In honour of the big battles of Total War: Rome 2, and the huge screenshots coming out, we’re starting a series of the biggest battles in PC history. We’ve got a few lined up, though there are many more than we could include - and this time we’re tackling the big early names in RTS: Warcraft vs Command & Conquer.
There’s a certain gravitas and loyalty that comes with being the first at something. And while you could say that there might have been fans flowing over from Dune 2 into the first Command & Conquer, the latter had to contend with a consistent brand, was Warcraft 2 became its main rival.
For many, Command & Conquer was their first look at the genre. Its cheesy FMV videos did it great favours, too. Neither system would come to be known as “the” RTS standard. C&C had its own way of unit production, with one side of the UI reserved for creating units. Warcraft had a decided focus on heroes, individual characters with player-executed abilities that would be deemed too powerful in other RTS games. But the unique nature of both games endeared loyal fans to them - people who felt that playstyle was the best for them.
You could say that Command & Conquer’s next true heyday was with Generals, and its expansion pack Zero Hour. It reached a nice, balanced state for competition, and was given a boost by being the game of choice for popular gaming personality teh_pwnerer, creator of Pure Pwnage. But if we’re including franchise offshoots, then one could argue we’d have to include Starcraft as well. And if we include Starcraft, then the winner of this RTS battle instantly becomes clear.
As much as fans wanted another real C&C, and the third would come to be known as a decent enough entry, it was widely accepted that the franchise went downhill after being bought out by EA. Fast forward a bit, and Command & Conquer 4 didn’t need any help in tanking. It was a fine game - just not a Command & Conquer game. And fans audacious enough to expect a true sequel were not happy with the RTS/MOBA hybrid they were confronted with. Another game that was never going to be very well received was Supreme Commander 2, Square Enix’s severely dumbed down version of the game.
Not to leave anything to chance, just as the aforementioned two games approached their release dates, Blizzard dropped the Starcraft 2 multiplayer beta, in a massive thunder-stealing move that turned the attention of just about every journalist and punter their way. The beta was by no means exclusive, and most of the balance kinks were already worked out. It was purely a marketing/anti-competition move, and it worked. While the Warcraft franchise was off in MMO land, Blizzard still had the last laugh in RTS.
But even considering Blizzard’s success with the first Starcraft, it didn’t make the custom map Aeon of Strife - just like it didn’t make Defence of the Ancients, despite owning Warcraft 3 - which is why DOTA’s various caretakers over the years have been free to go make Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, and of course, DOTA 2 at Valve. Considering the two most played games in the world now are League of Legends and DOTA 2 (in that order), it’s a missed opportunity that rather renders Blizzard’s “last laugh” more of an uncomfortable chuckle, with hints of regret.
We may yet see another great Command & Conquer. There are a few titles in the works, including a free-to-play game - but nothing that looks incredibly promising at this time. The hero-focused combat of Warcraft-style RTS may not suit everyone, but the success of Starcraft 2, and Warcraft’s offspring MMO, leaves no doubt who the winner in this rivalry currently is.