Thursday, July 15, 2010

Total Annihilation: Kingdoms

I've waxed on a bit now and again about Total Annihilation, one of the early greats of the Real Time Strategy genre. (Great why? It depends on who you ask. Some say it's because it was the first game of its kind with combat physics instead of percentage-based combat systems. Of course, increasingly it seems kind of like lots of RTS games are moving away from physics... Other than Spring, which hardly counts.)

I don't recall mentioning TA: Kingdoms, the black sheep of the TA family.

There's nothing wrong with it (based on the demo, which I've played, and which can still be found for free just about everywhere-watch out, though, the only site I saw a "free full download" hit for was called "The Pirate Bay"), and in fact, my sister adored it. Mostly because, in her words, the Zhon monarch was super-sexy. (If you're wondering, the Zhon monarch, Thirsha IIRC, was some kind of elf demon/bat person... thing.)

Well, I'm sure there was more to it than that...

Anyway, as I've intimated, it isn't too popular and is even less well known than TA (which isn't really hugely famous despite getting ranked high in most lists that rank that kind of thing-it's been number one on at least one top ten). Some TA players blame it moving away from TA's science fiction roots into a more sword-and-sorcery/dark fantasy paradigm, but the success of games like Warcraft and Kohan put the lie to that.

No, I think the problem with TA: K is subtler and more insidious than that.

In Total Annihilation, there were two factions, each led by a Commander (which I mentioned as one of the all-time greatest mecha here), a nearly all-powerful unit that could kill nearly anything, go nearly anywhere, build armies from scratch, capture units for one's own use, regenerate, and even turn invisible. (This was notable mostly because, in the first version of the game, it was pretty much the only unit that actually could turn invisible.)

In TA: K, they follow the same model, only with four "kingdoms" led by four "monarchs." The monarchs were more differentiated (one flew, one could turn invisible, one could resurrect units, one... um, I don't remember if the other one did anything special other than having a seeking attack, which unlike what Wikipedia will tell you, most of the monarchs did [in the demo, anyway]... Then there was the fifth race that was added in an expansion pack, and all I can tell you about that is that their monarch was some kind of clockwork tank guy), had magical attacks that were in ways at least even better than the TA Commanders' D-guns, and in-story were the four immortal siblings that warred with each other for domination of... someplace or another. It doesn't matter much, since the studio that made TA, Cavedog, was never big on story except in grand scope and vague terms.

Anyway, here's the issue: If playing outside of story mode, it is perfectly possible to have four to eight (or more) identical monarchs. In effect, up to however many identical unique immortals. This blows every circuit in my gameplay flavor-loving brain all at once.

In TA, of course, that kind of thing was never an issue. TA's Commanders were one-ofs in the storyline, but it was strongly implied that there had once been many dozens or hundreds on each side early in the war. Anyway, even if that hadn't been the case, they're still mechs, and thus easily replicated.

But in TA: K, it just doesn't quite work.

-Signing off.

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