Command & Conquer Rivals Hands-On Preview
To say that Command & Conquer Rivals wasn't well received when it was announced at E3 would be an understatement. In the 23 since it was first released, the series has gained a huge following, a following that could mildly be described as pissed off when Command & Conquer Rivals was announced.
I was just resigned to knowing that the series was now dead when it came to full-fledged titles. Still, the chance to try out Command & Conquer Rivals at Gamescom (and beyond) was something I couldn't pass up. Having spent more time with the game than I expected to, there's something that needs to be said about it.
It's not bad. Okay, maybe that's not exactly something you'll see on the blurb of a game. To be fair, It's a compelling and fun game. The core concepts of resource gathering and base building (to an extent) are there. So are some of the more famous units and buildings from the Tiberium timeline of C&C games. You'll even see a bit of artwork, as you choose the character who is acting as your general for the fight.
The objective is much the same as you would expect as well, beat the opponent. Though sadly it's nowhere near as freeform as you would like it to be. You can, in theory, beat the enemy by whittling away at the HP of their base. Send in your units, fighting through their units, eventually claiming victory through sound tactical decisions eventually resulting in overwhelming force. That would be a lovely notion and it is a possibility, it's just that it will never happen.
Why? Because on every map there is a nuclear warhead. This warhead charges up when the platforms found within the map are occupied by either of the two forces facing off against each other. Every map I've played on so far has had three platforms. Naturally, you're going to want to control at least two of them to make sure you get the much-needed nuclear blast, which takes off half of the health of the enemies base. Two nukes equal a win, which is the strangest allusion to World War 2 I've ever seen, as unintentional as it may be.
The problem I have with this is that it can actually be a little too easy to win. At least most of the time, that is. I've rarely found myself struggling recently, as my tactics have adapted over time and once you're on top, it's just a little too easy to stay there. It's hard to truly complain about this because that is true of any game, but even with limited units, it's just a little too easy to stay on top here.
The best example I can give for this is playing as the GDI. The Titan unit for them seems almost impossible to stop when it's in place. There's so little to combat and counter it, it fires and takes a huge chunk out of an opponent before they even get a shot off. Get to the stage where you can build one and you've secured one platform - generally the closest one to you. Get three, the game may as well end right there, giving you a few units left over to do whatever's needed.
What I like is that Rivals does actually allow for good tactical decisions. There's naturally a unit count. If not, the map would just be littered and impossible to play. What it means is that you do have to think and play tactically. Likely the most important aspect is that you command the units yourself. This isn't a game like Clash Royale where units guide themselves, you are the general and you give orders. Allowing for tactics is also something the units are specifically designed for. Much like with Command & Conquer, and other strategy games, this works on a rock, paper, scissors style where units are divided into three types: Infantry, Vehicle and Aircraft.
To build these, you first have to build the respective building, each faction has four unit-creation buildings. What helps expand the strengths and weaknesses is that units can be strong against the units they are weak to. For example, Rocket Infantry are strong against and weak to both the Talon or Venom helicopters, and vice versa. You also choose a commander to take to battle. Each commander has their own special ability which can be anything from spawning a gun turret or repair drone, to a set of flame-troopers which arrive anywhere on the map in a digger.
I've had many maps where I will initially aim to destroy one, ideally both of my opponent's Harvester which instantly gives me 100 Tiberium - acting as the games in-battle currency. This generates, giving you 10 at regular intervals, which is speeded up as the battle progresses or if you have active harvesters. I've only encountered one person who countered that tactic. Normally battles will take between 3 to 6 minutes each. This lasted for over ten minutes and was a tense and engaging experience. One I sadly haven't been able to recreate, though I've still had a number of fun matches.
I was told by the EA rep I spoke to at Gamescom that Command and Conquer Rivals has been designed so you don't have to spend anything at all. Everything can be earned in game. From my personal experience, that certainly is true. However, the amount you actually earn is too low to make the impact you would logically want it to. You can purchase items and it will give you an advantage. How do I know? Because I was having a tough time of every fight - losing a few. Then I bought a few of the introductory crates, got a decent amount of gold and cards. All of my units are currently maxed out, waiting for me to level up as a general to let them level up further.
This is because, much like with Clash Royale, you upgrade your units with cards and gold. There is a level cap based on your level with the particular side - GDI & NOD have their own separate level - but once you've hit that cap, you're still going to have some very strong units. The advantage isn't too high that it's insurmountable, fortunately. It's said that this will improve even more as a result of what EA are calling Command and Conquer Rivals Fairplay. One element actually negates unit levels, capping them in-game to a limit set based on your rank, lowering them if necessary for that match. There's a lot to read there and, if implemented correctly, could be great.
None of this will really matter if EA doesn't do enough to improve the image of the game. During Gamescom EA's representative was unfortunate enough to ask me my thoughts on Command & Conquer Rivals before trying it out. Pulling no punches, I said I thought it was going to be utter crap and an abuse of the license. four matches later, I wanted to play more so I got myself into the closed alpha. Two weeks later, I genuinely think it's fun and surprisingly tactical, for a mobile title.
That's the crux of the matter, Command & Conquer Rivals isn't a full-fledged PC game. It's not the best mobile game out there, yet, nor will it'll ever be a world-class strategy game. Of course, it's a cash-in of a well-known franchise too. However, in a market full of titles that offer no real gameplay, designed to simply abuse a player's patience to get them to open their wallet, this is almost a shining light in the darkness. Especially as those titles are also cash-ins of other big brands. For a few examples of that, look at Final Fantasy: All the Bravest, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery and Dungeon Keeper Mobile.
What I'm truly hopeful is that EA Redwood will improve on what's there and expand its scope. I don't expect a full strategy title like the PC entries, but things can improve. One possibility is adding a different game mode, removing the nuclear option. You'd have to directly destroy the enemy base. That would cross the game over from a good mobile game to one of the best, potentially even worthy of the name. It won't be a replacement for a full title. Until that day, though, this could be one of the best mobile strategy games around.