Command & Conquer 4
Watching good ideas spread across the industry is one of the joys of being a gamer. Electronic Arts is borrowing many of the better concepts that have surfaced over the last several years for this next installment of Command & Conquer. Chief among the changes is the overarching, Modern Warfare-like persistence across all areas of the game.
Everything you do in C&C 4 feeds into your experience pool. Every enemy you blow up, every mission goal you achieve, and every match you win gives you points to buy fancy new structures, upgrades, units, and powers. Given how well this works in Modern Warfare, its adaptation to real-time strategy is great news.
To support this system (and to keep the pirates at bay), EA is forcing all C&C 4 players to be connected to its servers via the Internet at all times. Even if you’re playing single player, the game must phone home in order to run. Some gamers are understandably annoyed at EA over this decision. If Comcast does what Comcast always does and your DNS goes down, you can’t play. If a storm knocks out your net access, you can’t play. Some minor positives exist, such as the fact that your profile is stored server-side so that you can play from anywhere. Still, this has to be viewed as an inconvenience at best.
EA dodged the question when asked what happens in a few years when few people are playing C&C 4 any more, stating merely, “We plan to support C&C 4 for as long as there is a robust audience for it.” With the publisher’s history in this arena (see: Madden), that’s scant comfort.
Copy protection questions aside, there is much to look forward to on the design side of C&C 4. All-in-one mobile bases called Crawlers replace traditional base construction, and allow players to build or research whatever they like from one central location. EA touts this design as removing the focus on strict build orders at higher levels of play. Since Crawlers have combat capabilities as well, and different characteristics based on their owner’s role, they can be used tactically. EA gave us an example of a Support player’s aerial base flitting to wherever it was needed most on the fly, or an Offense player parking his Crawler outside an enemy base to pump out tanks directly to the frontline.
The Nod and GDI factions each have access to Offense, Defense, and Support roles. Each player chooses one at the beginning of a match, determining which units, upgrades, and powers he or she has access to. Don’t think of it as a rock-paper-scissors arrangement, though. EA is moving away from Red Alert 2’s hard counters and lightning-quick combat and focusing on soft counters in C&C 4. This ideally puts more emphasis on playing well overall, and less on spamming units that exploit your opponents’ weaknesses.
This role-oriented faction design supports C&C 4’s ambitious 5-on-5 objective-based multiplayer. Details on this mode are scarce at the moment, but EA points toward several key concepts that surround it. Support and defense are more important since the maps are much larger and more diverse, giving newer, less tactically skilled, or more different-minded players a vital role. Additionally, players can respawn, since defeat is no longer a victory condition for the other side.
Currently, C&C 4 is only announced as in development for PC. A brief look at EA’s recent history suggests that this is a temporary thing, though the company declined to comment on the possibility of other platforms for the title. Regardless, it’s good to see EA moving the franchise forward and taking some chances on new designs.