Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: What’s your favourite strategy game?
GameCentral readers discuss the best strategy games ever made, from Command & Conquer to Fire Emblem: Three Houses.
The subject for this weekend’s Inbox was suggested by reader Tolly and was inspired by the unusual number of new strategy games that have been released on console and PC this summer.
The most common suggestions included classics such as Civilization, XCOM, and Into The Breach, but while Advance Wars was also mentioned a lot, it was more in the context of people never having played it (since there hasn’t been a new one for years) than anything else.
The king of strategy
There can be only one answer for this and it’s got to be Civilization. I remember playing the second game on my very first PC and was absolutely engrossed, even though I was nine or something and probably should’ve been playing platformers on my Mega Drive.
Civilization is one of the few strategy games that I think everyone has heard of, even if I’m not sure whether they know how it works or not. It’s actually very simple at the basic level, as you explore the map, and try to build-up cities in areas with enough natural resources to help you research new technologies and expand your empire.
It gets more complicated in the late stages of the game but the combat is basically just walking up to an enemy and bumping into them, so there’s not much to get your head round if you want to give it a go. I do advise it though as I firmly believe it’s one of the best games ever made and if you only play one strategy game it should be this.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t say I was much of a strategy buff but one franchise I do really enjoy is Fire Emblem, so you can imagine how happy I’ve been at its recent leap in popularity and success. While I do accept GC’s criticisms of Three House, and certainly wish it had been given a bigger budget (or that Tecmo Koei were better developers) I’ve still loved its mix of strategy and role-playing.
The gameplay is very similar to Advance Wars (which I dearly miss) especially now they’ve all but got rid of the weapons triangle for swords, axes, and lances but as well as controlling battles in the turn-based mode you also get to talk to people like in a role-playing game.
At first this all seems a bit silly and even creepy but gradually the characters open up and you realise they’re a lot more well-rounded than they first seemed. Not only do you get more interested in what they’re about but by making and encouraging friendships they become much more efficient on the battlefield. It’s a brilliant mix of systems and even with the cheesy dialogue I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since it came out.
Whether it’s better than the 3DS games I couldn’t say at this point but I’d recommend them all really, if you want to see how good a strategy game could be.
I’m a great fan of the Total War series and have been pretty much since it started so I’m bound to say that, but which one is a bit trickier. In an unusual turn of events the series has got better pretty much ever time but has seen a particular upsurge in recent years, so I think the two main contenders are Warhammer I and II (basically two halves of the same game) and the Three Kingdoms.
The variety the different Warhammer races adds is fantastic and while I’m sure there were some fans that turned their noses up at all the xtreme fantasy stuff it really worked as a game. Three Kingdoms is a bit more sober but still quite extrovert compared to the earlier games, with the non-realistic play mode having basically superhero characters that get into cool little duels.
You can turn that off and play it as a historical epic if you want though and either way I find it very addictive and am constantly coming back to play as different characters. The graphics are really good too, which is not something you normally expect from a strategy game, so that’s another angle for people.
It’s a hard one, the original Command & Conquer got me into PC gaming and I’d followed it all the way to Kane’s Wrath, where I finally got fed up of it. I’m really quite excited for the remasters and hopefully that’ll lead onto Red Alert 2 being re-done and I can play online with my friend again. The fact that there is only one resource to worry about and the simple interface makes it a firm favourite.
But then, there’s Supreme Commander; the first one, not that watered-down sequel that came out.
Yeah it still takes a decent PC to run well even after all this time – it’s really the scope of the battlefields that bring this game into its own; such huge landscapes that you absolutely must have strategy to be viable. It didn’t have the same cheesiness as Red Alert’s units but they were so varied and bizarre they made each faction play incredibly differently. Ships that grow legs? Giant spiders that can crush smaller enemies just by walking over them? Artillery emplacements with enough range to cover the entire map? Love it.
I’m just really terrible at generating an economy in the game and I’m usually left badly behind but if I could get my head around that it would be my number one strategy game of all time.
Best vs. favourite
I have played a lot of strategy games, particularly those with role-playing elements. For example, Disgaea, Advance Wars, and Valkyria Chronicles are some of my favourite franchises.
The best strategy games I have played are SteamWorld Heist and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Both have excellent mechanics and are brilliantly executed.
The Hot Topic however asked for favourite strategy game and that is a toss-up between Disgaea 4 and Valkyria Chronicles 4. I am actually playing Valkyria Chronicles 4 at the moment, which has probably skewered my decision but it is currently my favourite strategy game. I have always loved the way you move the characters and aim in third person as it makes it more of a strategic, turn-based, action game than a straight-up tactics game.
Although the real reason Valkyria Chronicles 4 is number one for me is the humanisation of characters. The game is really four parts soap opera, one part strategy game. I was really tempted to nominate the antagonist Klaus Walz in last week’s Hot Topic, as he is effortlessly likeable and charming. There are not many video games characters I would describe as a gentlemen but Klaus Walz is one. And he is the bad guy!
Strategy games are likely to always be niche as the games industry is focused towards 18 to 25 year old males and strategy games appeal more to older people. However, as the gaming demographic becomes older I think strategy games will be able to maintain, and perhaps improve upon, their current levels of popularity. Especially if hybrid consoles like the Switch exist in future console generations as strategy games are ideal for portable systems.
I’d like to nominate a game that was mentioned briefly when Oxygen Not Included, by the same developer, came out and that’s Invisible, Inc. I haven’t played a lot of strategy games but this one caught my imagination and became one of my favourite PlayStation 4 games.
It’s kind of similar to XCOM (which is also great) but the theme is a sort of James Bond style spy story, which means that there’s a bigger emphasis on stealth than combat. It works brilliantly well and even though it’s turn-based it’s super tense when you think you’re going to be found out. If you don’t think strategy games can be exciting and emotional this is the one I’d suggest people try, it’s a really hidden gem.
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I don’t think I’ve ever played a real-time strategy game, unless something like Cannon Fodder counts, but my favourite turn-based ones are XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Into The Breach.
Enemy Unknown was the first XCOM (or any game of its type) I’d played but it was an extremely enthusiastic and convincing preview you put out in 2012 that got me on board and your very positive review sealed the deal.
For the first few playthroughs, I enjoyed it a lot but it wasn’t until I returned over two years later to get all the Achievements that I realised it was one of my favourite ever games. In late 2014 I played nothing else for three months straight.
I’ve played and loved XCOM 2 but have yet to give it the same dedication. I hope I end up feeling the same about it when I go back but Enemy Unknown just felt – I’m not sure if ‘simpler’ is the word; maybe more distilled.
One thing the series gets so right is how to break up the tactical missions to prevent them from feeling monotonous. The meta game that achieves this is one of the great delights of gaming, instilling an incredible sense of wellbeing and empowerment when things are going well and of panic when they’re not.
It’s a key element missing from a lot of similar turn-based games, including Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (to which I’d give a special mention but it really did need a higher level objectives system) and Fire Emblem (I only ever managed a few hours of Awakening but felt it was a bit too dry and slow in comparison).
I’ve typically gone on long enough but just a quick mention of Into The Breach, which is so perfectly suited to the Switch that it almost single-handedly consumed my entire Christmas holiday last year. I imagine (but can’t personally confirm) it’s similar to Advance Wars but that’s another one I never played. Again, it was your review that convinced me but the price for a game with such depth, replayability and variety of strategy should make it a no-brainer even for those who are apathetic to the genre.
That game also makes me wish XCOM 2 was somehow available on Switch, as I’d play it a lot more with the added convenience, but I’ve seen how much the PlayStation 4 struggles with it.
Above all, XCOM and Into The Breach both demonstrate how little all the distracting state of the art bells and whistles matter when met with intelligent design, depth and pure (distilled) satisfaction.
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