In first-person shooters, you’ve typically got someone talking to you that has an overview of the battlefield, directs your movement and, if you’re lucky, drops in support when you need it most. In real-time strategy games, you’re the one with the intel, but the feedback you get from the boots on the ground is typically limited to knowing when they enter engagements. Putting the two together makes more sense than you might have previously thought, but it also poses significant risk. Each match will succeed or fail based on the amount of communication and information that flows between commander and troops.
I’m not talking about your team’s success, though that is directly connected to communication, also. I’m speaking of enjoyment. There is nothing more frustrating in team-based games than when trying to accomplish objectives in silence. Compound normal communication with the vital nature of the Commander role, and you either have a well-oiled machine, or a broken-down, bleeding mess. My experience with Nuclear Dawn had some from each column.
So far, I have not had a single match with the Commander on headset. If there is one wish that I have for the final game, is that the Commander is required to have voice chat enabled. The job is too important to be silent. My team was able to compensate a bit, but not having forward spawn points placed appropriately, backup turrets, etc, definitely had us at a disadvantage.
It’s important to note that, currently, the tutorials are not functioning. I don’t know if they will be enabled when the beta enters wider distribution in a week or so, or if that will wait until final release in late September. Having to muddle through was not the best introduction to a game with so many moving parts.
Speaking of those bodies in motion, there are four different classes available to choose from when playing as one of the troops. The Assault is your basic solider with an assault rifle, frag grenades and a pistol. Its special ability kicks in a thermal vision mode to help identify enemy threats. The Exo wields a large chaingun (which can be kept spinning with the right mouse button). That chaingun is the basis of it’s class ability, which turns the player into a stationary, heavy-armored dealer of hot death. The Support class can dole out health to teammates and repairs to equipment in need. Finally, the class to which I expect many players will gravitate is the Stealth soldier. The default weapon is a pair of armblades. Combined with speed and a cloaking shield, these troops rely on surprise to rip through unsuspecting enemies before they are even detected.
As you play, you’ll capture and hold strategic points designated as primary, secondary and tertiary. For everything but a tertiary point, you’ll need at least one teammate by your side to begin taking control. This is where the Commander comes in. Beyond simply dropping in structures, Commanders designate priority targets. The idea is that by highlighting specific areas of focus, players on the ground will know where to head. This seemed to work, and is supported by an incentive system that rewards players with experience for following orders.
Right now, the beta features two maps: Metro, built around a subway station and underground areas and Downtown, which features large buildings and many routes to the primary capture zone in the center of the map. The only game type that is supported right now is Warfare, which pits the two teams against one another in a race to capture as many resources as possible. The other game type available at launch, according to our interview with Interwave, will be a more traditional Deathmatch.
Speaking of resources, the Commander role functions very much like you would expect in that the person at the helm can’t just spam structures and support. Everything that the Commander does is supplied by two things: power and resources. In order to build a structure, you must first ensure that the desired location fits within the existing power footprint. Power stations can be built within the existing range to further extend the building zone. Wireless repeaters can enhance power stations.
Once you’ve picked a viable location, you’ll need to make sure that you have enough resources to pay for it. Each capture point held by your forces will supply additional resources. Wise use of those resources to place forward spawn points, turrets at choke points and resupply stations can turn the tide of battle.
I mentioned, at the outset, that I thought that Nuclear Dawn has a lot of potential. Right now, the game, which I remind you, is in beta, needs some improvement if it is going to build and maintain a strong community. The game is running on the Left 4 Dead 2 version of the Source engine. While the engine is showing its age, you won’t need the newest PC or Mac to run Nuclear Dawn. This should make it accessible to a larger number of gamers. I ran into a number of glitches (as did other players I chatted with). Graphical issues like falling through the floor when killed or getting stuck on the environment with no fix are things that should be easy enough to fix by launch.
From a game play perspective, I found that the game didn’t do the best job of communicating when I was getting damaged or where it was coming from. I also found some problems with hit detection as the Stealth class. I’m not sure if the armblades are supposed to be one-hit kills all the time or only specific instances. Perhaps that’s something that the tutorials will answer when enabled. Also, right now, the “mutiny” feature is broken. This feature allows a team to overthrow a Commander that isn’t acting in the best interest of the team. Once that works, it might encourage those players interested in the role to act accordingly.
I’m looking forward to playing more of the Nuclear Dawn beta, and especially hope that additional features (such as the unlockable loadouts that Robbert van der Lee mentioned in our interview) become available shortly.
Nuclear Dawn will be available for PC and Mac in September 2011.
Interwave has made the first update to the beta that addresses some of my concerns, foremost among them the broken Mutiny feature. For a full list of improvements, visit http://forums.interwavestudios.com/topic/3149-beta-update-1-live/.