Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
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The Dawn of War 2 multiplayer beta went public on Steam last night, so I imagine everyone who cares has played it or is about to. I can’t talk about the full game much until my review goes online, since there’s still an embargo for internets.
I just want to mention that of the three very different ways to play – single-player, co-op and multiplayer/skirmish – this is the least satisfying. It is, however, the only way to play as the Eldar, Orks or Tyranids, so get that out of your system as much as is feasible.
If you’re not much into RTS multiplayer, you can play this beta just against the AI. But doing so bears almost no relation to the real single-player game – it’s not even in the same genre.
Update: Just one more thing…
I think the worst thing about DoW2 multiplayer is that it always ends just as it’s getting good. I can’t play Annihilation because the bases are just so tediously tough – it seems to take hours to destroy them, during which you’re just watching a healthbar go down rather than smashing up power generators and barracks as you might be in a normal RTS.
But the Victory Point mode, while strategically more interesting, just freaking stops. In my review I say the rounds are too short, and they are, but I’ve since had time to work out why they feel that way. When the enemy team run out of victory points, it’s when you feel like you’re just poised to crush them and are relishing the prospect. When it’s you, it’s when you feel like you’ve just turned the tide and are back in the game.
It’s irritating because the solution is so obvious. When one team runs out of Victory Points, the match shouldn’t end. Instead, the nigh-invincible shield that seemingly protects their bases should go down. All players receive a message that those three bases are now vulnerable, and the winning side quickly sweep in to smash them up.
It could even incorporate a comeback mechanic, where if the losing team are able to capture all three victory points before the winners destroy their base, they’re protected again and will start to regain Victory points.
Chijts: What amuses me is how much people go by the numerical scores at the end of reviews as a priority. I've read arguments along the line of, I kid you not, "I think this game deserves a 94% not a 93%! If GTA can score blah blah blah then this surely deserves 94%."
Really a review should be used as a rough guide or an opinion, not some religious artefact which must be adhered to. If you like it, buy it. Anyway I'm probably preaching to the choir...
DoctorDisaster: Seniath, I'm sure if he really tried, he could find angry fanboys on the internet. They are almost as common as webcam performance artists.
Sam: Been playing this alot recently, had some great matches.
And here are some of my thoughts:
Tyranids really suck, every time I play as them I lose.
Eldar really rule, everyone I see plays Eldar with the warp spider exarch.
I love how much you can customise the way you play by your commander and his wargear.
As a Warhammer nerd I'm really happy with the game, the way the bolters sound, how amazingly unkillable terminators are, everything.
I can't wait for this game. I just hope they balance the 'nids (except the lictor).
Waste_Manager: My problem is that since Supreme Commander came out all other RTS(es?) seems broken. If I can't zoom all the way out to see exactly what's going on I feel out of control and frustrated. The only exception to the rule is Total War which gives you a wide enough picture to see everything.
Supreme Commander being so good has ruined my enjoyment of the whole bloody genre.
Tom Francis: I'm aware of it, and it's size, but I'm not reading it. I'm interested in people's opinions after they've read my review and played the full game, but I can't imagine many posters there meet both those criteria. From what I've seen of it, most of them fail both.
Ludo: I got the closed beta a week ago and have been having lots of fun with it!
I'd like to see the AI use cover occasionally, even at Expert difficulty their inclination is to spam a given tank unit. There's definitely some balance issues. Eldar are too powerful, level 2 howling banshees can take out tanks and infantry with aplomb, will take a space marine assault squad every time and are cheaper. With their fleet of foot ability thery're almost impossible to overcome at range unless you're in a building. Tyranids are odd as they're famed for being terrifying in combat, but with no genestealers they lack a genuine assault unit -perhaps there's just a knack to playing them.
Enough bitching, though, the game's still in beta and MP is only a small peice of the pie. This stuff can all be tweaked and patched up later.
The units are brilliantly faithful to the source material, not just aesthetically, but in their barks and their behaviour, the game looks fantastic and the maps are great. Most importantly, so far for me the focus on micromanagement has been a success. Co-ordinating a perfect attack is just really satisfying and bloody, espcaially with friends. I can't wait to get into a co-op campaign and see precisely what it is they've done to shake it up so much.
Sideath: @Ludo Yeah I remember that conversation we had which we ended up agreeing that Eldar are too overpowered. Although I still agree that this is the case - it doesn't mean that you still can't play the other races effectively. I have a feeling that Eldar are simply too overpowered at the moment because everyone's still getting to grips with the game (I generally do better on ranked servers as eldar than any other race), but this does not mean that I haven't seen great Ork, Human or Tyranid players out there who completely dominate. I just have a feeling that Eldar are easier for beginners to play (which we all are) - i.e. I will not forget that time when you killed my entire army with two level two howling banshee squads, but I tried that with a small ork force against a clever opponent and he completely dominated them. Maybe I just suck, but maybe there are subtle ways to play the other races which we just haven't noticed yet.
Smurfy: Those forumers don't seem to know that PC Gamer reviewers actually give low scores. So an 92% from PC Gamer is something like 95%.
I'm also having problems with RTS since Sup-Comm, the only one I've been able to face has been the demo for Red Alert 3 (the humour gets me over the very restrictive view angle) and World in Conflict, which gives nice view angles.
J-Man: I'm sticking with Craig and.... Steve, I think it was? RTSs aren't really my thing, and I rarely do betas.
J-Man: Hey, Tom was featured in an escapist article. Speaking of his galciv2 diary, how much is galciv2 these days?
Redhawk: My problem with the beta is more that I suck at any kind of multiplayer game. The issue I have with DoW2 in particular is in losing track of the grand scheme of things, particularly in the 3v3s. I start trying to coordinate my various squads and what's building at my base and what they are wearing as wargear and then what my allies are doing and what my enemies are doing and what we should actually be doing and then my brain cramps up and my entire force gets wiped out and I have no idea why. Everyone seems to be quite content with the game so I'm pretty sure the problem is just that I fail as a human being.
However, I like the visuals and the sounds and the actual mechanics they've introduced. Its silly to call DoW2 an RTS because it has far more in common with Real-Time-Tactical games like Myth or Warhammer: Mark of Chaos than with the base-building unit spam like Starcraft and Warcraft and most RTSes on the market. As such, I am very much looking forward to the single-player campaign so I can see Relic has truly done it again.
Tom Francis: I don't think it's you failing, Redhawk, the game just isn't very clear about what's going on. In a great RTS, you're not burdened with remembering everything because the game's able to show you clearly where all your units are, what state they're in and who they're fighting, which leaves brainspace free to think about tech-trees and upgrades. Something I whinged about in my review is that in multiplayer, you don't get that immediately apparent overview.
Unlike, to use the prevailing counterexample here, Supreme Commander. I'm glad to see so much love for it, I got the impression it was a little ill-received at the time.
In other words, I have the same problem you do, but I don't in Supreme Commander where I'm microing 200 units while managing a base the size of Tokyo and thinking about seven different opponents. The brain's capacity to process information is very dependent on the clarity, resolution and persistence with which it's presented.
J-Man: Side note: I'm now replayed Thief: Deadly Shadows, one of my most favourite games ever.
@Redhawk; Yeah, I suffer from the same. Craig and Tom described it perfectly in the latest PCG podcast - I want a button that blows someone's face off, not have to click 3 different buttons for each individual-fucking-unit (Company of Heroes was guilty of this).
Similarly, I can't micromanage to save my life, which is why I fear the later levels of Armed Assault, when it becomes more like a ultro-hardcore RTS/FPS.
Tom Francis: Just updated the main post with an idea for how they could make the climax of each battle more satisfying.
roBurky: What you describe about how a game of Dawn of War II ends is how I feel about how a game of Multiwinia ends. I've won most of the games of Multiwiniwa I've played, but none of them felt satisfying. It stops just as I'm about to enact my final plan to crack an opponent's defences.
That's the sound of all that "victory points" stuff going over my head.
Ludo: Nice ideas, you're right I'm always about to pull down my first terminator squad or something when the game ends, and it ends with no fanfare or anything, it just stops - and all you can do is look at the motionless battlefield as your dreadnoughts are about to lay into their base.
Also yes bases are ridiculously hard, getting the option to blow them up right after a victory point win would be great, a bit like storming through a TF2 map after a victory auto-critting everyone.
SwiftRanger9: I adore SupCom ever since its beta test but I am madly enjoying this DoW II beta as well and I am really surprised to hear you say this is the most disappointing part of the game, Tom, as I got the impression from your PCG UK review that most complaints were about the singleplayer campaign (which I haven't played yet).
Next to the Live issues (truly horrible stuff sometimes) and the woeful skirmish AI there is a serious lack of unit information idd (statistics, pop-up info about everything) but after you learn what your troops are capable of the hard way then that chaos suddenly becomes something brilliant. I wouldn't say I can keep track of my allies all the time in a 3vs3 game but I damn well can get everything out of my own squads and see why they're going down or why they're winning. It's not that unclear.
In a really even 3vs3 game (usually on that bigger jungle map) you do see every tier level at work but in other, more onesided games it can be over very quickly yes. Your solution sounds exciting, Tom, maybe doubling the victory points (or at least provide options for such things) and having some bigger maps might do wonders here too.
@Ludo: Banshees are monstrous idd, try to lure them towards a suppressive fire unit who is being covered by another suppressive fire unit. Three heavy bolter squads covering each other = no infantry coming through at all, not even with hostile jumpers/tunnelers. Such tag-teams (two is enough usually) can rip anything to shreds from two Banshee squads to a fully melee-focused Tyranid swarm (you know, those Rippers, jumping Hormagaunts and Warriors with adrenal glands upgrades).
Inferno: For anyone who played DoW competitively the multiplayer is a bit of a disappointment as it really is highly dumbed down compared to SS. You pretty much hit the nail on the head with the bases having too high defence, it's one of the biggest complaints and what's worse is the fact that the T3 units (which almost never appear because T2 contains all of the units that basically end the game) barely do any mroe damage to it.
The shields idea is cool but it removes the ability to make a quick comeback near the end when you have fewer troops but manage to cap the points and still doesn't allow base harrasment which is a really important part of RTS. Currently relic are just overly protecting new players as the main HQ gives so much resource the other points in the map barely have an effect on your counter.
Relic have to fix the UI and some other niggling issues and they'll have a fun, if not competitive, RTS multiplayer.
Oh and 'nids are far from awful, just play hit and run with them (never stay in bad fights) and use the lictor to tear apart squads with flesh hooks.
I'm having fun with the game and am definitely looking forward to playing Co op campaign. Your review in PCG was quite excellent too. I'm glad you aren't afraid to review a followon from a highly liked game much lower (though the score you gave is still great). I'll deff be picking it up but it is a shame not everything worked out perfectly.
Formerly Cpt.Muffin: Day Zero patching - a pain in the fundament, but at least I get to munch up the single player whilst they sort out the multiplayer. From reviewing it Tom do you know if they've updated anything majorly from the press pass version to the now finished gold product?
Tom Francis: Not between review and gold, but we can't predict what they'll do in the day-one patch. They could read my review, realise I'm right, fix everything I moan about in the patch, and make me look stupid. To an extent that's what happened with Spore, but they didn't quite fix it and the patch came some time after release. Whenever it happens, if a patch significantly changes the quality of a game, we have ways of covering that in the mag.
Inferno & SwiftRanger9 - interesting perspectives. I guess opinion on its value as a competitive game is going to change as new tactics and exploits are discovered. My favourite thing about it is just how much there is to learn.
Thomas Lawrence: Off-topic: what's you policy on Steam friending and random people who comment on your blog? Would I be better off just joining the PC Gamer groups?
Tom Francis: Add me, I'll accept requests from names I recognise from here. If your Steam name is | DKKC | ?r.?e\/!? [?U$] and you add me without explaining who you are, though, that request tends to get left hanging. I'm also going to start removing people who've changed their name to something incomprehensible, because if I no longer know who you are, I don't really care what you're playing.
Right now that's about half my Friends list.
Thomas "Padre" Lawrence: Hmm, that'll present a puzzle, I go by the name Padre on Steam, as that's the handle/alias/thingummy I use on a forum I frequent. Thomas Lawrence, by contrast, is my real name.
Thomas "Padre" Lawrence: Also, the Community page is claiming you're already ignoring me. This is possibly because I already attempted to add you once, then withdrew it when I saw a warning suggesting that your friends list was already full. Hmm.
Formerly Cpt.Muffin: Cheers Tom, I think I might still get the game to tide me over but I hope they take onboard what you said patch wise. (p.s. with your reccomendations of mass effect and fallout three and co my budget is already low, as I tend to agree with your opinions. You intelligent bastard you).
I've never considered adding you on steam as frankly I dont know you personally nor have I met you online in a game. Plus I'm never happy with my online aliases. But feck it, I'll find an original name at some point, Cpt.Muffin it'll be for the time being. That goes for all you James-ites too if you care for a game.
Aftershock: Heh, I love my alias. It only changed once after i invented it, when i heard about a little game called "bioshock" being developed.
I've been pining for this majorly. My computer is dead currently, due to a PSU explosion. Hence i haven't gamed in a week or so. I think i'm getting withdrawal symptoms.
Dante: I have to say some of these comments make odd reading, I'm amazed that people find SupCom easier to manage than the Relic games. I find CoH and DoW 2 the only games I can remotely micromanage in, SupCom is just a case of directing one general swarm of units in vaguely the right direction and hoping, or building one of the giant units and autowinning, it's not really so much a strategy game as a resource management game.
SwiftRanger9: Dante, giant units can help but don't win a SupCom game by default, especially not in Forged Alliance where they're a bit weaker (but cheaper/faster). SupCom does have a much bigger focus on economy though but it offers enough UI tools and shortcuts to cope with that.
DoW II lacks many of the huge relic units of the previous games, Khaine Avatar aside, but I haven't really missed them yet. Just claiming some terrain with a few squads or even being able to retreat everyone in time is very satisfying. If anything then it are really the heroes which are a force to fear, they aren't very powerful but they can adapt to nearly every situation with their interchangeable gear, so much even that I start to feel guilty about it.
Garg: Read the review of DoW 2 in PCG a while ago, it disheartened me a little that Relic appear to have slacked on the single player, but I was optimistic that the multiplayer beta would win me over. I only ever really played multiplayer in the original DoW anyways.
It did win me over; I find the entire micromangement of your forces, rather than tedious research and base building, much more engaging. With regards to the game length being too brief though, I'm not sure that I find that to be the case. I typically only play rated 1v1 matches though (I'm not playing team games until I can play with some friends on my team).
With victory points there are (broadly) two possible outcomes: First one person wins easily, in which case a speedy resolution is desirable; at least from a competitive stand point, not sure about people who like crushing the loser like ants. This is where I think your shield idea comes in, however to me all it seems to me to do is to extend the time which you have to wait for victory to be declared. A "to-be loser" countering his way out of this is unlikely, at least for this game scenario.
The other potential game is that you have a good, tight match, with the victory points sliding back and forth with each attack and counter attack. Counter attacks tend to take the form of the losing person coming back with the next tiers units, so often you'll find the victor of a tier 1 engagement at the start being subsequently beaten back by a counter attack of tier 2 dreadnaughts. If the game went on any longer than the 500 points allowed with the second game scenario then you'd just have a big tier 3 "mashup" in the middle, and it would feel an awful lot like the diabolical quick-start "Into the Breach" games in the original. Also in this game scenario you could see that, since it was so close, both teams would be able to hold on to some victory points for long enough for both bases to lose their shields, and then it would just be a much longer game as each tries and destroys the others base. Why not just play on annhilate?
Caleb: I have been playing the beta since its launch. To comment on how the VP matches end so quickly….I would assume with the retail game you can choose to play victory points to 1,000 instead of 500 in order to better play out t3 units.
I have had a blast doing 3v3. I enjoy the new play style because it is more like what the Lore entails. The last time I really appreciated a specific Space Marine unit was the game Chaos Gate. I am an average RTS player from Age of Mythology to Red Alert 3. Dawn of War II’s simplicity has allowed me to get really good. I completely concur with Garg about this style of RTS being more engaging. The opening salvo of a match is my favorite. Using the force commander and scouts to crush an opposing hero and his units from the start is fantastically effective --Then luring in players to a devastator squad, sending my hero back to heal while I tech up to get that dreadnaught unit out ASAP!
To the commentators that have had trouble and brain cramp maybe you need to look at it this way; On any map your goal is to conquer and hold one of three sections. Which section you go after depends on where your base is. The sections are simply two VP points and one straight shot at resources. If the opportunity presents itself you might be able to flank to the middle to help an ally out. That is all the grand scheme is to me. Controlling your units I have found very easy (I only play Space Marine) using the bar on the right-hand side. At most I only have 4-5 units out there.
To the statements about Tyranids sucking….I have seen Carnifaxe’s stack up to 1500hp to win a crucial point, or the nids use tunneling to effectively control at least two VP points on their own. I am only rank ten and in my experience it is the Orks who are weakest. Eldar is very popular but I have yet to see a complete overpowering moment play out. I’ve only had trouble against wraith lords but if I get desperate, I forgo my chance to use orbital bombardment quickly and drop a pod on one. The Eldar are a fragile creature :P
Two things that annoy me: dis-connectors towards impending victory, and GFWL. GFWL is snappy, and works like you expect live to on the Xbox 360. It is terribly unnecessary though. I guess the plus is that you get your live profile and will gain some achievements Microsoft live style. Dis-connectors cause folks to drop left and right and then ultimately the game freezing. I sincerely hope that the developers can find an alternative solution than just warning current players that the game might crash due to kicking dis-connected players.
To battle brooothers!
Cptn.Average: No Genestealers?! Really? Thats soooo bizarre.
That aside, how hard can it be to balance a unit like banshees? Going by the minis game alone, they shouldn't be able to do jack to vehicles so that could be a quick fix, though having not had a chance at the beta (moniter died unexpectedly), I admit I could be talking out my arse. It is good to hear them being scarier than in DOW though, I could never quite understand how ineffective they were in the original.
Jamie: Been playing this again today and I have to say I love it.
The one flaw is the units being too small. 6 Orks in a unit. 3 Space marines, etc...
Other than that I think it's a lot of fun, and control point games feel really strategy-y.
I'm disappointed about the genestealer's sure, but i was pleasantly surprised to see zoanthropes in there. I love those things :D
Jamie: Oh and I spanked my RL friends at it hard.
Sure, they are even newer to it than I am.. but it feels good to be winning at an RTS for once.
AJ: Now that is a pretty damn good idea for victory mode!
01d55: So is the review available online now? I'd like to read it.
Tom Francis: Not yet, I'm afraid. I'll ask if our CVG overlords plan to up it.
01d55: So, what say the overlords? I notice CVG has a DoW2 review up, but it isn't yours and therefore is clearly insufficient.