Preview

Real-Time Strategy Fans Are the Real Winners of Summer Game Fest

A bright future.

Age of Mythology: Retold
Microsoft

This year’s Summer Game Fest had tons of announcements, but amidst all the flashy reveals, I noticed an interesting trend. Real-time strategy games are on the verge of a massive renaissance. I was able to go hands-on with three different RTS games, and to my surprise, each brings a wildly unique approach to revitalizing the genre. Stormgate carries on the legacy of Starcraft with a dynamic asymmetric approach, Battle Aces tries to make RTS approachable to everyone, and Age of Mythology: Retold revitalizes one of the most important games of the genre.

I had extensive hands-on with all three titles, and left feeling more excited for the future of RTS games than I have in over a decade. If you’re a strategy fan there’s a lot on the horizon, and if you’re not, well, maybe it’s about time you give RTS a serious try. There’s never been a better time. Here’s how each game is pushing the genre into a comeback.

Stormgate

Stormgate is an asymmetric RTS that follows in the footsteps of Starcraft, and during the PC gaming show developer Frost Giant Studios unveiled the third faction for the game, The Celestial Armada. Asymmetric means each faction looks and plays differently, with their own specific units, research, and strategies.

During a Guerilla Collective event, I went hands-on with Stormgate and the new faction, which brings an utterly fascinating twist that feels unlike anything I’ve played in an RTS.

It’s easy to see the influence of Starcraft or Warcraft 3 on Stormgate, each faction plays drastically different and the game, in general, is focused on fast-paced play. Frost Giant has really emphasized streamlining hotkeys, trying to cut down on the amount of time you spend clicking around everything.

The Human Vanguard faction focuses on vehicles and offensive tactics, with units that can repair each other on the fly. The Infernal Host is a Zerg-like faction that sacrifices workers to make buildings and is all about quick unit production. These two factions have been talked about previously, but the Celestial Armada is by far my favorite of the three.

The Celestials are a completely mobile faction that has a capital ship called the Arkship as its focal point. This capital ship can move around the map, or set down and act as a massive turret. There are no workers for the Armada, rather you place nodes on resource points that automatically collect everything. The Celestials can build anywhere in the field around the Arkship, or next to other buildings, and have a unique resource called Power that dictates everything. Power is needed to keep your unit production buildings and turrets going, but it can also be used for specific abilities. Each Celestial unit has its own energy bar that lets it use a unique ability, and being near batteries you build can restore that energy. This means that keeping your units closer to your buildings essentially powers them up.

The Celestials are a fascinating twist on Stormgate’s asymmetric gameplay, a faction that’s entirely focused on being mobile and making use of the entire map, instead of building up your own base. Playing as the faction required me to rethink my usual RTS approach, but it’s a blast once you get the hang of things. Juggling the normal resources and power, on top of commanding all your units, can be incredibly stressful, but there’s so much potential. Keeping your Arkship moving can allow you to launch flanking attacks, ambushes, and keep your military flowing into multiple points. I don’t consider myself anywhere near a pro level, but I can already see the absurd strategies that high-level players are going to implement with the Celestials.

Stormgate as a whole is shaping up to be a strong contender in the RTS ring. Frost Giant has put a ton of thought into making each faction feel integrally different, but ensuring the interplay between them is also dynamic and interesting. Even more interesting is the game’s “BuddyBot” system, an AI helper that can be turned on for less experienced players, or those who want to streamline things. Buddy Bot will automatically get your workers to collect resources, build buildings, and even produce units in some cases. You can still manually control everything, but the point of this system is to take out a lot of the macro work and let players focus on military and strategy. It’s a surprisingly adept system that genuinely helps streamline the experience, and something I imagine could help make Stormgate one of the most approachable RTS experiences out there.

Stormgate launches on August 13 for PC.

Battle Aces

Battle Aces is a frenetic take on the RTS, giving you lightning-fast matches that challenge your skills at controlling units.

Uncapped Games

Battle Aces is a fascinating take on real-time strategy, one that practically feels like it’s finally bridging the gap between RTS and MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arenas). It’s a game laser-focused on lightning-fast matches that can be over in just a matter of minutes, but after an hour of hands-on I was blown away by how engrossing the experience is, how I already found myself in that mindset of “just one more match.”

Battle Aces features 1v1 or 2v2 matches that take place on small arenas, with one team on a corner, and the opposing team on the other. Before each match, you put together a team of eight specialized units, from a selection of over 45 different ones. These fall into different categories like flying units, heavies, light attackers, etc.

Streamlining the RTS experience is a huge part of Battle Aces; you don’t manually control workers, manually collect resources, or construct buildings. The entire focus is on building and commanding units.

You start with one resource base, and can construct others with the push of a button, which will automatically construct a resource base in the closest open slot on the map. What makes Battle Aces interesting is how it essentially flips the script on resource management.

You have a constant trickle of two resources, but because you can’t manually control workers, you instead need to be smart about which units you build, and how many. There are also no queue times for building, as units are built the very second you click or press the button to do so. That means all the strategy relies on you carefully balancing the units you’ve picked, then commanding them correctly to try and one-up the units your opponent has made.

What’s incredible is how easy Battle Ace’s interface is to use. Every action has been given an intuitive hot key that lets you get things done in seconds, whether that’s building military, doing research, or using a unit’s special ability. The relatively small size of the maps also means you can keep an eye on everything, and won’t have to zoom across the map wasting precious seconds.

Battle Aces feels like it’s designed with a kind of esports mentality, an RTS game for the modern age where you can jump in and play a few matches without getting bogged down. I was initially worried about this approach, as someone who loves turtling up and taking my time in an RTS. But any worry I had completely evaporated after going hands-on. Battle Aces is an absolute blast, and the wide array of units creates some serious depth for how you build your strategies and learn to counter the other players. It still has the heart of a classic RTS for longtime fans, but it feels different enough to work as an introduction to the genre, a bridge to even more.

Battle Aces doesn’t currently have a release date, but a closed beta begins later in June.

Age of Mythology: Retold

Age of Mythology: Retold’s graphical update looks absolutely stunning in motion, and makes the bright colors of the original game pop even more.

Microsoft

Age of Mythology is one of the greatest RTS games of all time, a tremendous package that boasts a massive narrative campaign, unique asymmetric civilizations, and an incredible setting and theme. Age of Mythology was originally developed by Ensemble Studios, the same team behind Age of Empires, and now the new stewards behind AoE are taking on a full-blown remake.

In a short 15-minute demo I got to try this newly remade version of Age of Mythology, and even in just a small snippet, I’m unbearably excited to see the full thing come together. Retold looks beautiful in motion, with the developers at World’s Edge really leaning into the mythological elements, giving everything a new coat of paint. It almost feels like you're controlling a little diorama of myths and legends you found at the museum, commanding your minuscule units to wreak havoc and destruction. The visual aesthetic really works and helps emphasize the bright and bold colors of the original game. Retold is even more graphically impressive than Age of Empires 4, but integrally it still feels like classic AoM with just a few quality-of-life tweaks.

During our demo, the development team noted that God Powers, which were single-use in the original game, will now be on a cooldown timer. More powerful abilities will, of course, take more time to recharge. You can also activate a unit’s myth abilities on your own, instead of them being automatic, which can drastically change your strategic approach, allowing for more macro control. Even the basic controls just feel tightened up a bit, making Age of Mythology even more satisfying to play.

I don’t want to go too deep into the mechanics of Age of Mythology, as you can simply go play the original game if you want to get that. But as someone who plays the original game on a yearly basis, Age of Mythology: Retold already feels like everything I could have wanted. It’s a reworking that keeps the vibrant spirit of the original alive while paving the way for a new generation to experience it.

World’s Edge also, apparently, has quite a bit of post-launch support planned as well, including two brand-new campaigns. One of these campaigns will focus on a brand-new Chinese mythological civilization, somewhat in line with the Tale of the Dragon DLC developed by Forgotten Empires, and released in 2016 alongside Age of Mythology: Extended Edition.

It’s great to see one of the most important RTS games ever come back, but even better to see it given tremendous love and care by a development team that clearly loves Age of Mythology.

Age of Mythology: Retold launches on September 4 for PC and Xbox Series X|S.

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