Tag Archive: rts

I’ve reviewed a lot of games over the years, but I realized recently that I had never taken pen-to-paper (so to say) when it comes to JRPGs. Sure, I had written about them as a “secondary” reviewer when EGM print went back to old-school multi-person reviews a few years ago, but I had never been the primary reviewer. And, admittedly, the genre is a bit hit-or-miss for me. While I’m not a big Final Fantasy person, I do love the Tales series, and I also really enjoyed Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch a few years ago. So, in order to fill in that blank spot on my reviewing career—and also get my hands on the much anticipated sequel early—I was more than happy to take a crack at Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom. And, I can attest that it did not disappoint.

Players take charge of an elder statesman named Roland who is mysteriously teleported to a new world when a cataclysmic event befalls his. Roland is shocked to find his youth restored, and that he now sits in the royal bedroom of a newly-crowned king in a medieval world. Roland’s timing could not be more fortuitous for this would-be king named Evan, as a coup by Evan’s chancellor has just begun. Bewildering situation put aside, the two resolve to escape the castle, and thus begin an adventure that will leave both their worlds feeling the ramifications for generations.

It should be said right off the bat that you could jump right into Ni No Kuni II without having played the first one, as there is almost no connection between them given each is a stand-alone story. The only similarities between the two games is the fact that they each share a significant artifact called the Mornstar—similar to how the Sorcerer’s Ring can be found in many of publisher Bandai Namco’s Tales games—and the kingdom of Ding Dong Dell returns. It could make you wonder if this game takes place in the far-flung future of the first game, but there are few other similarities present except one: that people in one world sometimes have a doppelganger in the other with which they are inextricably linked. This point is far more muted here, though, as unlike the first Ni No Kuni—where main character Oliver would bounce back and forth between the two realms—we remain in Evan’s world for the entirety of this game, with only passing references by Roland to his previous life.

No matter whether you played the first game or not, it’s easy to appreciate the stellar storytelling present in Ni No Kuni II. Evan soon composes himself after his escape, and steels himself for the trials ahead. He doesn’t just wish to regain his kingdom, but also create an entirely new one called Evermore than shall unite the world under a single banner to the betterment of all peoples. It’s the kind of wish that a child would make, but the fact that Evan doggedly sets off to do so continues the storybook theme the game takes on from its very beginning, as it empowers a child to do amazing things for both his world and himself.

Evan’s undying optimism and youthful exuberance gives this adventure a tone that gamers of all age groups can enjoy, as he is a refreshing change of pace when it comes to most protagonists in modern games. Continuing the enjoyable-for-all-age-groups aspect is that—as much as I didn’t want it to end as I absolutely adored exploring the world—Ni No Kuni II should clock in for most gamers around the 50-hour mark, a far cry from the norm in the JRPG genre. But, there’s an efficiency and natural fluidity to the storytelling here that games in this genre typically lack, and this, too, was refreshing. Sure, there are a few fetch quests, but none of them felt like they were forcibly bloating the game, instead continuing to serve Evan, Roland, and the rest of the party in their character development.

Another aspect of Ni No Kuni II that gives it a fantastical feel is its art style and music. Although Studio Ghibli did not collaborate with developer Level-5 on this game like they did on the first Ni No Kuni, character designer Yoshiyuki Momose does return in the same role here. His art style clearly permeated every character in the game, giving them all a distinct feel, but also a familiarity to those in tune with his work. Composer Joe Hisaishi also returned for Ni No Kuni II after his work on the first game, and whether it was trumpets triumphantly announcing another success for Evan or the individual themes of each new kingdom I visited—feeding into the character of each of these worlds within the world—the music breathed a special kind of life into Ni No Kuni II that kept a smile plastered on my face.

As much as the style has stayed the same between Ni No Kuni games, the substance—or in this case the gameplay—has seen some major overhauls. The first and possibly biggest change is the removal of Familiars. These friendly sidekicks would fight alongside Oliver and his crew in the first game, where leveling them up was a critical element to finding yourself victorious in battle. However, many labeled the idea a knock-off Pokémon-esque mechanic that required you to keep catching more of those Familiars as the game went on. In Ni No Kuni II, they’ve been replaced by sprite-like beings called Higgledies. These cute critters aren’t nearly as prevalent in the world as Familiars were; you can only take four into battle at once, and although they may offer some nice buffs, a little extra AI controlled offense, or even some elemental firepower, they take a huge backseat in combat, as they’re very much a “set ‘em and forget ‘em” element that simplifies combat tremendously.

There are other changes to the combat besides the removal of Familiars, however. The real-time combat system where players control a single character (out of the three you can set to your party at a time), hacking away with that character’s weapon of choice or magic, does remain reminiscent of the first game. One extra little nuance, though, is that you can carry a projectile weapon into these mini-arenas to fire at enemies who get out of range, or switch between three different melee weapons on the fly. This allows you to carry weapons with different element abilities or buffs into battle in order to keep your strategies fluent, as you rotate them at a moment’s notice with a tap of one of the shoulder buttons. There’s also a charge system which you build through consecutive attacks. You can perform more powerful magic if your melee weapons have a one-hundred-percent charge, meaning swapping between weapons of different charges is another strategy to be mindful of. It may sound complicated here, but after only a battle or two, it became second nature to rotate Roland’s three swords, and helped keep the hack ‘n’ slash aspects of combat from becoming monotonous.

There are also a few changes to how Evan and company are represented in the world. When in dungeons or villages, you’ll see either Evan or your chosen party member (depending on the scenario) from a third-person behind-the-back view. When you go into the overworld when traveling between all these places, however, your party takes on a chibi-fied look, almost like little Pop! Vinyl figures of themselves moving around. When you come across enemies in dungeons, a circle surrounding the conflict will appear, and you’ll brawl right there; alternatively, when in the overworld, you’ll be transported to an impromptu arena to do combat. It’s a curious way of doing things, having these two distinctly different ways to represent your characters, and it kind of reminded me of The Legend of Zelda II: Adventure of Link in how that game’s camera and representation would change based on where you were. It was a bit jarring at first, but I realized later on why there is this distinction between how the characters are portrayed on a micro versus macro level.

And that leads to possibly the most intriguing gameplay element of Ni No Kuni II. In order for Evan to build his own kingdom—a major crux of the story laid out to us—the game introduces real-time strategy mechanics such as collecting resources, building your kingdom up, assigning villagers to different tasks, and even waging war against bandits, thieves, or even other nations. You can watch as your chibi-fied people mill about on the world stage as they work in lumber yards, research new magic, build armor and weapons, or just relax at your inn (after you build all these things, of course).

This element of Ni No Kuni II was both one of my most- and least-favorite elements to the game. When this weird RTS aspect was introduced, I loved working towards growing my population by doing the bevy of side quests that were introduced. Sometimes I’d have to bring someone an item, kill a monster, or just build my kingdom’s renown enough to have those people join my burgeoning population as I tried to become a world power on Ni No Kuni II’s stage. As Evan grew into the role of a king and I got more resources and followers, my kingdom grew along with it, opening up even more potential side activities. And the more I did for my kingdom, the more my subjects could in turn do for me in combat and travel.

Of course, trying to bring the world together leads to inevitable conflict, and it was here—especially as a way to introduce some of the game’s more important chapters or as a precursor to some major conflicts—that Evan would have to lead his armies against other armies. I could pick up to four different unit types and then have to meet a series of objectives to overcome the opposing armies, and it was at this point that this RTS experiment fell apart.

You see, combat in a typical RTS requires precision and knowing exactly what your units will do and when. In Ni No Kuni II, this element felt far too haphazard to be fun. Evan’s units would never attack at a consistent pace, and they would never leave the commander’s side on the field. I’d be stuck moving Evan around the world with these four mini-commanders basically attached to his hip like I was driving around in Mario Kart with a trio of green turtle shells around me, running into enemy forces and hoping they would hold out longer than the AI does—because if they don’t, Evan is awfully vulnerable all by his lonesome.

My units could level up, but one of the other few problems with Ni No Kuni II in general is just that the game doesn’t do a very good job of letting you know exactly when this would happen. Sure, both your armies and your party on the micro level have numbers for attack, defense, magic, and so on. But the armies themselves don’t have any sort of indicator as to when they would level up (leading to some late-game grinding, let me tell you), and my party only had a vague XP bar next to their names, which would’ve been far better served with some actual numbers to let me know how many more wyverns or whatever I need to bash to hit the next level. In the grand scheme of things it’s a minor annoyance, but a little more clarity could’ve gone a long way here.

Ni No Kuni II may not have many direct links to its predecessor, but it is indeed an improvement in many ways. There is a ton of side content that feeds into the main story in a natural and engaging way, while the world, characters, music, and the journey the story takes you on are all beautiful. Combat has also seen some sharp improvements, both via addition and subtraction. The only thing holding it back were a few questionable decisions with those RTS elements, but thankfully those skirmishes are few and far between and they do not mar what is otherwise a stellar Japanese RPG.

Publisher: Bandai Namco • Developer: Level-5 • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 03.23.18


Ni No Kuni II is full of some tremendously creative decisions that make this unlike many other Japanese RPGs, as well as a clear step above an already good game in the original Ni No Kuni. However, some additions like the RTS elements left me scratching my head. Despite this, Ni No Kuni II tells a beautiful story that’s set in an even more beautiful world, and should be enjoyed by most JRPG fans.

The Good

Beautiful world, music, and story that all other JRPGs should aspire to.

The Bad

RTS-like combat scenarios to mimic large-scale nation-vs-nation battles that sounds great on paper but were poorly executed.

The Ugly

The obsession that developed over making sure each citizen of Evermore had their happily ever after.
Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom is available on PS4 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I imagine when the folks from Wargaming met with Creative Assembly it went something like this:

Wargaming: “I love strategy and war.”

Creative Assembly: “I love strategy and war, too!”

Wargaming: “Did we just become best friends?!”

And thus the partnership that’s led to Total War: Arena started. (Okay, not really.)

The Total War series isn’t known really for its multiplayer options. It’s single-player has always shined, of course, with players reliving the campaigns of history’s greatest conflicts against the computer. On the multiplayer front, though, all you had were two human players standing at the heads of their respective armies in a one-on-one setting, or more recent iterations maxed out with a four-on-four offering.

Total War: Arena changes this by offering a full, 10-on-10, free-to-play showdown, with each player allowed to select their own legendary general from the annals of history, like Rome’s Julius Caesar or the English barbarian queen Boudica. Players can then bring into battle three different unit squads appropriate to their general, like foot soldiers, cavalry, siege weapons, or even war dogs. Each general also features a bevy of passive buffs and abilities you can activate in order to better assist your army.

Those three units are all that is available to players, though. Your three units and general will need to coordinate with the units other players on your team is bringing into battle in order to hopefully rout your opponents, or capture their base and ensure victory. It can lead to glorious multi-front chaos only available in a large player setting like this, but still relies heavily on the classic tenants of real-time strategy games in terms of how your units move and attack. It even touts the classic Total War morale system, where if you break an opponent unit’s spirit, they may just start a hasty retreat and give you the victory.

With any free-to-play offering, the question always comes up about how a game will monetize itself. There are some limited customization options you can pick up for each of your generals, but Total War: Arena leans more heavily on the highly successful World of Tanks model. This allows players to spend real world money to expedite levels, which in turn unlocks new and more powerful units for each of your respective generals.

Even though you’re in control of a legendary general, you’re really just one piece of a much larger army in each match you play, and in that regard Total War: Arena looks to capitalize on the greatest strategic endeavor there is: working as a team. If players can successfully come together, not only will you have a variety of legendary generals working together for a common goal, but also the strategic possibilities are endless. From blitzkriegs to pincer maneuvers, the 10-on-10 scenario feels like it is bringing true war to Total War, and is shaping up to be an excellent alternative for people looking for competitive multiplayer without the need for twitch reflexes.

Total War: Arena is currently in closed alpha on PC and is moving to closed beta later this year.

For me, Age of Empires on PC was my gateway into the world of real-time strategy games. Then, just a couple of years later, Command & Conquer on the N64 almost did the exact opposite, making me recoil from the genre. It wasn’t the games themselves, but the method in which I played them. Although I became more engrossed in consoles over the years, the RTS genre always held a special place in my heart from those early PC days, but I could never find one that captured what made the genre great on a console. So, when I needed a fix, it would end up leading to a rare PC purchase for me. Then, in 2009, fittingly enough the studio that made Age of Empires figured it out with Halo Wars. It wasn’t just marrying one of my favorite shooter series to the genre, but they had figured out a way to make it control almost as well as on a PC. Ensemble Studios may now be gone, but Halo Wars lives on, and another stellar RTS developer in Creative Assembly has picked up the ball and run with the series in spectacular fashion in Halo Wars 2.

When last we saw the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire, they had immersed themselves in cryosleep, beaten, battered, and with heavy losses after emerging victorious in a grueling battle with both the Covenant and the Flood. Now, 28 years later (up to date now with the Halo timeline), the crew is woken up when the Spirit of Fire drifts within range of an Ark, and picks up a UNSC distress signal coming from its surface. Commander Cutter quickly dispatches a team, and everyone is shocked as all they find is a young AI named Isabel. She quickly gets the Spirit of Fire crew up to date on the last 28 years, and reveals a new enemy in The Banished, a Brute-led force so powerful they were able to splinter off and earn their freedom from the Covenant.

On the surface, Creative Assembly has only really made minor tweaks to the basic gameplay of the original Halo Wars, but that in and of itself is an accomplishment. It’s not easy to make an RTS game work on consoles, but maintaining a lot of the same controls—like using the A-button to sweep over and collect units, or double-tapping a bumper to select all the units—I never once felt hampered when commanding my UNSC or Banished armies in both campaign and multiplayer. One major addition was particularly handy, though.


A feature long available on PC RTS games—and noticeably absent from the original Halo Wars—was the ability to assign units to groups so you could bounce back and forth easily between teams fighting on multiple fronts. Now, you can create four separate groups on the D-Pad by holding a direction and a bumper, making army management a lot simpler. It may not be as much as the 10 groups you can create on a keyboard, but it’s a start, and can go a long way to your enjoyment of the game—in particular when the campaign sets up several missions where fighting along multiple fronts is the necessary way to go if you are to achieve victory on harder difficulties.

The other major addition is how much more in-depth Creative Assembly has gone with the upgrade trees and units you can make. Following the story, the Banished won’t have many familiar Covenant faces like the Jackals, because they wouldn’t make sense (no spoilers!). A variety of different Elites, however, help fill in myriad roles of units like these that didn’t carry over from the first game. And this works on both sides of the war, with one example being retrofitted Cyclops replacing the Cobra tanks—the UNSC’s anti-vehicle units for the original Halo Wars.

One of Halo Wars 2’s best features, however, is how the campaign not only fits perfectly into the Halo universe with a tremendous story, but teaches you all about these new mechanics and units as you play. You’ll experience them all as the narrative unfolds, prepping you before you take the plunge into the multiplayer modes. There’s also some surprising replayability with four different difficulties (all also available in 2-player co-op), high scores, and the optional and bonus objectives, which is how you actually unlock skulls this time around instead of searching for them tucked away in corners of the battlefield.


The campaign, however, is also where one of the biggest flaws with the game crops up: its length. A full playthrough on normal only clocks in at about 6-8 hours (depending on if and how often you fail a mission), and only consists of 12 missions—one of which is really a 5-minute tutorial. Looking back, this is three chapters shorter than the original game. While the length doesn’t detract from the great story, and it’s nice the campaign goes to such lengths to teach you about all the units and lower the bar of entry for those potentially new to the RTS genre like mentioned above, I also got the feeling that I was never about to truly cut loose until the very last mission.

That’s because right up until the end, I felt the game was still giving me tutorials and holding my hand for a bit too long, keeping certain units back behind a curtain—and when everything was finally at my disposal, the game was over. Limiting players with certain scenarios and stipulations is good some of the time in an RTS campaign, but doing it nearly every mission can get a bit stifling, and prevented me from learning as much on my own. Really, experimentation in an RTS is sometimes part of the fun.

I was also surprised that there were a couple of moments in the campaign where some precipitous frame rate drops occurred (in particular, many of them happened in Mission 7). There really weren’t any other technical issues to speak of in my time with the game, and these could’ve just been the occasional pre-launch hiccup which can easily be patched on day one—but it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.


While playing an RTS game in single-player is all well and good, as I alluded to before, it’s really just the appetizer before diving into the multiplayer. Halo Wars 2 really shines here if you’re any sort of an RTS fan. The multiplayer suite is larger than before, featuring new modes like Strongholds, where players are given infinite resources while racing to build the biggest army first while trying to control the most bases. The team with the most bases at the end—or the one that can wipe out their opponents—wins. It’s a nice complement to Team Deathmatch and Domination if you’re looking for something more casual and less centered on the all-important resource management of other RTS modes.

The shining jewel, though, is the brand new card-based Blitz mode. Yes, it’s really an easy way to add microtransactions to yet another game, but it is entirely unnecessary to spend any extra money. You can earn cards by playing the game’s other modes (including campaign), and by leveling up your overall rank. There are also daily and weekly challenges across all modes that can reward you with special cards, too.

The idea in Blitz is that every player has a 12-card deck, and can even customize 18 total decks if they want (three for each of the six starting commanders in the game). Each commander has special cards only they can wield, and really add some unique elements to each deck. When you play Blitz, you draw a four-card hand and can only call units onto the field by playing cards, which you do by collecting resources like in any other RTS game. If playing against others, it takes on a Domination-like feel, with each player or team vying for control of three different points. If you play against AI, Blitz turns into a wave-based survival mode.

Halo Wars 2 Campaign Deadly Skirmish

I hate to admit it, because it seems like so many games are trying to add trading card game elements somehow now, but Blitz was probably my favorite of the multiplayer modes. Each match was fast (8-10 minutes), deck building is easy, and there’s still the strategy element you’d expect from something featured in an RTS game. Knowing where and when to play cards is vital. And, since you will always have a limited amount of units, knowing when to break someone off from your main groups to go collect more resources is critical to being ready for the inevitable conflicts. My only complaint about the mode is it only features one map, but with no match ever playing the same—even when using the same deck—it’s really a minor annoyance at worst. Also, it should be mentioned that I noticed no problems with Halo Wars 2 servers, but these were pre-launch conditions only populated by devs and a few dozen other members of the press. Once the game is released into the wild, it could be an entirely different ballgame, so that’s also something else to keep an eye out for.

As a fan of the original Halo Wars and RTS titles in general, I almost couldn’t be happier with Halo Wars 2. It continues the story of some of my favorite characters in the expanded Halo universe in a fitting and fun way, while giving me the competitive, strategic gameplay I expect and crave from a game of this genre. I wish the campaign would’ve given me a bit more length and freedom in a lot of scenarios, but other than that, Halo Wars once again shows the right way to do real-time strategy experiences on a console.

Publisher: Microsoft Studios • Developer: 343 Industries/Creative Assembly • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 02.21.17
Halo Wars 2 does a fantastic job building on the foundation laid out by the original game. New modes and new characters highlight what is a fun return to the Halo universe, even if the campaign is shorter than I’d prefer.
The Good Deeper upgrade trees, being able to assign units to groups, and Blitz mode are all fantastic additions to this stellar continuation of the first game.
The Bad The campaign is on the short side, and the occasional lag.
The Ugly The stream of expletives that one dude screamed on headset when I stole his Grizzly tank with my Spartan Alice in Blitz mode.
Halo Wars 2 is available on Xbox One and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

I had a chance to go hands-on with Halo Wars 2 at a recent Microsoft preview event, and there I played the new Blitz Mode. Blitz Mode offers elements of Survival, Domination, and Trading Card games in an interesting twist of players spending a different currency from the main game to call down units. You can only pick from one of four available at a time, before that unit is replaced in your “hand” with one of 12 cards in your “deck”. It’s a fast and frantic mode that offers unique gameplay for the RTS genre. Halo Wars 2 will be available on Xbox One and PC on February 21.

When you think of PC gaming, shooters and RPGs may be some of the first genres that come to mind. For me, though, PC gaming has almost always centered on real-time strategy games. Most of my gaming experiences growing up were on console, but releases like Age of Empires and Command & Conquer gave me my first taste of what it meant to play on a PC. Thanks to that, I’ve always had an appreciation for the genre, even as it’s taken a backseat to more fast-paced and narrative-driven experiences in recent years.

This is why I was particularly intrigued when Kalypso recently announced that they were bringing back the Sudden Strike series with Sudden Strike 4, the franchise’s first full entry in nearly a decade. I recently got to go hands-on with this newest chapter, and I can attest that Sudden Strike 4 maintains all the best elements from previous entries while pushing the series steadily forward (like the Allies across the Western Front).

For those unfamiliar with its legacy, Sudden Strike has always been about reliving the greatest battles of World War II. Unlike traditional RTS games, Sudden Strike focuses on tactics, leaving behind the bother of resource collecting and unit building. Instead, it gives you a pre-determined force that likely would’ve taken part in World War II, occasionally providing reinforcements when appropriate and pushing your strategic acumen to its limits.


Just like in previous entries, Sudden Strike 4 is broken down into three campaigns spread across 20 chapters, as you follow along with the Allies (United States/Great Britain), the Germans, and the Russians. What differentiates the campaign here from previous installments is the addition of a new feature allowing players to choose a commander. Every faction has three unique commanders, each providing stat boosts and special abilities depending on who you choose. For example, the Allies have Omar Bradley, George Patton, and Bernard Montgomery; Patton and Bradley give certain benefits to tank units, while Montgomery favors foot soldier boosts.

Another new addition is a star system based on points. The better you do in a mission, the more stars you’ll earn. Stars unlock greater abilities and boosts for each of your commanders, allowing you to start missions with an advantage and making it so you can mix up your strategies on mission replays.

In our demo, we played from the perspective of the Allies in the Battle of the Bulge, the iconic 1944 German offensive on the Western Front in the latter stages of World War II that is directly attributed to lengthening the war by several months. We also played the Battle of Stalingrad, another German offensive, this time playing as the Germans as they pushed towards the Volga River in 1942.


If you’re not intimately familiar with these battles, a lot of the scenarios that Sudden Strike 4 throws at you can be something of a shock. Covering the retreat of heavy artillery, holding ground against wave after wave of enemy tanks, minefields on city streets, and more were on display in the two missions shown to us. Surprise objectives like rescuing soldiers trapped in a factory, or forces occupying nearby buildings for ambush pinch attacks also forced me to adjust tactics often and quickly on the fly. Without the potentially unlimited resources seen in other RTS games, though, this meant that a wrong choice would often lead to defeat—or, worse yet, an impasse with the units you may have been left with.

Although frustrating at times, Sudden Strike 4’s limitations also give a truer sense of war that you often don’t find in games anymore—nevermind the RTS genre. You could always restart, but with each mission lasting upwards of an hour, there is also a heavy sense of commitment with every move you take on the field. It caused me to think and re-think every maneuver several times, and even then I ended up with a skeleton force at best surviving each encounter.

In this sense, if you’re looking for a true test of your strategic ability, it appears Sudden Strike 4 is ready to deliver. With detailed environments and accurate representations of World War II’s greatest conflicts, Sudden Strike 4 is a welcome addition to a genre that needs a shot in the arm. The only other question I have with the game is if it can transition to console. Real-Time Strategy titles have a history of faltering when they move away from PC, and the fact that the game is being made for both PC—where our demo took place—and PS4 has me concerned. It’ll be interesting to see if it can roll to victory on both platforms in Spring 2017.


In Soviet Russia, Game Plays You!

World War II has long be fertile ground of video games, and for good reason. There are clear-cut good guys and bad guys, enough conflict to tell the story of countless heroes, and plenty of opportunities to romanticize the cultures and countries involved. There’s one area of the war, however, that games have long had a blind spot for: the Eastern Front.

As the Germans continued to spread out across Europe and into North Africa, they found their greatest difficulties arose when they attempted to cross the Ural Mountains and conquer the Soviet Union. The USSR, of course, fought using attrition warfare, whittling down German forces, take advantage of the long Russian winters, and even destroying some of their own resources to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Many believe it was this strategy and prolonged conflict that finally led to the fall of the Third Reich.

But that’s enough history for today.

Company of Heroes 2, THQ’s follow-up to the popular real-time strategy game, looks to explore this rarely represented conflict—and take full advantage of those long Russian winters as well. Earlier this month, I got to go hands-on with both the single-player and competitive multiplayer modes, giving me a chance to see firsthand what it’ll take to survive along the Eastern Front.

During my single-player time, I tackled a mission that tasked me with building up the Russian forces and conquering three strategic points along a riverbed. The bleakness of the winter setting was immediately apparent, as a whirling snowstorm blew in and hindered my onscreen vision. I also saw the effects of hypothermia set in on my troops, causing them to take ill and requiring me to build fires to keep them warm while we waited out the storm.

As I started my advance across the frozen tundra, I approached the riverbank and experienced another new dynamic as German tanks started moving across the ice towards my position. The game advised me to use mortars to blow holes in the river to sink the German tanks. It would hinder my progress, shrinking the lanes my troops could use to cross the river, but considering the damage it would do to the German armor line, I was left with little choice. As the Panzers sank to their watery graves (in exquisite detail for an RTS game, I might add), I was able to advance across what was left of the frozen river and conquer the objectives with little resistance from the remaining German forces.

While much of this single-player excursion played out like most other RTS games with regard to stockpiling resources, building units, and attempting to use superior strategy to overcome our foes, the new environmental hazards and dynamic terrain were a joy to play around with. From minor visual details like tank tracks in the snow to the new tactical options afforded by the winter elements, there were enough innovations here to make the standard RTS gameplay feel novel and fresh.

After thumping the Germans in the single-player mode, I was afforded the chance to take on some human opponents in versus multiplayer. Wanting to continue to experience the cold Russian winters, I tried out some new maps—including one where the middle capture point was placed on a tiny sliver of land surrounded by a frozen lake. Here, after my experiences in the single player campaign, I made my greatest RTS stand in quite some time.

Allowing myself to fall behind early and basically giving my opponent the middle capture point, I settled in around my base and began to build. Tank after tank after tank would soon dot my base’s perimeter. With only 50 or so points between me and defeat, I sent my armor columns onward towards the middle point. My German opponent did not stand idly by while I built my forces up and had quite the armor division himself by the time we faced off for our grand conflict.

He had unwisely placed much of his armor on the fragile ice, though. With a few well-placed barrages from my tanks, I sent much of his armor to the bottom of the lake and deployed a single engineer to capture the point. Thanks to my shelling, I’d set up a natural barricade of broken ice that my opponent was unable to overcome. Victory was mine, and it was time to break out the finest Russian vodka to celebrate!

Much like the single player campaign, the multiplayer was tremendous fun, and having to balance the elements along with the unique terrain made for a RTS experience unlike any other. What’s more, the level of detail on each unit and locales is almost unheard of in an RTS. If the small snippet of game play we saw was any indicator, Company of Heroes 2 should be a must-have game for strategy fans and World War II buffs alike when it launches on PC in 2013.

Originally Published: March 8, 2011, on Original-Gamer.com

I had a chance to go and get a first hand look at some of the new titles being launched this spring from SEGA. The next title that I looked at is the PC exclusive Total War: Shogun 2, a real-time and turn-based strategy games based in feudal Japan. Shogun 2 adds a lot of brand new features on top of the first Shogun including new clans, provinces, and naval battles and will be available March 15, 2011.

Originally Published: September 29, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com and NationalLampoon.com

I reviewed RUSE for the Xbox 360. RUSE is a turn based strategy video game taking place in World War 2 and is also available on PS3 and PC.

Originally Published: September 18, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

I review Halo Wars from Microsoft for the Xbox 360 from February 2009. A new look for the Halo universe in this RTS (real-time strategy) video game set 20 years before the original Halo! This video game review features Halo Wars video game play footage and commentary.

Revolutionary Ravens

Originally Published: September 13, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com), Examiner.com, and Lundberg.me

I always love to see a game company take a risk and try new things, especially in a recession when you see most developers avoid risks and just develop more proven franchises in the hopes of maximizing profits.

Of course, they are called risks for a reason. Sometimes people may not be receptive to the idea or the execution isn’t as tight as it needs to be and sometimes the idea sounds great until you actually see it implemented. I think Raven Squad for the Xbox 360 and PC falls into that latter category.

The setting is the jungles of Brazil a couple of years from now and you play as a group of six mercenaries who are broken into two groups of three for assault and infiltrating purposes.

You are on what is advertised as a standard mission to take down some local drug runners. It is only later you find out you have been dropped into the middle of a Brazilian Civil War. Now, you have to try and navigate the lush Amazon Rainforest as you dodge bullets and maybe restore a little peace along the way, as you and your squad mates try to find an escape route that doesn’t involve your heads on stakes.

The plot may not be the most original, but when executed properly, everyone loves mercenary first-person shooters. The twist with Raven Squad is that it is also a real-time strategy game.

What? A FPS and RTS all in one game? I know, I did a double take myself when I heard that since I can’t remember it being tried on this scale before.

The good news is that the transition between these modes is flawless and makes for interesting strategy development as you control one of your three man squads from the bird’s eye view of a RTS and move your other squad along the ground from the eyes of Paladin, the squad’s leader.

The problem with the RTS mode is that you can see the entire layout of the land and therefore make your FPS strategy according to that. Since you see where all the enemies are, there is almost no point to the FPS mode since it is so much easier to take out your enemies from RTS view while the enemy A.I. stays in a FPS state the entire time. This additional mode also consumes so much disk space that the graphics in FPS mode are poor at best and the music and voice acting is abysmal.

The defense for this is that the developers say they were aiming to play off the cheesiness of the 1980s movies this was based off, but I have a hard time buying that because cheesy would be a compliment to the poor acting performances given in this game.

Another poor aspect of the game is that there is a nice co-op mode with each person being able handle one of the three man groups, but there is no versus mode where this game needed a 12 player total team vs. team versus mode to really make it worth more than a once playthrough.

So an unoriginal plot mixed with bad peripherals, no versus mode, and an interesting concept usually isn’t enough to garner a buy for a game, but if you were as curious as I was when I heard they were mixing RTS and FPS elements, Raven Squad would probably be a very solid rental for you.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest.

Graphics: 6.0: The graphics are sub-par for a FPS, but pretty solid for an RTS. Since this combines many of both, but the cut scenes look very poor, I can only give a below average score.

Audio: 4.0: The worst voice acting I have ever heard, hands down. The music is alright and the SFX work, but the voice acting is a constant reminder of nails on a chalkboard.

Plot/Plot Development: 7.5: It is hard sometimes to look at the plot objectively since the dialogue drives most of it and the dialogue isn’t bad, just the people delivering it. So when I finally look at the actual plot, I don’t feel bad about giving it an average score. Nothing original about it, but it makes sense and flows well.

Gameplay: 7.0: A few obvious glitches are annoying, but not enough to take away from the overall experience. The smooth transition from RTS to FPS mode and back are nice, but the execution, especially in FPS mode, is average at best.

Replay Value: 4.0: Aside from a co-op multiplayer mode, there really isn’t a lot to bring you back for this game. A versus mode would have been fantastic and no collectibles to speak of really means this game doesn’t offer a lot to bring you back for.

Overall (not an average): 6.0: Like I said at the beginning of the article, I love it when game developers take risks on games with different ideas. Unfortunately not all of them pan out the way they were originally imagined. The concept of a RTS/FPS game is great, but once executed, you see that the game is just too simple as you can use it to basically cheat as the A.I. operates in a FPS mode the entire way through. When you can see the enemy and they can’t see you, it is very easy to win.

Raven Squad is available now for Xbox 360 and PC.

-Ray Carsillo