Monday, November 16, 2015

Planetary Annihilation - 2/20 hours

This game is not very newbie-friendly. It doesn't have a tutorial, and while the controls are pretty standard for the genre, a lot of the more nuanced commands you can give are off to the side on buttons whose functions are never adequately explained.  This is complicated by the fact that units and buildings are not very distinct, visually, so on multiple occasions I wound up mass-building construction units instead of light tanks. It's not just embarrassing, it's suicidally foolish.

After a few false starts, I was able to finally win a battle against the AI, so I think I might have the basics down, but this just leads me to think that maybe this game isn't very deep. It's hard to say. I've been playing the Galactic War mode, which starts you off with limited technology, so it's possible that I've simply not yet had the opportunity to explore the deep end of the tech tree. However, as far as I can tell, the basic strategy appears to be "build a lot of shit, very fast,"  with everything else being just details.

I'm fairly positive Planetary Annihilation is not going to be the game that breaks through my stony heart and teaches me to love RTS games. It has the same basic problem I have with all the rest of the genre - there's no "downtime." You have to constantly be on the lookout for new things to do. Idleness is death. But it's not just the constant activity. It's the fact that you have to be constantly building, constantly scouting, and constantly directing your troops. Doing one thing without a break, I could handle, but there's just something about the way my brain is wired. If I succeed in doing one prong of the fork adequately, the other two will suffer from neglect. That's the dark side of having a deep focus. I can multitask for shit.

Planetary Annihilation adds the wrinkle that its economy seems to function in the exact opposite way from most other RTS games I've encountered. You've got two type of resource-extraction buildings, and the each function the same way - they give you a resource income per second, with a relatively small cap on how much of a buffer you can save up (there are buildings you can construct that give you a bigger "bank," but in galactic war mode, that starts off locked). The upshot of this is that if you're not using close to all of your resources at all times, your minerals and energy simply go to waste.

I'm more used to the Starcraft model, where crystal and gas are in limited, finite supply, you have a fairly strict cap on the number of units you can control, and if you lose too many, you can make the game unwinnable. In Planetary Annihilation, that does not appear to be the case. As long as your net income is close to 0, you can keep building with no apparent upper limit (presumably there's a soft ceiling when it comes to your computer's ability to render all this stuff, but I'm guessing mineral deposits are rare enough that this is a non-issue). In fact, not only can you build a massive, superfluous army, you should do exactly that. Even if you don't use the units, it is better to have the minerals and energy take some solid form, rather than vanish into the ether.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it makes each individual unit less valuable, which makes combat feel more forgiving. On the other hand, when I finally won the battle against the AI, I had a reserve force that was at least as large as my attack force, and more on the way every second. It's just one more thing to pay attention to, exacerbating my basic problem with the genre.

Where I come down on the issue depends greatly on how the game progresses, going forward. Presumably, the first battle was a gimme, just to help me get a feel for the game, and things will become more complex and frantic as time goes on. If the massive unit surplus I experienced is eventually used up in battles of larger scale, that should be fine. If it instead turns out that I'll need o use my giant armies for complex patrols or battles on multiple fronts, then it may well be intolerable.

It's really too early to say. Hell, I'm two hours in and I haven't even annihilated a single planet. That means that I likely have a lot of the game left to see.

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