It all started with this.
I watched it. I was angry. I thought “EA? Mobile? Beloved IP?”, and I immediately recalled Dungeon Keeper Online. One of my favorite game series and franchises, transformed into a monstrosity. An abomination that I denounced to the depths of abyss back when I was in games media. Ugh. I’m still not over it, I don’t think I’ll ever forgive EA for that. So, I was initially pretty sure where C&C:R was going.
That said, part of me wanted to give it a chance because to be honest, I’ve been asking for mobile games with franchises I liked. I’m playing runners or match-3 games on mobile, why shouldn’t I play it with a skin that I’ll enjoy more? I didn’t have hopes for a good game, but I thought I’d at least take a look.
And at Gamescom 2018, I had the opportunity to visit the EA hall, where I saw C&C:R. As my colleagues were headed towards a meeting, I thought I’d take a look. You know, just to see. But then, as you might have guessed from the tone, I actually liked it! Since my visit, I’ve been playing the game and having fun as well. In fact, I’m here to play the devil’s advocate: I think C&C:R is promising!
It’s not *that* bad, really
First things first: It is obviously NOT the next C&C in any shape and form. It’s not even a C&C port. It is not what you, me or any fan had been expecting. And I would have enjoyed a new RTS in PC for sure. Seriously, reader, I’m with you on this one. But I also think we need to break some prejudices.
- IP does not mean genre. Warcraft started as RTS, became an iconic one. But today we have World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, two games set in Warcraft that set standards for completely unrelated genres. It’s true for even C&C: We all loved Renegade, did we not? Warhammer has RTS, TBS, TPS, FPS, RPG and a variety of mobile games. For sure, if there was another C&C game coming out it’d be better, it’d be great. But inherently, different genre happens and a lot of times, pleasantly too.
- Mobile does not mean bad. Of course, there are many, many bad examples. But there are several good ones as well, if you aren’t aware. For example, I met Telltale on mobile. Hearthstone is on mobile. More and more games are on switch (not “mobile” per se, but still a non-pc version.) A lot of games have mobile versions. They are NOT replacements. Do NOT treat them as replacements. A well-designed mobile game should have some simplicity, preferably quick game rounds etc. That is why PC designs being ported to mobile almost always turn out terrible (unless they are simple in their original design, such as Telltale games or Fortnite.)
- Free2Play does not mean bad. Now, we even have more cases of bad examples here. I know, I’m part of the industry. However, f2p is changing. It’s true that a lot of the companies still think like it’s 2010 and go for pay2win models, but the ones that make it work nowadays are mostly the ones that offer true alternatives to paying.
- EA does not mean b- Joking, this is the part that still worries me. But I also don’t feel comfortable discarding the work of developers. That’s why I gave it a chance. More importantly, if enough people give it a chance, EA may decide that they don’t need to interfere. Otherwise, players themselves may be pushing this game into the EA pit.
Enough about this stuff, let me talk about the game, because honestly, I think the design isn’t half bad.
Outside the match, you have a roster of units and commanders. There are different pools of units: Infantry, Vehicle, Flyer and Elite (I actually made up the category names.) Before you enter a game, you select a load-out which consists of 6 units and a commander. The units and commanders can be grown in power but this doesn’t happen during a match. Each of them can train 3 times by spending in-game currency, gaining slightly higher stats. After this, you need to spend “cards” of that unit to level them up. Then you can train them again 3 times, rinse and repeat. Of course the costs to train and the amount of cards are increased every time, slowing your training progress in future. You also have an account level that increases as you play.
You find units, commanders, cards, in-game cash and premium cash from crates. Crates have rarity levels that grant you more resources. You get a couple free crate daily or so, plus each win earns you fuel. With fuel you can order a crate. that takes six hours to open. If your fuel reserves are full, you can spend one fuel to boost your order and decrease the order time by four hours! So mostly, crates take 2 hours to open. Also, these crates rarity changes: You can get rare/epic chests and I can tell you it happens often enough!
On top of that, you get 6 tasks per day. On top of the game currency you get per task, you also get a crate if you complete half the tasks. If you complete more, you get a chest with higher rarity. Tasks are not really hard to complete: Win games with a faction, send missiles, get kills with a certain unit etc.
So during the course of a day, if you do all your tasks you get one high quality chest, two low quality chests and a few chests of random variety. That is without paying anything at all!
Establishing Battlefield Control
The game itself is pretty straightforward, but with depth. You play in a rectangular map covered in hexes. Each side has a base and you gain tiberium over time, more if you build a harvester. You start by constructing buildings, which appear on your base structure. Once that’s done, you can recruit relevant units (for example, Hand of Nod for basic Nod infantry.) Since buildings appear on your base itself, they can’t be destroyed separately.
On the map you have a bunch of hexes: blockers that only flyers can pass through, regular ones, ones with tiberium (that damages infantry of course) and capture points which can consist of 3–4 hexes (at least that’s what I’ve seen so far). You move in, you control the point. Enemy also moves in, it’s contested. You control more points than your enemy, the missile is yours and it forwards the timer. The important point here is that there is a single timer. So even if your enemy held the points for the majority of the timer duration, if you manage to push successfully at the last second and gain control, you are the one to launch the missile. Two missiles destroy your base, but it’s also possible to directly attack the base as well! Some units are especially good at it, so you need to watch out.
You can build harvesters to increase your income. You can build up to two, depending on your level. If they are destroyed, the enemy earns a hefty amount of tiberium. Good news is, your next harvester will be free, so your economic loss is temporary. Tiberium in the field will deplete, so your harvesters will move to different hexes in time.
A Good Commander is an Active Commander
What makes C&C: Rivals great is the control. Unlike most mobile games, you have to micro (individually control) your units. with the exception that the units will attack the first enemy entering their field of fire, pretty much like a regular RTS. Speaking of regular rts, fog of war also exists. Units don’t have special “abilities”, but they have certain strengths and weaknesses. Finally, each commander has a special ability activated with tiberium such as deploying turrets or healer units. These almost always lose health constantly, making them time-limited. Having more units slows your production which not only prevents snowball, but makes comebacks possible. You should never get complacent in Rivals.
You’ll see a lot of friendly faces here, such as the GDI Titan as a unit, Kane as a commander with the power to construct a Nod Obelisk. However, there is no story or any other mode whatsoever. The Community Manager in Gamescom told me they had thoughts but their focus was on the main mode at the moment.
Playing the game is simple, but the game is deeper than you might imagine. You need to think about your load-out, you need to think about your strategy, then you need to decide your tactics and execute them. Of course, your opponent will do the same, which means you need to anticipate moves and counter them when you can… which is basically how you’d describe any good RTS!
Even the micro has some depth. I have won combats purely because I out-micro’d an opponent, or vice versa. Like all RTS, you can choose to double down on conventional strategies, or you can do something unexpected. For instance, I had entered one match only to get a harvester kill for my daily task, but focusing on that turned out to be a surprisingly useful strategy since my enemy didn’t know how to deal with my missile troopers rushing his harvester and ignoring the control point. With the economic advantage, I managed to win the mid and end game and defeat him!
Tiberium Crystals are a Commander’s Best Friend
So, the question in mind: What can you buy? You can buy premium and in-game currency, so you can save time for training your units. You can buy crates and boost crates to be instantly opened with premium cash. From what I see, the only “direct” sale are limited packs. There is a starter GDI and Nod pack around 5 bucks, purchasable for a limited time that includes some cards and to be honest, I think that’s more than fair. They are cheap, one-time, and fair priced. And other than these, you buy what others spend time to get… which is pretty acceptable considering their “Fair Matchmaking” system.
The biggest selling point for me has been learning about this. To be clear, this system hasn’t been implemented yet, it’s being worked on. Basically, you have a power level of sorts and you will be matched with people close to your power level. Of course, this is a synchronous pvp (ie you don’t face AI but a real player) so sometimes finding a match can be hard. In these times, you can indeed get matched unfairly. But then the game is called a Challenge game, announced openly at loading screen. If you are the weaker side, you do not lose your rank badges for losing this game but you earn double if you win! If you are on the stronger side, you aren’t punished, it works like a normal game for you.
In addition to that, depending on your “rank” or power level etc, there are unit caps. Let’s say you are at a rank where the unit cap is level 10. Even if your opponent has a scorpion tank at level 15, it will be lowered to level 10 for the match.
All things considered, if Redwood delivers their promises, Rivals will not only be a non-p2w game, I’d say it will be on the side of skill specifically. First of all, you can’t just win with stronger units. Second, you will get matched with people who has similar power. So if you just have fancy units and don’t know how to play, it’s more likely that you get outplayed and lose.
Yes, it’s not the C&C everyone expected, but it’s a decently designed game. I hope players will give it a chance so it succeeds on its own and EA won’t need to apply their “magic.”