Hands on with Command & Conquer: Rivals

By Dan Thompson 23 Jul 2018 1

With the ‘Age of Mobile’ granting us bigger and better games on our handheld devices, there’s an expectation that we deserve more than what we get. ‘Strategy’ is a genre that’s central to the identity of Pocket Tactics, and while we’ve been well served with everything from Battle for Polytopia to Frozen Synapse and more, we’ve also recently had Civilization VI, Rome: Total War and soon, Tropico. It’s not unreasonable for mobile gamers to start asking for their favourite franchises to move whole-sale over to mobile.

It’s also not unreasonable to have expected such lament from gamers – PC AND Mobile – when they learned exactly how EA was planning to bring Command & Conquer to mobile at this year’s E3 convention. It’s not the Command & Conquer we deserve, it’s not even the Command & Conquer we need, and we certainly didn’t ask for it… but if you look past the disappointing use of an IP, it’s possible there’s still a worth-while game to be found.

I’ll admit when I was going into my appointment for Command & Conquer: Rivals it was hard to remain optimistic. I was a huge fan of the series’ legacy on PC, with it being one of the first strategy games that engrossed me and had me seeking out other strategy games. To see Command & Conquer in a manner which was specifically against the series’ roots, while also not receiving a game in the mainline franchise for quite some time seemed like a slap in the face a fan like myself.

The first decision you make in Command & Conquer: Rivals is a choice between the games two main factions. The GDI (Global Defense Initiative) or the Nod terrorist organisation. These actions should be more than familiar to the series’ veterans and their attributes in Rivals is just as similar. The GDI is a slower approach to battle, bringing out more powerful units in the later parts of games. Choosing the Brotherhood of Nod, on the other hand, means you’re dealing with faster but more fragile units in your skirmishes.

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I chose the GDI and was able to take in six separate units into battle alongside a commander character. There are four different types of units you can take into battle, involving ones in the Barracks division (soldier units will populate here), War Factory division (armored vehicles and tanks), and the Tech Lab division (this is where more lucrative units such as mechs will populate). Each of these divisions is weak to each other in different and unique ways, so bringing a good variety of units will be the key to success.

However, the level of depth isn’t lost on these seemingly simple constraints, as this opens the door to building specific unit compositions that counter what your opponent’s tendencies are. As well as being rewarded for specifying towards specific classes and units through the progression system. Referring to the progression system, each unit can be leveled up individually, but there’s also a system in which you’re able to unlock various units that have different rarities.

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Choosing to level up specific units based on rarities and traits is the crux of how you’ll be micromanaging in the game. Rather than on the fly, making these decisions with the limited resources you have is the real challenge of the game outside of combat itself. Yet, this challenge can of course be circumvented by paying real money via IAPs, something which I feel undermines one of Command & Conquer: Rivals most appealing features. 

In terms of combat, Rivals embraces the aforementioned rock, paper, scissors approach so again don’t go trying to compare it to any mainline C&C games, it’ll only wind you up. Primarily, Rivals is multiplayer and is clearly trying to grab at slice of the competitive F2P crowd who are looking for something new. The game mode I spent the most time on involves control points. Essentially, each map in this mode has three separate points that a player can control by having even just one person on it. Having more than one control point at a time means that you have majority control of a nuclear missile on the map which is used to defeat the other opponent. A timer will tick down on the missile while it’s controlled, and whoever controls the nuke when the timer reaches zero launches the missile at their opponent’s base. Hit them enough times and you win. 

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Ensuring majority control early allows you switch your attention from trying to fight on the points, to closely monitoring what your opponent is bringing out and making sure you deploy the counter. For example, choosing units that are specifically against heavy vehicles in order to combat and dominate the match. This on the fly decision making and direct movement capabilities made my match fast and engaging. To be honest, it surprised me more than anything else as to how many dynamics were at play on such a tiny screen.

There are other concerns besides just fighting; you have to make sure your economy is enough to support your desired deployments. A harvester is a unit which you can directly control on the move, and even with the incredibly tiny map, it was important in my victory to place it in different places on my side of the map out of my opponent's vision. Since it can be attacked, it was primarily that I keep my main building economy alive. Tapping down harvesters at the start of the battle via the touch-screen interface seemed second nature, and the flow from the original series (while condensed) was still present.

It was easy to see why this particular game mode was being showcased at the event this year, as it used the medium of mobile gaming and the series lineage in a way which was effective. My match only lasted around three minutes as well, something which showed me that the game was good for quick play sessions on the go.

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Having finally got my hands on the game, to say my expectations were exceeded was an understatement. I can see myself playing Rivals for a couple months and seeing where the developers take it. However, I didn’t have the chance to play the game for an expanded amount of time, so I’ve yet to see exactly how deeply the inclusion of micro-transactions will permeate the game.

Being so competitively driven, you can understand why we have serious concerns regarding EA’s previous approach to monetization, as well as any ‘pay-to-win’ culture. If anything, this is my biggest worry for Command & Conquer: Rivals. While the gameplay is really solid, how EA handles the microtransaction implementation will ultimately decide how it is received.

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