In the late 1990s and early 2000s, my absolute favorite game genre (second to RPGs only) was the real-time strategy game, or RTS. Titles like Caesar, Command & Conquer, Age of Empires II, Rise of Nations, Warcraft II, StarCraft, Majesty, Homeworld, and the underrated Kohan allowed me to grow a scaled-down empire that I could nurture and direct on its path to glory. Oh, and then send a bajillion units to clash with other armies and watch them fight in real time.
I played the heck out of these games and certainly got my money’s worth from their purchases. They were incredibly replayable, especially when you factor in customized maps on top of the established campaigns.
Yet I started to drift away from RTS games — and many other titles — when I got into MMORPGs, and before long they had drifted into my far past. The funny thing is that unlike, say, first-person shooters, I had not outgrown the RTS. Whenever I thought about those games, I still had the same passion and love for them. Yet other than mobile titles like Clash Royale that mimic the RTS style on a vastly stripped down scheme, I wasn’t playing them.
This has changed as of late with the purchase of Warcraft II from GOG.com. I installed that (expect a retro series to come!) as well as Majesty for a weeklong trip to an internet-free cabin. Even as old as these games were, they were still a lot of fun in replaying them, and it made me wonder why I just don’t see RTS games announced these days. Has the genre fallen out of favor? Or has it morphed into games like Dwarf Fortress and Rimworld, where the scale and focus is different than empire building?
After looking around to see what the last five years have produced, it’s pretty slim pickings for the traditional RTS. There is the Total War Warhammer series, 2013’s StarCraft II and its expansion, 2016’s Stellaris, 2016’s Offworld Trading Company, revamps of the Age of Empires series, city builders like Frostpunk, and a few others.
Following that, I did some Google searches on relevant articles and blogs and was relieved to see that it’s not just me feeling this way. There’s a pretty common perception out there that the classic RTS genre is dead — or at least very dormant right now. It’s not completely dead, and there’s a lot of excitement out there for Age of Empires IV (count me in!), but it’s no longer the hot slice of gaming that studios are all gunning to make. Even Blizzard, the former RTS king, doesn’t seem that interested in getting another Warcraft RTS or the next StarCraft expansion out there.
One person pointed to MOBAs as a direct cause of RTS stagnation, which… I guess? They’re RTS on a very small scale but not quite the same build-defend-attack format with armies at your disposal rather than a single character. Another article said that StarCraft single-handedly did the RTS in a similar fashion to World of Warcraft and MMOs.
In any case, at least we have older RTS games to enjoy, some remastered ones to bring them up to spec, and a few on the way to keep the torch burning. Musing about this has put me into a mood to dig up some past favorites and give them another go.