Genre : Real Time Strategy
Release Date: November 11, 2003
Can I ask a serious question, for once?
Was there a real, crying need for a game that amounts to Warcraft for Dummies?
It's an unfortunate comparison, and it reflects badly on Goblin Commander, which really is a nice little game at the heart of it all. That is the overwhelming impression it leaves, however: that someone looked at Warcraft III and decided it needed to take place on a smaller scale.
Goblins, we're told as the game begins, were created by the human wizard Fraziel, to help him construct his Great Machine. Each of the five goblin clans was tasked with a given job, such as mining or logging, and they carried them out willingly.
But one day, Fraziel died, and the underground tunnels that hosted the Stonekrusher clan were destroyed with him. The Stonekrushers escape into the light of the surface world, only to find that the other four clans blame the Stonekrushers for Fraziel's murder. To simply survive, Grommel, the chief of the Stonekrushers, must fight for his clans' survival, conquering and assimilating the other clans so the Stonekrushers have someplace to live.
When you begin Goblin Commander, as Grommel, you're in charge of just the Stonekrushers. You can field up to ten ground units-melee fighters such as Miners or Pitbosses, with Rock Throwers or Drummers to back them up-as well as three stationary defense turrets and the heavy assault unit of the clan, a Rock Ogre. Grommel is a weird character; for whatever reason, he can teleport and assume a sort of quasi-material ghost form, with which he can possess and guide units, or simply set posts which his units will travel to. You can range all over the map, or carefully steer one group to an assigned destination. There's a lot of freedom to the approach.
Units are equipped with gold and made with souls; the former can be attained by wrecking terrain features. If it doesn't look like it's actually part of a wall, you can break it and get the coins that spill out, like demented geophysical pinatas. (I really am disturbed by how often the pinata simile appears in my reviews, just so you know.) Gold can be spent to unlock more advanced units
Souls, on the other hand, come a little dearer. The goblins are, apparently, not so much living things as they are magical constructs. Therefore, you can crank 'em out as fast as you want if you have the souls to burn, which are found inside… other goblins, as well as the slower but reliable Soul Fountains. Yes, the faster you kill, the faster your troops reproduce; there's a metaphor here if you care to look.
The advantage to this format is that it slows your advancement to a considerable degree, while forcing you out of your base to search for more materials. A few maps will have Soul Fountains handy, or even objects you can destroy for gold, but you still have to get out of your box and go do something dangerous if you want to get anywhere. Warcraft III occasionally suffers from that mindset-the ability to, and thus tendency to, sit in your little corner of the map and do nothing but build forces, or to monomaniacally generate only one kind of unit (omg huntress rush kekekekekekekekekekeke ^_____________^)-and its absence from Goblin Commander is welcoming. This does sacrifice a certain amount of safety in order to speed up the gameplay, but it's hardly something you'll really miss. You'll be busy.
Every time you conquer an enemy clan in the singleplayer campaign, you'll be able to use them as a subordinate clan in the next set of missions. The Hellfire clan sports high-damage turrets (including laser cannons, which, frankly, I just don't get), Stormbringers are the mages of the team, and Plaguespitters are vicious little bastards who inflict status damage along with their ordinary attacks. That leaves Nighthorde, the mysterious final clan, who're sort of like discount necromancers, stealing souls and eating enemy units.
The key to victory, in the later parts of the game, is recognizing the value in each clan's individual units and mix-and-matching them to your benefit. Goblin Commander, as a result, is among those uncommon titles where the early missions are a little boring, but as you progress, you'll be rewarded with increasing amounts of flexibility and strategic opportunity. It's just a question of being willing to slog through the first couple of chapters, and their endless array of "advance forward, kill everyone, replenish your losses, advance forward," ad infinitum missions. Sure, there're occasional time trials, subquests, and sometimes even a need for stealth, but it all seems to come down, in the end, to sending fresh troops after the enemy in ever-increasing waves.
That's probably Goblin Commander's biggest flaw, in that it's somewhat simplistic at its outset, and can easily degenerate into something similar even near its end. Just build the forces and send 'em out, like a conveyor belt bringing fresh hot piping death to all who oppose you, while your forebrain shuts down. You really have to challenge yourself in this game, as opposed to allowing the game to do it for you.
There are exceptions, yes, such as when you have a limited number of troops with which to carefully scavenge resources in enemy territory. That happens fairly frequently, actually, especially as you gain control of more clans and your soul and gold supplies become stretched dangerously thin. However, that just means you have more options with which to bum-rush an enemy's fortifications.
It sounds like I'm gearing up to give Goblin Commander a bad review, but I really don't want to. It's a great little real-time strategy game, especially when you consider the not-so-proud history of real-time strategy on consoles. (It is a history with such a profound lack of proud that I am not entirely certain that it actually exists.) It's not as deep as its PC brethren, but it has subtleties and advantages that could stand to make their way into more visible strategy titles. It's just too bad that it starts so slowly, and that it allows you to go on auto-pilot so often.
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