A trailer for Middle Earth: Shadow of War was released recently, and I instantly got a jonz to return to a game that made me a juggernaut on the battlefield. As I recalled the many adventures had dicing up my foes and wrecking havoc in the midst of an entire encampment of orcs, I couldn't help but notice the real reason why this sequel makes me so eager to play it. Instead of going it alone, this time you are tasked with building your own army and leading them in assaults and defensive battles. In the back of my mind, a geeky giggling voice said, "YASSSSSS!"
One of the biggest draws for myself in games today is the open world feature. Games like Witcher 3, Skyrim, Fallout 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, and more all deliver on that grand scale of immersing you in a whole new world to explore. While I enjoy that, I can't help but desire to have a crew of followers that I can customize and command to populate and conquer all that I see! In each of those games, the adventure you partake in paints you as a lone adventurer that will save the world (or someone you love) in an epic way picking up 'allies' that assist you along the way. Fallout has their whole settlement structure that makes you defend your newfound bases from attacks so that you can have new income and resource generation to push your adventures along. Still, the whole dynamic feels a bit hollow considering those followers only can help you one at a time. They'll defend, but won't attack for you.
As a result, I think I've always leaned towards action games that tend to give you that sense of commanding numerous bots or at least teaming up with a significant number of players in an online battle. In the battle for my FPS attention, the Battlefield series always reigns supreme over the likes of Halo, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike, and the like. The reasoning is, simply put, due to the large scale warfare that involves just as much tactics as it does skill to 'get the win'. The large number of players on a typical game (along with great map creation of course) always gives me the sense of being able to contribute to the victory in more ways than just simply tallying the most kills. There you are expected to call out enemies you see, set traps for their vehicles, repair and supply ammo for your own, 'revive' fallen foes, and much more. The score system rewards you for such behavior and the result is a sense that you don't have to be the greatest killing machine to be skilled at the game. Even so, that doesn't even brush the surface of my large scale battle obsession.
As many of the Heed Geekswagg fam can attest to, many jokes have been made about my love of the Dynasty Warriors franchise. As one of the first games to really throw a ton of bots on the screen in a third person hack n slash game, you pull off ridiculous combos and 'KO' totals as you leap into battles with your Three Kingdoms general. Narrow my adoration down to one key game and you have a title called Samurai Warriors 2: Empires which to date is still my favorite Koei Warriors game EVER. There the whole general leading an army into difficult battles really took off. While not as strategic as an actual simulation game (such as Romance Of The Three Kingdoms or Total War) I still got a rush from ordering other generals to take their troops to take a certain outpost or to defend another. Not only that, they managed to incorporate a light-weight sim into the framework that had conquerable regions of Japan as well as formations, diplomacy, and kingdom 'building'. I spent countless hours bringing my created general up through the ranks until he was renowned enough to start his own empire and eventually unite Japan! Achievement Unlocked!
While that did satisfy a large scale itch that I had, again, I was no stranger to simulation games. Even before my Koei obsession was begun, I totally immersed myself into a Kingdom Under Fire: Crusaders which was probably a hybrid between Dynasty Warriors and other more traditional strategy sims. There your general was expected to take on the enemy (just as was done in Samurai Warriors) only you were also tasked with micromanaging all of your troops at the same time. You had to give orders to cavalry (where to charge to and from), position and fire orders to archers, commands to engineers to set traps and where, as well as orders for special units as well. With this layer of tactics, you recognized the value of spearmen versus cavalry, archers versus footmen and aerial units, and other ways to counter your enemies' size advantage by using surprise attacks or reinforcements. It was a difficult control scheme to master but the result was unlike ANY game I'd ever played!
Fast forward to recent times and you have amazing games like Mount and Blade Warband that have evolved the action strategy genre to near perfection! Filled with open field battles of hundreds of soldiers and sieges, Mount and Blade Warband set the stage for countless mods for medieval themed wars of all kinds. Whether it was Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, or any other fictional setting, Mount and Blade Warband caused you to consider formations, the type of units you have, and what equipment to outfit your 'heroes' with in order to stay alive in such large battles. All the while, your character had to wade through the battle him or herself. You really got the sense that your general was a champion and yet was still mortal as some battles could get away from you at any moment if you weren't careful. The result was intoxicating.
Watching the footage from Shadow of War, I marveled at the expansion of the Nemesis System which takes your battlefield management system in quite a different direction than most games. Rather than you issuing orders, you've other lieutenants that have their own 'personality'. As orcs, they could be fiercely loyal or even unloyal seeking to betray you at any given moment. The trailer showed your men assisting at just the right cinematic moment in battles against other overlords and generals. You also got a sense of the need to fill out your outposts with certain kinds of generals as well so that you'd have more success against the hordes of Mordor. The civil war you've begun seems quite immense in the game and my skilled thumbs eagerly await my chance to flex my orcish army.
I found that as I look through this next offering of games on the horizon, I am forever drawn to the Mount & Blade Warband or Kingdom Under Fire clones that manage to put you in the midst of the chaos. Issuing orders and swinging your legendary blade through the masses is a rush that pushes you to go beyond the mere 'I can kill everything myself' mantra that most games have. These large scale scenarios are more balanced to give the thinking gamer a chance to outwit his opponent in the most embarrassing way. When a game can allow you to be victorious when you are outnumbered without having your general kill thousands himself, that is perfection!
Until that day returns, I'll wear my kingly crown tipped to the side awaiting the next challenge to my digital throne!