Upcoming RTS A Year of Rain shows promise, but it's got its' work cut out for it

By Joe Robinson 03 Oct 2019 0

The RTS is in a bit of a troubled spot right now. For a long while, it had basically been replaced by MOBAs as the newer sub-niche founded eSports and sucked up everyone’s time and attention. Gone were the days where devs wanted to make a new Age of Empires; instead, they needed a DOTA-killer.

But in recent years we’ve seen a shift back: Since competing with the entrenched ‘top’ MOBAs hasn’t worked, the industry decided to just bring back old favourite instead, leaning heavily on nostalgia. HD remasters abound, including the cult classic Warcraft 3. But with genuine attempts to bring in new RTS blood kind of falling-flat, is there still an appetite for more than just a texture touch-up?

A Year of Rain 1

I recently spent an afternoon playing A Year of Rain -an upcoming RTS that weI first spotted at GamesCom. This was a follow-up session to take a bit more time with the game, as well as talk to the Lead Game Designer Christoph Carstensen. It’s an RTS that offers a core co-op experience, whether that’s tackling the campaign, or fighting in 2v2 online matches.

It attempts to borrow designs from the MOBA world while remaining an essentially ‘traditional’ RTS, mixing elements from both Starcraft and Age of Empires. There are three primary factions in the game, and there are ‘Hero’ units (which is where the MOBA influence mainly comes in). Each faction has a number of Hero units you can choose from defined by class, and those classes can take on different roles to further specialise how they play.

A Year of Rain 4

The two main resources are wood and gold - gold is acquired from mines. Mines are at specific locations on the map: you start with one near you, with more lucrative sites found in places that will either encourage exploration, or bring opposing factions closer together. Wood is found all around, so it’s less of a concern. There’s also a supply system that controls how many units you can have on the field at one time.

Units are either ranged, melee or casters, and there’s a simple rock,paper,scissors dynamic that governs advantage. Your heroes gain XP as they fight and level up to unlock new abilities. As well as the opposing team, the map is littered with NPC mobs you can fight for said XP. Matches end up being brief affairs, with the RTS tendency of ‘rushing’ being something that can be easily indulged.

A Year of Rain 2

It’s also less about unit count, and more about what those units can do. You want your hero to unlock their powerful skills, but one-person-armies they are not; they’ll need at least half-a-dozen ‘normal’ troops to back them up. Each faction has a modest assortment of units at their command, but it’s not prolific and a lot of the base-building choices revolve around teching-up a small unit roster. Most units have their own dedicated building with a bunch of research options to further enhance how they perform.

With a bias towards quicker matches, base-building almost seems slightly redundant, but it serves as a good way of focusing the action. It’s also mainly about choice and where you focus your attention. Depending on what hero you choose, you’ll want to take specific units to back them up, which requires specific buildings to build and enhance. You’re not really meant to go through all the building options available, just the ones you need.

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Again, it sounds slightly pointless, but it also serves as a focal point for the co-op nature of competitive matches. In a 2 v 2 you only need to eliminate all of the buildings of one player to win, so it incentivises team-work and forces opposing armies to fight in predictable places, as opposed to letting them wonder all over the map to hide. The campaign is also geared towards co-op, with certain Puzzle like elements appearing on campaign maps that’ll require team-work and coordination.

I don’t know if A Year of Rain is going to revitalise the RTS genre. It looks pretty and is quite fun to play, but you’ll need a friend to really get the most out of it. The MOBA-influences might annoy purists, but then those same gamers haven’t been happy with newer, more traditional RTS games either. Furthermore, it’s still got the heavy hitters to contend with - the Warcraft 3 Remaster is coming, as is a new Age of Empires game. I fear it’ll get lost in a sea of noise and/or indifference, but at the very least I’m happy to say Daedalic are giving it the best shot they can.

A Year of Rain is due to enter into Steam Early Access before the end of the year.

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