On the subject of my latest Exon video, I was told it “looks a lot like Warzone 2100“. I replied that I had never heard of this game, let alone played it, but if it’s an a late-90s/early-00s 3D game then I’m interested.
Turns out that not only is it a grotty old 3D RTS, but it was open-sourced in 2004 and is now patched-up and totally free. Jackpot!
There’s a certain structure to classic RTS campaigns that has always puzzled me. Every mission in Warcraft III or pretty much any big name, your army must rediscover technologies every time they enter the field. Upgraded your armour in one mission? Can’t take it with you! Improved your swords? Nope, drop ’em. (Hell — you can’t even take your actual soldiers with you.)
Of course these things are designed for skirmish gameplay, online player-versus-player battles where everyone must start with nothing and proceed along fair lines to ensure a balanced match, but that setup disintegrates as soon as you introduce a persistent storyline. (And WC3 let you carry your heroes and all their items! Why were their armies always so forgetful?!)
I see that Warzone 2100 has some rather nice answers to this problem.
It begins simply enough: you are plopped down into a little level with a command centre and a few trucks and told to get building. You assemble a small army of wheely gun turrets and wander out to splash the locals because… Well, they do shoot at you first.
Then the map gets bigger. Instead of telling you to replay the universe all over again in the next area, your world is extended and your tanks have to drive a little further to meet their foes. No big deal.
Except then you are sent out to places far beyond your home base, via transport airship. While some of these excursions must be completed with only the ten units you put on board, dungeon crawl style, others allow you to continue managing your home base via remote — mainly to tell your factories to churn out reinforcements and bring them over in batches. Once you’re done and you come home, your base is just as you left it (except with all those new units parked up, of course).
After a foray over the air you might come home to find your base map has expanded again and you need to rove out further or defend against attackers. Jumping between totally distinct areas and numerous expansion stages stops the campaign from becoming too monotonous and keeps things fresh — and it means you can really get attached to your base as you need to expand its fortifications to respond to each threat. Most of these holiday missions bring in new technologies to research, so a following home base objective is a welcome opportunity to try out some new toys.
The entire theme of the campaign is recovering “pre-Collapse” technology in a post-apocalyptic world, which plays nicely into limiting the tech tree to stages that are ultimately analogous to the arbitrary limits of traditional RTS campaigns. Instead of only being able to upgrade armour once in mission one but somehow twice in mission three, you are limited by what what technologies you’ve scavenged up to that point in the plot.
Unfortunately, the campaign is completely linear, so there’s no choosing what tech to go after and thereby personalising your forces further (beyond choosing what to research immediately and what to queue up for later), but at least there’s a solid narrative justification for progress. It might be possible to miss one or two if you’re not thorough, but, eh, you know me…
Though, in raw terms there doesn’t seem to be all that much content. I’ve so far played through the Alpha campaign, just started on Beta and with Gamma still to come, and it’s been pretty consistent throughout. The landscapes are uniformly rocky mountains, though I have enjoyed exploring the winding canyons in search of enemy outposts. Enemies are mostly “scavengers” with cute little Mad Max-style sports cars and buses with guns mounted atop them, and even tiny infantry that fall like flies to any of your weapons; but when enemies aren’t scavengers, they’re no different than you, rolling out the same tanks and defensive emplacements, albeit often one tech level ahead.
Though in what I believe to be the final mission of the Alpha campaign, I was finally treated to water and hovercraft that can cross it — and Beta has just started in a delightful ruined city, so maybe it was just a bit slow to start.
So while Warzone 2100 might be simple, that just makes it refreshingly concise and straightforward; throw in some great artwork, music and fun mission structure and you get a thoroughly enjoyable little package. Mind you, because there is so much obvious room to grow, that’s got me thinking… dangerous thoughts.
It is, after all, open source…