isn't and the gameplay just leaves you frustrated, Extremely memorization heavy for the 1CC.