Last month we talked about cheapness in online multiplayer games in a more general way. This time, Iâ€™m going to make it personal.
If Iâ€™m going to address this subject, I need to tell you that I wasnâ€™t born thinking this way; I had to learn it the hard way. Just a few years ago, I still used to call people “cheap” whenever I got defeated by some dubious tactic. I called this kind of player by some pretty awful names (I wonâ€™t tell you whatâ€”but you get the idea). While I never got as far as yelling at other people online, it surely was a good idea to keep children away from me whenever I was at the controller.
And Thenâ€¦I Played Halo Wars.
I found the same issues everybody else did the first time I played Halo Wars: the graphics aren’t so great, the units are small and poorly detailed, there isnâ€™t much variety, and the game is fairly simplistic. But still, it maintains that core strategic element from Ensemble Studiosâ€”the masterminds behind the Age of Empires seriesâ€”and its friendly controller layout is more inviting than any other real-time strategy game I’d ever played on a console.
I practiced a lot in single-player before jumping into the online fray. I wanted to test my strategies in a more controlled environment, so I kept fighting the AI until I could defeat it in Legendary difficulty (the hardest difficulty setting). After that, I was so ready to fight against other human beings through Xbox Live.
Howâ€™d it Go?
I did well; my strategies were fairly well rounded and worked pretty fine against different scenarios. But soon enough I faced a hideously cheap strategy that just kept getting on my nerves: Covenant Leader rushers.
For those unfamiliar with Halo Wars, the Covenant faction grants you a Leader unit to use among the rest of your troops. The thing with these characters is that theyâ€™re obscenely strong, and theyâ€™re able to cast a powerful Leader Power which can destroy entire armies in a matter of seconds.
The worst part is that people can get this unit for free once theyâ€™ve built a Covenant Templeâ€”the only mandatory building of that faction.
So their strategy is simple: Get the Covenant Leader, and beat the crap out of their opponent before he has any way to defend himself. And since thatâ€™s the only unit theyâ€™re going to use, thatâ€™s the only one theyâ€™ll be spending resources on. Soon enough, this one unit can become a sort of demi-god on the battlefield.
The Prophet of Regret has some serious balls…
I used to get so mad when I had to fight against these guys. To me, they werenâ€™t playing the game the way itâ€™s supposed to be played. They threw every sense of strategy and army development out of the window in favor of using only the single most powerful unit in the game.
â€śIs this the way you wanna fight? So be it!â€ť
I realized that I had to do something about these Covenant Rushers, since I kept fighting these guys in one out of every three battles.
I ended up devising strategies to counter them. I deployed my army faster and invested in defensive turrets earlier in the game. But also, I understood the huge weakness of their strategy: itâ€™s just one guy. Soon I learned that they lose focus the moment you give them two or more things to worry about. Theyâ€™ll leave the second their base is under attack, and the Covenant Leader can be easily lured into an ambush.
Therefore, my counter-strategy was to patiently wait, keep building my army, slow their offense by building defensive turrets, and let them think theyâ€™re getting away with it while theyâ€™re wasting all their resources trying to bring my base down. When the moment was right, I’d unleashed living hell on these guys. They never survived being surrounded while a disruption bomb blocked their power. And with the leader down, I could tear their whole base apart long before they could deploy another one into the battlefield.
Covenant Rushers were no longer a threat to me. From then on, I kept working on new unit formations and strategies in order to have a different experience every time I played.
But as I kept playing against more experienced players, things got even worse.
Now I wasnâ€™t only fighting against rushers, but also other players whose strategy consisted of spamming other all-mighty units at me until I was defeated. All of a sudden, anti-aerial units were destroyed by aerial units; anti-vehicle units were obliterated by vehicles; andâ€¦what the hell is the infantry good for? Theyâ€™re just cannon fodder for everything else!
â€śSo, what the hell is the strategy now? Just send a barrage of anything until youâ€™re done?â€ť
At this point I wasnâ€™t mad at the people using these tacticsâ€”I was mad at the game itself. What was a well-rounded army good for when a cloud of Hawks swarmed in? How am I supposed to stop a spam of Grizzlies and Wolverines? And why does my infantry keep dying against everything?
This is bullshit…
That was the point when I realized the game was broken. Whatâ€™s the purpose of having different units to play with if everyoneâ€™s going to stick with just one or two? Now I wasnâ€™t wondering how I was supposed to beat this elitist strategy; I was asking myself if I still wanted to play Halo Wars at all. I realized that if I wanted to stay in the competition, I had to stop playing the game the way I liked and start playing it the way everyone else was.
So I Quit.
Winning alone doesnâ€™t mean anything to me if Iâ€™m not having fun. Building my very own customized army is the thing I love the most in RTS games; if Iâ€™m being forced to play in a way Iâ€™m not going to enjoy, this gameâ€™s obviously not for me.
That is when I learned the lesson. We canâ€™t really blame the people exploiting every advantage a game has to offer; itâ€™s the gameâ€™s fault for letting that happen.
It wasnâ€™t easy for me to quit Halo Wars all of a sudden. All those hours spent developing new strategies and formations are now wasted forever. The best way to forget a game is to find a better one to take its place, and I did. I picked up a copy of Tom Clancyâ€™s Endwar from the store, and there I found everything I wanted to see in Halo Wars, in a game released a year before it! Also, thereâ€™s this whole thing about barking orders to your units through your headsetâ€”finally, a perfectly valid reason to yell at my TV.
Anyway, next month weâ€™ll be addressing a more specific cheap tactic. For now, Iâ€™d like you to think about a multiplayer game that you utterly hate. Are you still playing it? Why?
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