The Games To Play When You're Not Playing Starcraft

If the extent of your real-time strategy gaming extends to playing Starcraft and pre-ordering Starcraft II, boy have you missed a lot in the last ten years.

While Starcraft II looks pretty great, we know from the beta that the fundamentals of the game remain largely unchanged since the 1998 original. If you want more of the same, it looks set to be right up your alley, but if you'd like to see some of the changes and additions made to the genre over the past decade, you should read on.

Note: Every game I'm about to recommend is for the PC. I know there will be scores of other games you could recommend aside from these, but I've tried to stick to the most significant and recent titles. If you think you know something better, let us know in the comments below!


3D

Starcraft was essentially a two-dimensional strategy game. Like Command & Conquer before it, while the game map gave the illusion of height and depth, most gameplay – including that of the game's flying units - was limited to the X-axis. Maps featured only crude elevation in the form of "second levels", while aircraft couldn't adjust their altitude.

Later real-time strategy games have since embraced true three dimensional maps. This means sloping hills, river beds and a true sense of height. Not only does this look more realistic, but many modern RTS games use this 3D space in terms of gameplay; running up hills tires out infantry, etc.

See: World in Conflict, Total War series


COVER

Cover. It's the most important thing for a soldier on the battlefield, yet from Dune to Command & Conquer to Warcraft to Starcraft, developers either refused or were unable to implement the feature. Many games today make it a staple, however, and the addition of cover to the genre has revolutionised RTS gaming.

Relic's Company of Heroes remains the standard bearer for this feature; when moving infantry, you not only click on a spot on the map to move them, but arrange how the troops will deploy behind cover, and are even told how effective that cover is from enemy fire by a colour-coded feedback system.

No longer are infantry meat for an eternal grinder; they can now be safely moved across maps and safeguarded.

See: Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, Dawn of War II


RESOURCES

One of the most important aspects of Starcraft is resource gathering. You can't build troops without minerals and gas, so half your time in the game is spent…mining. If mining is a passion of yours, that is awesome, but most modern RTS games realised that mining isn't as much fun as fighting, and have settled on ways to reward you for territory held and blood spilled, not how much stuff you can dig out of the ground.

The concept of "command points", or "control points" is how this philosophy is implemented. Rather than holing yourself up in a base like you would in Starcraft or, say, Age of Empires, many RTS games of today instead force you out of your base early in the game, with control over certain sectors of the map the only way to earn the points/money required to build more units.

Not only does this relieve the need to focus on non-military tasks, but it encourages players to constantly engage each other across an entire map, rather than simply hoarding all their units for a single rush as is still a dominant tactic in Starcraft.

See: Company of Heroes, Dawn of War

Now, this isn't to say that these new additions to the genre are universal improvements. A lot of people – millions of people - like the way Starcraft plays, which is exactly why Blizzard has stayed true to the same formula for the sequel.

But like it is with Call of Duty, or Madden, there are many people whose only experience with real-time strategy is solely through the giant of genre. In this instance Starcraft. And if that's you, and you feel like trying something a little different, then any of the games listed here are a great place to start.