Confusion abounds. There’s mayhem everywhere, and limbs flying in all kinds of bizarre directions. Cries of agony fill the air, and no-one has a clue what’s going on.
And that’s just me playing the tutorial.
Domination- turn based stragegy in the Massive Assault universe
You see, I’m something of a strategy novice. I generally can’t be bothered playing RTS games, because I find learning the strengths and weaknesses of the units just too time consuming. I spend all day thinking: the last thing I want to do is spend my leisure time thinking some more. Give me Burnout 3 any day.
So it was with some trepidation that I approached Domination, the latest title from strategy specialists Wargaming.net. Taking place in their Massive Assault universe, the game pits the Free Nations Union against the Phantom League for control of land, with control being won by your usual methods: territorial occupation, tanks fighting other tanks, etc etc.
The first thing that attracted my attention to Domination was the fact it was turn based. Rather than the frantic unit creation and micro-ing of RTS titles like Warcraft or C&C, my initial anticipation of Domination was that it was going to be rather more like a game of chess. In fact, to get closer to the mark, I figured it was going to be more like a game of Warhammer on table-top: turn based, different phases within each turn, your strategy primarily defined by quick calculations about the total firepower of your strike-force against the collective armour and modifiers of your enemy. In short: Excel with pretty graphics. In hindsight, I was right.
The second thing that I realised about Domination was that I had absolutely no clue what was going on. With no familiar backstory to go by – for example, almost anyone can pick up Warcraft 3 and know what to start doing, or what the units are - attempting to jump into the single-player campaign was absolutely fruitless, and I was totally lost within about 30 seconds and annihilated in about 3 minutes. After all, who reads the manual? It struck me how much a familiar universe can benefit games. Tail between my legs, I figured that the tutorial should help me out.
I'll reward you personally
Which is where I was only partly right, because the tutorial is absolutely one of the most idiosyncratic things I’ve ever had the fortune to experience. It starts by guiding you through movement and combat, with the help of an appallingly bad voice cast and some equally dodgy dialogue. It moves onto some of the more complex elements of combat, introducing some only to tell you that ‘We’ll learn more about that later’. It gets very repetitive very quickly, but I’ve come to the conclusion that that aspect must be by design – it’s only by doing these things over and over again that you actually work out what’s going on.
And if you’re bored, you can just read more of the dialogue. It’s hilarious, although perhaps not intentionally so. There are several laugh-out-loud moments: upon completing a very boring tutorial mission, where your normal ‘Congratulations, you’ve saved the empire!’ voiceover would be, there’s a female voice instead, who offers to ‘reward you personally, later.’ The sexual innuendo is so utterly out of left field that it knocks you for six.
But, having spent a brutal hour or so going through the tutorial, I found a strange thing occurring. I could sense myself feeling compelled to play the next mission. The battle tactics, that seemed so abstract in the stop-start tutorial context, slowly started to come together in my head. Attempting the single-player campaign again, I could see strategies on the map, I could understand the layout. I started to learn the strengths and weaknesses of my units and, whilst most missions are fundamentally the same thing, there are enough different landscapes and permutations of situation to keep things different and interesting.
Stop looking at my b...
The actual tactical play itself can become incredibly involving. The slow-paced gameplay really gives you time to think about your moves, and one has the feeling of outwitting your enemy far more than in an RTS, which can all too often feel like a race. If you’re the kind of gamer that enjoys the Total War games, then this will definitely appeal.
After a few hours bashing away at it, I’m utterly addicted. Despite the ropey presentation, the gameplay is compelling and thoroughly absorbing. If you can find someone of your standard to play against online – and beware, most of these guys are incredibly good – then the game gets even better, because it becomes a real battle of minds, rather than one mind vs some silicon.
Looking at the negatives, there are definitely some game decisions that don’t make too much sense. If you invade a neutral territory, guerrilla fighters in the area will put up resistence. If you lose against them, the territory automatically falls into the hands of the enemy. Logically, that doesn’t make sense – why doesn’t it just go back to being held by neutral guerrillas? Do they run for the nearest rival like a jilted lover?
But if you can forgive the presentation and the odd illogicality, Domination really rewards perseverance. There are plenty of missions to keep you occupied, and you’ll be a strategy master by the time you come out the other end.
Domination is out in the middle of June, and it only costs 18 quid from Play.com. Why not give it a go? It might just be the most enjoyable war game you’ll play this year.
(Bootnote: one of my military subordinates just told me to stop looking at her breasts. If we had a kooky dialogue award, Domination would get it.)
bit-tech rating: 8/10. Enjoyable tactical fayre, if a little difficult to get into.
Hit up the next page for our look at the game engine...