There was a time when real-time strategy games were the behemoths of the gaming world: Populous, Dune II, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, The Settlers, and Command & Conquer heralded in a period of gaming that was dominated by titles that encouraged players to build bases, collect resources, make technological advances, and outmaneuver rivals. Age of Empires and Total Annihilation joined the list in 1997, and it wasn’t too long a wait before renowned titles like StarCraft, Empire Earth, and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth added to the abundance of delights that were available for RTS fans.
The rise of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) titles seems to have shifted a lot of the focus in game development away from pure RTS to these popular games that have taken the esports sector by storm, such as League of Legends. The RTS genre is not completely dead, but it can be argued that it has grown close to expiration at times. When a giant franchise like Command & Conquer struggles in this area, you know things are not looking good: 2010’s Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight was met with a lukewarm reception and Command & Conquer (Generals 2) was cancelled in 2013. The popular multiplayer RTS game Age of Empires Online was shut down a year later, in 2014, meaning big name publishers like Electronic Arts and Microsoft were far from content with their RTS-related IPs.
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However, there was something of an excited rumble in the RTS community when plans to remaster (“Definitive Edition”) the first three games in the Age of Empires series were revealed, and then Age of Empires IV was announced in 2017 with a potential release date in 2021. The rejuvenated franchise is one of the cornerstones of the RTS genre, and the 2019 gameplay footage for the fourth installment looks mouth-wateringly good. The Command & Conquer series has also helped breathe new life into the moribund genre thanks to the art of remastering. 2020’s Command & Conquer Remastered Collection has already received over 13,000 customer reviews on Steam and has maintained a “very positive” response as gamers get to choose between a legacy view and remastered view of the genre-defining classic during play.
It is RTS fans themselves that are also keeping the genre alive. For instance, Project Celeste has managed to get Age of Empires Online back up and running, and the team behind the project is even close to finishing the long-awaited Roman civilization - and the game is completely free to play. A non-commercial development of the RTS classic Battle for Middle-earth is being worked on by the devoted fans at BFME: Reforged who recently released a gameplay reveal video to show how much effort they have put in to make this much-loved 2004 title look better than ever. With a new big-budget Dune film also on the horizon, perhaps developers and publishers might be tempted to revisit the IP that arguably breathed life into the genre in the first place.