For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been struggling through a drought of new PC games. But instead of randomly purchasing new titles, I decided to go back and play two of my favorite RTS titles: Warcraft 3 and Empire: Total War. During the nostalgic moment, I noticed one distinct element; they both implement the hero system.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that heroes are important to the RTS genre. On the other hand, it is a concept that is often overlooked. It’s an idea that seems so basic, but at the same time, it gives the genre a much needed boost. For this week’s Soapbox, I will be exploring the relationship between Player and Heroes.
Before Warcraft 3, I never encountered a system that rewarded players for their survival and aggression in the way that it did; it was always build, mass, over run. Instead of blasting a battalion into the enemy, hero control taught me how to micro manage every unit until their very last breath. For example, the Dread Lord’s Vampiric Aura restores nearby friendly unit’s HP. While attacking an enemy force, I would always pay specific attention to units receiving heavy amounts of damage.
Damage dealt is life gained. Instead of letting one unit receive all the damage, simply removing the unit away from the action, so that enemies would focus on different units is extremely detrimental to the game. It prolonged a unit’s life, added damage to the fight and restored HP. As a result, it added much more depth to the game, and it taught me control and patience.
Similarly, special hero abilities and boosts are the strength of one’s armies and the demise of the enemy. It’s the abilities and boosts that give armies the edge in battle. Without them, armies are vulnerable, generally resulting in the death of any player or computer. As the general of my armies, it was always better to sacrifice a handful of common units than lose your captain.
On the other hand, while playing Empire: Total War, I noticed that strong leaders are only gained through experience. There is always the option to buy leaders, but they are generally expensive and they are never as strong as experienced veterans.
Also, the game created a sentimental relationship between George Washington and I. While playing the game, I always went to such great lengths to avoid his death. He gave my units morale boots, and in return, I supported him with virtual currency (Sucker!). Aside from that, losing George Washington never felt right. Whether he lived or died, the game always went on, but it was never the same.
Why is this important? The porting of heroes into RTS titles drastically changed the way we play the game. In Starcraft, the game was based on fast fingers and extreme dexterity. The person who could build the largest army the fastest was generally the winner, but when Warcraft 3 was released, it drastically changed the style. It placed a heavier emphasis on control and patience. When you lost your heroes, it generally meant certain death. Of course battles could still be won, but it was much harder.
Aside from hero control, basic hero management extended to basic game play. Resources are scarce, new units are costly, and training is time consuming. Taking the lessons from hero control and applying it to basic unit management ultimately made players smarter. As a result, the relationship between hero and player is often overlooked, but it is a link that should be examined closer.