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‘Command & Conquer: Rivals’: EA Takes on ‘Clash Royale’

“Command & Conquer” is coming back to mobile, though not in the way you’d think.

EA announced “Command & Conquer: Rivals” during its press conference Saturday morning, for the kick off the company’s third EA Play and the unofficial kick off of E3 week. It will be the first “Command & Conquer” game since 2012’s “Command & Conquer’s Tiberium Alliances,” and the first mobile game of the franchise since 2009’s “Command & Conquer: Red Alert.” And “Command & Conquer: Rivals” looks completely different than anything that the series has seen before.

The game is definitely an RTS in the classic sense of managing resources and units, but in play it’s clear that it has taken quite of a bit of inspiration from the recent spat of mobile multiplayer games like “Clash Royale.” And the developers gladly admit that mobile behemoth was an influence to them.

“Clash Royale was very inspiring for us,” “Command & Conquer: Rivals” Creative Director Ian Hotu said. “It paved the way for real time matchmaking on the phone and bringing it to the mainstream.”

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Essentially in “Command & Conquer: Rivals,” players face off to control a number of areas on a map before a missile is launched. They use Harvester units to mine the Tiberium currency in order to develop and deploy more complicated units to send to these areas. Whomever has the least control on the map gets targeted by the missile. And, generally, getting hit twice by the missile means you lose..

Developers hope “Command & Conquer: Rivals” stands out from the mobile competition in two specific ways: unit control and streamlined games.

“We’ve done a lot of innovative unit control for the touch screen,” Hotu said. “A lot of other games, either you don’t have any control over your units once you create them or you’ve got cumbersome unit control that, if it’s anything, it’s more frustrating.”

They also wanted to condense the experiences down from the classic long RTS battles and make them more mobile friendly. Hotu said they tried to streamline the experience while feeling as much like an RTS as possible, including resource building and a manageable economy.

“We wanted players to go in, have a great RTS experience, and then back out again,” he said.

For all of those difference, my demo of Command & Conquer: Rivals, did feel like a more complicated game of “Clash Royale.” I played against Combat Designer Greg Black on a simplified map with two areas that we battled to control.

The UI and controlling the units were very intuitive, especially for those with RTS experience, mobile multiplayer experience or both. Sending out Harvesters and combat units was simple enough, but quickly as the game progressed, I understood the complexity that the game provides. Units have unique levels and the UI quickly indicates how your units stand against the ones they’re battling. Judging whether to attack areas for control, cut off an enemy’s resources by attacking their Harvester, or to attack their base becomes a inviting challenge. It’s similar to how a large-scale RTS forces you to weigh your decisions, but with the insensitive inherent in a three-minute mobile match.

And the tide can quickly turn. Just because you have multiple turrets out, doesn’t mean your opponent can’t send out a Rockworm to devastate your forces. That’s what happened to me, and though I lost. I was instantly curious to play more and see where my performance could improve.

“Command & Conquer: Rivals” will have player advancement outside of discrete battles. Players earn medals which unlock new tiers of content, more units, and more complex factions. Though the developers were adamant you can win any match with the initial content.

And, yes, there will be in-app purchases, with a similar economy to “Clash Royale.” Hatu said they were aware of the criticisms launched against games of that type and that the development team was determined to avoid similar pitfalls.

“You can play and unlock everything without ever spending a dime,” he said. “We really want to commit to never offering a player a battle that they don’t have a reasonable chance of winning.”

“Command & Conquer: Rivals” comes with franchise pedigree. Black has a long history developing titles in the series, beginning with 2001’s “Command & Conquer: Yuri’s Revenge.” Though he was initially skeptical about putting the series on mobile, playing it made him want to join the team.

“When I had a chance to play it, I was immediately in love with it,” Black said. “I thought it was a super smart way to get the thing on the phone right, which is really important to me.”

“Command & Conquer: Rivals” is EA’s first RTS mobile game, and it hints at where the company wants to set its sights in the future.

“What you’re seeing is EA’s commitment to big, great experiences,” Studio General Manager Mike Martinez said of EA’s first RTS entry into mobile. “If gameplay is driving the games that we’re making, players should be really excited. And that’s what you’re going to see across the board from EA games coming to mobile.”

Since “Clash Royale” has been a breakout mainstream success, it makes complete sense that EA would hope to get a share of that booming market.

The game will be available for iOS and Android, though only out on Android currently in what developers are calling a “Pre-Alpha” state. EA did not announce a release date.

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