It’s hard to understand why EA can’t just kill its Command & Conquer series at this point, as any attempts to revive the classic spirit of the franchise died in the eyes of fans. The last successful entry in the franchise was Red Alert 3, which happened around a decade ago. Yet this year EA decided to bring back the name of this once venerable series, with a mobile spin-off that no one was really asking for. This is a first look at Command & Conquer: Rivals – a 1v1 strategy game now available on iOS and Android in a pre-alpha release.
Tested on: Razer Phone, Android 7.1
I’ll jump straight to the point, saying Rivals is an insult to the RTS series’ name, but here’s why. Being a free-to-play mobile title raised alarms from the start, given EA’s repertoire, and the game confirmed my criticism quite early on. While the game itself is serviceable and there’s fun to be had, it’s progression is rooted in loot boxes that the publisher likes so much they made it into its large triple A games.
Unit acquisition is a deeply flawed system relying on random cards located inside crates you obtain through various means. There’s a daily reward crate, and you can call in more boxes with randomized rarity using fuel from winning matches. Given the randomized nature of such reward system, it can take anywhere from really fast to excruciatingly slow to acquire certain units. As it is a multiplayer game, C&C: Rivals is essentially unbalanced in its gameplay, where players of different rank get access to vastly diverse tools. More than once in my sessions I ran into opponents building tanks, which I didn’t yet have access to and that destroyed anything I could throw at them with absolutely no effort.
The further gated progression curve doesn’t help matters much either. Units are locked behind player levels, which can take slow to progress towards, however that isn’t the only thing you need to actually get them. Randomized battle chests again come into play, throwing out different cards for unit upgrades, with a chance of unlocking a new unit. Whether you unlock something new is anyone’s guess, and you can be stuck getting upgrades for units you already own instead of unlocking more interesting types. For a strategy game, lack of access to all of a faction’s units is insulting, and the way you get to unlock them makes Rivals completely random.
As in the series’ bigger games, the two warring factions are GDI and Nod, each with their distinct sets of units and commanders. The Nod get unlocked at player level 4, so you’ll spend a considerable amount playing as the GDI at the start, which leaves things uninteresting until you get the second faction. You only get access to 8 units in your combat select slot as well, which means you don’t get to have the whole arsenal in any match. This means upgrading your units is important, although again the system is deeply revolved around Rivals’ free-to-play system. Levelling up units is done through three training stages, paid for by in-game credits, which are at least rewarded on a regular basis. Afterwards, if you have enough upgrade cards required, a unit can be levelled to next stage, and the process repeats.
As far as actual gameplay goes, Command & Conquer: Rivals is a pretty good spin on the RTS formula, where its simplistic design adapts well to mobile controls. You take part in 1v1 multiplayer matches, with game design being online only. Each player has a base, and the objective is to activate the nuclear silo in the middle of the map to take out the opponent. To do so, Rivals gives you a pool of units to be built throughout a match, once you’ve constructed their appropriate factories. Production revolves around tiberium as a resource that regenerates slowly to make more units, but can be sped up if you build a harvester. There’s no research elements or any other complications for that matter: simply build units and hold two of the three control points on the map. Most of the gameplay revolves around the latter, but players also have to quickly react to their opponent’s unit composition.
Command and Conquer: Rivals is very competent in its gameplay, and the simplified take on an RTS makes it work well with touch screen controls. There are some things to like here, from fast-paced matches to the amount of content it already presents in pre-alpha. Unfortunately the progression system is deeply flawed, relying on a randomized chance of drop for units, commanders and upgrades. The multiplayer aspect suddenly becomes unbalanced, with the player who unlocked the more powerful gear basically guaranteed to win. With C&C: Rivals, it doesn’t look like EA is getting rid of loot boxes anytime soon. Whether it’s worth checking out depends entirely on player preference; I can recommend its fast and reaction-based gameplay, but the game’s progression system is slowed down to a halt with randomized unlockables. Rivals is currently in pre-alpha, so there is still room for improvement.