If there’s one thing the RTS (Real-Time Strategy, for those not familiar with the endearing acronym) has been lacking in recent years, it’s innovation. After the genre caught fire in 1995 with Command & Conquer and WarCraft, we quickly began to see the same trends over and over again: a few selections of races with notable differences but no real personalities; similar unit types in nearly every game, and essentially the same strategies applied over and over again. Arena Wars, developed by exDream and published by Ascaron, is a complete breath of fresh air in a genre of gaming that needs it almost as badly as the first-person shooter. You may find yourself asking “How so?”. Well, how about ideas borrowed from Unreal Tournament. Yeah, I thought that might perk your interest a little.
Arena Wars has several modes of play that wouldn’t be out of place in any of the modern FPS games of today, which is one reason I alluded to Unreal Tournament during the previous paragraph. In fact, the unorthodox gameplay modes are part of what helps set Arena Wars apart from other ?run of the mill’ RTS games plaguing today’s market. Capture the Flag is a perfect example. It plays according to the age-old rules of any CTF game, except that, since it’s in the context of an RTS game, you can go after the flag with a small army instead of just a few players. It really spices up the game, and may even entice shooter fans to give this type of CTF the try. In another mode called Bombing, your goal is to pick up a bomb, take it to your opponent’s base, and guard it until it detonates – scoring you a point. This concept, in itself, is extremely exciting because never before has the player been forced to hide out in an enemy’s base for so long a time as it takes for a bomb to detonate. It’s really fun, and certainly gets your blood pumping.
And now I present to you a gameplay mode that’s so exciting it deserves its own paragraph: Double Domination. If this sounds familiar to you, that’s because if you dabble in FPS games – Unreal Tournament, specifically – you’ve kind of played it before. In DD, there are two points that must be simultaneously held by a single team for a set amount of time in order to score a point. However, here is where the similarities end. To successfully hold either of the two points, you must first unlock them with a domination ?key’. Here’s an example of how the key works: if you’re in control of point A and your adversary is in control of point B, you have to get back to your camp to grab your key and bring it back to the control point. This will often lead to a point for your enemy, as not only must you control your army to retake the point, but you’ve got to focus on having your key as well. It sounds almost like busy work, but it really adds an extra element of skill to the game that makes it even more enjoyable than it already is.
By now though, I’m sure you’ve noticed that Arena Wars seems to revel in bucking tradition, and here’s yet another way it accomplishes this: there are no resources to gather. No crystal harvesting, no gold gathering, nothing of that sort at all! This is actually a blessing in disguise, as you’ll be so consumed with the frantic pace of the action that keeping track of resources would be more of a hindrance than a boon. Instead of resources, each player starts the game with 1000 credits, and a certain amount is deducted from the total bank of the player with each constructed unit. Of course, because of this, you can never go above your 1000 credit limit range. To make up for this, whenever you lose a unit, the amount of credits the lost unit cost to produce is credited back into the player’s account. While this may seem a little cheap, I consider it a good idea because, without resource harvesting, there would be no other way to continue to produce units to continue a great battle the player may be involved in. All in all I think it’s a new concept that works out rather well, and is very well implemented throughout the game.
Taking a note from Blizzard’s WarCraft III, Arena Wars doesn’t give you the ability to control hundreds of units at any given time. Instead, you may have only 6 units at your disposal at a time, and it’s your job to make the most of them. This is also a great idea implemented expertly by the developers, as having only 6 units available for your command allows you to intricately learn their pros and cons. The unit types include a light armored buggy, used for stealthily infiltrating your enemy’s camp and making off with their flag; a spider-mech, which has a bit more firepower than the buggy; two giant robots known as the Walker and Berserker – the Walker is not as heavily armored and packs a decent-power laser, while the Berserker is slower, more heavily armored, and packs a huge wallop – and the most heavily armored unit available in the game is the Destroyer, which inflicts massive damage but is extremely slow due to its heavy armor plating. Some game maps allow the units to be upgraded to improve such attributes as their armor rating and offensive power.
Many of the game maps include different power-ups available for the augmentation of your units. These power-ups activate instantly upon pickup and are color-coded to make them easily identifiable: green and yellow items are for your own units and typically increase the offense and defense of your troops, but can also include speed boosts and invisibility; red and blue items are for use on enemy units and include viruses that temporarily incapacitate the unit.
Arena Wars includes 60 single-player missions – mostly tournament battles similar to Unreal Tournament’s structure; play different game modes until you finish every available level under that particular mode – and they are great practice for the multiplayer mode of the game, which is where the real fun is. The multiplayer mode supports up to 8 players in addition to 4 observation slots, where players may observe the battle rather than play an active role within it.
Graphically, Arena Wars is very similar to Total Annihilation. The units are presented in 3D and are extremely well animated. The special effects – such as explosions, fired rounds – are decent enough, but not all that spectacular. However, graphics have never really played a crucial role in the success of any particular RTS game because, in this genre, the gameplay drives the experience forward. The music and SFX are also well done, but again, they’re really nothing memorable.
Arena Wars is great simply because it successfully combines the frantic pace of the RTS genre with the wide variety of popular modes available in first-person shooters. The game is a great buy, and will have a prominent place in any game player’s library, not to mention anyone that’s looking for something new and exciting from the genre, as well as a game able to appeal to the action lover in all of us. If this sounds like you, and your kind of game, then definitely head to your nearest video game retailer and buy Arena Wars now!