Every now and again, gamers will come across this strange compulsion: the desire to continue playing something, while battling an almost constant internal monologue about how rubbish the game actually is.
I’ve had that experience playing, of all things, Command & Conquer: Rivals. I don’t know why it’s still installed on my phone, given my earlier distaste of the loot box system, RPG mechanics in an RTS, and the bizarre base-holding mechanic that prioritises position over destruction.
There was plenty of scepticism when EA announced that the C&C RTS franchise was getting a mobile revival this year, and understandably so. Free-to-play mobile games have to walk a fine line, one that balances fairness with the financial realities of development. Too often games veer on the wrong side of that divide, funnelling players through systems that either tacitly or openly encourage them to spend money to stay on the right side of the power curve.Read more
The full experience is even worse than I’d hoped, after spending around twenty hours with the game split over many, many toilet breaks.
Let’s be blunt: there’s nothing quite as frustrating as getting slowly ground into submission because you haven’t been fortunate enough to open a loot box that contains the precise unit that actually has the counter you need.
More units in Rivals become available as you level up, although levelling up is based off a win/loss system. You’ll get more points for winning than losing, but the more you lose or run into opponents who are better equipped, the longer that takes. And when you do finally level up, you’re not automatically granted access to new units — you have to unlock those through loot boxes.
And that’s after having ground through the first four levels to unlock NOD in the first place. All matches were GDI on GDI affairs up until that point, and as anyone who’s spent a lengthy amount of time climbing competitive RTS ladders would know, mirror matchups are often the least interesting.
Once you do unlock NOD, you have to deal with the fact that your army composition is horrifically limited. You’re essentially playing with tier one units, with the exception of the Rockworm, which takes an age to burrow underground before rising up and obliterating infantry and heavily damaging vehicles nearby.
It takes much longer to level up from level 4 to level 5, so you’re spending much longer playing with the same army composition. Unless you ignore NOD entirely and continue messing about with GDI. But I made my C&C faction choice decades ago. The games were interesting because of NOD, because of the Russians, and the absurd tech the Allies/GDI had to invent to counteract that.
Of course I don’t want to play GDI. NOD might still be humans, but the toys they get to wield on the battlefield are infinitely more interesting. Why gate so much of it behind such a frustrating wall? And when you eventually hit an opponent who’s supposedly the same level as you, but starts deploying units and tricks you simply don’t have access to, I genuinely wonder why I bother.
But part of the reason why I persist is that there’s little else that provides that competitive RTS flair, without going down the MOBA route. Sure, Clash Royale has a huge scene and there’s no problem getting games. But it’s not the brand of strategy I want, and I don’t want to run the risk of getting into a 20 minute-plus game of Arena of Valor. After all, I don’t have that much time on the loo — and if I’m on the train, there’s zero chance I’ll be able to finish the game before hitting a mobile black spot.
So I continue with Rivals, despite my intense desire for literally anything else.
But what about yourselves: what games have you played despite having an active dislike of the content within?