Once I discovered the world of browser-based real-time-strategy games, I found a large number of games that provided me with almost everything I needed. While I normally preferred more "immersive" play, I found that the miniature armies and grand scale of most of these newer titles filled in my imagination just fine. In fact, the more I play with them, the more I am reminded of tabletop gaming as a teen. Those were glorious times, despite the fact that I am now, and always have been, horrible at war.
Let me tell you all about my recent obsession with browser-based real-time-strategy MMOs. (That's quite a mouthful.) Click past the cut!
There are some pretty particular, and not so particular, guidelines for my enjoyment.
First, I'm not really particular about the setting. It can be science fiction or fantasy, modern-day or ancient history. I am not a huge stickler for the lore, either, although if the game features great lore, I am happy. I think that the point of the MMORTS is that the players write the history of the region themselves through an everyday process of conquering, trading and forming alliances. I've noticed that most of the MMORTS games that I have found are set in the ancient past of China or something similar. Some of my readers don't seem to get why games from abroad are based in such a setting, but I always remind them about how common it is that "our" games are set in some sort of medieval European past. We have our cliches, and they have theirs.
Graphically, the game has to work. This is harder to explain than it would seem, but basically I will know if a game looks good when I see it. I ignore most screenshots, especially being that they could be showing off only the pretty parts or completely ignoring them. I'm a massive, huge fan of cartoony, stylized or (what has become of me?) Anime graphics. The big problem is that many developers seem to think that having cartoony graphics means that there can be no drama or hardship in the game. I actually love it when a "younger"-looking game has a serious backstory or idea behind it. Lately, browser-based and mobile design seems to think that if it looks like a kids game, it cannot be a serious game. I beg to differ, and there are a few examples of youthful-seeming games that feature very mature stories or even very mature communities.
"I hate to see such an open idea and design opportunity such as browser-based world-building filled with copycat games."
Probably the most important factor in my favorite MMORTS games is how they challenge -- or do not challenge -- me as a player. I hate micromanaging. I know that sounds funny in an article about managing entire empires, but the good games allow you some freedom when deciding how challenging you want to make them. Many, if not most, of the MMORTS games I have played so far employ some version of player-vs.-player combat. The ones that are designed well always give players a way out of complete annihilation. The poorly designed ones seem to want to punish you twice: first when you are attacked out of the blue and second when you try to recover.
In the games I really love, my cities are as vulnerable and open to attack as any other. The key difference is that they allow me some back-up, either in the form of escape, by way of alliance, or simply by not allowing someone to plunder me completely. Recently in Ministry of War, I changed the location of my city. Upon arrival at the new spot, I was almost immediately attacked by my new neighbor. I took a look at what he had and hammered back, scaring off his armies. I attacked him again and again and kept it up for several hours. Each time I attacked, I didn't come home with his entire city's worth of goods. Instead, I was only able to make off with a share of his gold and his blood on my swords. Finally, I messaged him and made peace, and now we are in the same guild.
"In other games I could have burned his cities to the ground, made off with all of his kittens, and strung up his old people."
The other day I was doing the dishes, as is my manly duty. In between cleaning, I went to my laptop and clicked on any one of the four tabs I had opened to four different worlds. In one game I was sending off some goods to complete a trade agreement; in another I was spying on a neighbor in case he decided to attack me. This type of play-as-I-will gaming is possible only in the world of the MMORTS, and especially in the browser version. These games fit my style, gaming schedule, and love for all things massive. No wonder so many of them are popping up everywhere.
So, do you play any browser-based RTS games? What are some of your favorites? (I need more worlds to conquer!)
Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr.