In the run-up to the release of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II and the Tales of Valor expansion for Company of Heroes. I spent considerable time thinking about how I was going to review those games. In both cases they were a radical departure from their earlier iterations, something not lost on the legions of Dawn of War fans out there who screamed as though Relic had set out to deliberately destroy their lives. The level of dripping contempt launched at Halo Wars from PC RTS fans actually made me sad. In both cases, fans had elevated their personal style preferences to the level of holy writ. There was no indication that most of them understood exactly what the developers were going for in either of these cases nor that they would have cared if they did. Relic and Ensemble had apparently violated some list of commandments written on a stone tablet that I was unaware of and needed to be punished for it.
In reviewing those games, I tried to think a bit broader than my preconceived preferences to what those games were actually trying to accomplish. Halo Wars is the first true console RTS, an evolutionary offshoot of the breed that will be different, not necessarily inferior to its PC counterpart. Dawn of War II tried to bring some of the strategic elements of the MMO into the single-player game and a more tactical rather than logistics-based approach to multiplayer. Tales of Valor, on the other hand, tried to turn Company of Heroes into something approaching an action game.
In the first two cases I felt that it worked; Tales of Valor was more problematic but in no case did I ever penalize the game for what it wasn’t. I tried to look at what the game actually was trying to be and determine whether it was successful at doing so. If Dawn of War II really wasn’t my cup of tea, the original game is as good as it ever was and there’s a whole host of mod tools out there for me to make my own version of the game.
In my career in gaming I remember taking more than my share of ribbing for talking up the following games: Toontown Online, Kingdom Hearts, Viva Pinata, Space Rangers 2 and The Lord of the Rings Online. All of them committed similar crimes to the hardcore mind. Toontown Online? It’s based on Disney characters so it can’t be a real MMO, right? Kingdom Hearts? Combining Donald Duck with the oh-so-sacred characters from Square means it must be stupid, right? Viva Pinata? You mean that silly game with the stuffed animals for kids? Space Rangers 2? Stupid name, probably sucks. LotRO It’s just a sub-par WoW clone with Frodo, right? The answers are yes, no, yes, no and no. Each of those games has something special to offer, lessons to teach developers and some damn fine gameplay. It took some significant time for these games and many others like them to be recognized and appreciated, and in some cases they still haven’t gotten their due.
This is tragic and I believe it affects the hardcore gamer and the hardcore gaming scene much to the negative. One of the reasons that there is this dichotomy between the “hardcore” and the so-called “casual gaming” scene is the ghetto mindset of hardcore gamers. We do tend to be tribal creatures and there is an undeniable pleasure to be found in being part of an “in group.” When you know that someone who plays Peggle would be befuddled by the intro level of a Call of Duty game, it places the hardcore gamer “in the know.” When the hardcore enjoys ever more abstruse and esoteric worlds and designs and developers cater to a smaller and smaller subset of the gaming audience, well — that way lies eventual extinction. The casual and the hardcore have a lot to learn from one another and it’s up to the hardcore to lead the way by supporting and seeking out things outside of their comfort zone. To not do so is to be as parochial in mindset as Mr. Will.