Supreme Commander 2
Expected: March 2
PC gaming’s most bombastic RTS returns. This time it’s all about robots with personalities. The Star King Extreme. The Universal Colossus. The Cybrannosaurus Rex. These were named by (a) the power-crazed despot of a hyper-developed East-Asian nation, or (b) a strategy game developer. The answer was (b). It was Chris Taylor, robot-fancier and ultra-geek behind huge-scale RTSes Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander and Supreme Commander 2.
SupCom 2 starts with an obvious set of advantages. All the graphical tweaks and efficiency tweaks mean it’ll run about as well as the original game. Which is to say, beautifully on the average gamer’s machine. The focus this time is on upgrading units, but not individually. Instead, you earn research points by destroying enemies, and earn them faster by building research centres. You can spend these points on universal upgrades, abilities, and unlockable new units from five different tech trees: Land, Air, Sea, Structures and Commander. Jumpjets for your commander? Three points, please! Boost land unit damage by 30 percent? That’ll be five points sterling. Taylor pitches this as making the first unit you build useful to the end of the game.
Elemental: War of Magic
Expected: TBA 2010
Fantasy kingdoms, epic spells, genocidal dragons, and politely taking it in turns. “Right now the ‘game’ is so bad that several users have reported hemorrhaging,” says Brad Wardell, Stardock CEO and creator of this turn-based strategy RPG. It’s in an intentionally primitive beta stage, where only the game’s ‘cloth map’ view is enabled. Brad doesn’t want players to be distracted by the smoothly scaling 3D engine. He wants them to concentrate on the business of roaming the land, building an empire and managing relations with the other kingdoms.
You’re a little wizard wandering a vast randomly-generated fantasy world, with the power to build cities, custom-design troops, go on quests and cast preposterous spells. The one we saw, cast by a wizard standing at the gates of an enemy capital, made the flat earth beneath it rupture into a volcano, completely consuming the place.
In Galactic Civilizations II, the guy with the biggest armada by the halfway point was in an almost insurmountable position. But Elemental is packed with table turners. We might have a puny army, but a quest we did earlier convinced a dragon to join our side. You may not have a dragon, but your daughters married into the royal families of three failing kingdoms: when they give in, they’ll hand their armies over to you. And that guy over there might not have hot daughters or a dragon, but he’s about to turn your capital into Pompeii with his wizard stick. Imagine a strategy game that isn’t tedious for the last third of the match.
Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising
Expected: Mar 30
The Space Marines are being corrupted. Luckily, it turns out to be hilarious. We weren’t massively excited to hear that Dawn of War II’s first standalone expansion would see us playing as the Space Marines again. We’d heard whispers that an Ork, Eldar or Tyranid campaign might be on its way, and that’s what we’ve always wanted. But now that we’ve played Chaos Rising, we suddenly can’t wait.
It introduces the spiky corrupted marines of Chaos, of course, but that affects the three sides of DoW 2 differently: in single-player, they’re the new enemy in a campaign that continues directly after the first. In multiplayer, they’re a new playable race. And in Last Stand, the three-player co-op mode added after release, there’s a new Chaos hero to play.
Actually, it’s not fair to say they’re merely a new enemy in single-player: Chaos itself is also a new mechanic. Stealing sacred armour, smashing Imperial relics that get in your way, and other crimes against the Space Marine’s god-emperor all earn you corruption. Becoming more corrupt is like leveling up a new attribute: every few points along the way, you unlock a new power. At first these are simple, Chaos-themed abilities such as burning through your own health to deal extra damage. But at the very high level, they turn you into a hilarious asshole.
Different characters can end up with different corruption levels by using corrupted loot: powerful stuff, but equipping it costs you a part of your soul you can never get back. The downside of corruption, other than a lot of nagging from pretty much every character in the game, is that it makes you less effective when fighting Chaos. They’re not the only enemy in the game, but they do crop up a lot in the missions. Which, by the way, are no longer repeated ‘kill the boss’ jobs on the same maps again and again: each is uniquely scripted.
As this story continues from the last, you can carry over any leveled-up characters you have, and progress them beyond level 20. The new perks in these higher levels are crazy: Cyrus can upgrade his stealth to make himself invincible while cloaked. Best of all for geeks, some Chaos Rising missions take place aboard Space Hulks: the alien-infested junk ships that inspired both a boardgame and an FPS.