Dark Reign 2 Impressions

We take a close look at Pandemic Studios' upcoming real-time strategy.

Dark Reign 2, developer Pandemic Studios' sequel to the 1997 real-time strategy game, is close to completion and is scheduled for release in June. GameSpot met with the game's director, Greg Borrud, who demonstrated Dark Reign 2's 3D engine, its advanced interface features, and its merging of noninteractive in-engine cinematic sequences with the actual gameplay.

The original Dark Reign was praised for its units' advanced artificial intelligence and also for its unique unit designs - Dark Reign's science-fiction premise let the game justify such hi-tech military machines as burrowing personnel carriers, infantry shredders, and triple-railgun-equipped hovertanks. However, whereas the original Dark Reign looked similar to Westwood's hit Command & Conquer games, what with its flat top-down 2D perspective, Dark Reign 2 uses a powerful, scalable 3D engine. The game's default isometric perspective is intended to be suitable for play at all times, but you have the option to freely shift the camera perspective and zoom in and out on the action. Otherwise, Dark Reign 2's combat and base-building play mechanics, as well as its streamlined interface, should all be instantly accessible to real-time strategy gamers.

The game features two different playable factions, which roughly correlate to the original game's two sides. The JDA, or Jovian Detention Authority, is the precursor to Dark Reign's Imperium; the JDA's powerful, heavily armored soldiers and artillery lets them attack and defend with authority. By contrast, the Sprawlers are a ragtag bunch who must make up for their lack of strength with cunning tactics and unique special powers. In this respect, the Sprawlers are similar to Dark Reign's Freedom Guard. Both sides have infantry, armored vehicles, and flying units, as well as seafaring units.

The game's interface clearly presents a great deal of information about the units or structures that you have selected. In addition, it automatically reserves slots for your headquarters and unit-producing facilities onscreen, such that you can manage your military without centering your view on your base. You can quickly create patrol routes by placing waypoints on the map. Your units will automatically travel through the waypoints if you move them onto one of the paths you've created.

As in Dark Reign, you can assign behavior routines to your different units; you can make your units scout and flee from conflict, to search and destroy, or to defend a particular unit or location. To emphasize the strategic use of mixed groups of units in battle, each unit in Dark Reign 2 will have specific strengths and weaknesses. Fortunately, your units will be intelligent enough to automatically attack their most vulnerable targets. For instance, whereas a tank-killer unit will attack enemy infantry if the infantry is its only threat, the tank-killer until will set its sights on enemy tanks automatically should any enter the battle. You'll be able to disable the automatic threat-prioritizing if you wish, but it's an option that'll help make managing mixed groups in battle a lot less cumbersome than in a lot of other real-time strategy games.

The game is now undergoing extensive in-house testing and gameplay balancing. Dark Reign 2 will also undergo a large-scale beta test sometime in the coming months. GameSpot will release more information about applying to test the promising real-time strategy sequel as more information becomes available.

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