I remembered reading how great this game was when it came out way back in 1997 so I found it cheap and finally had a chance to play it. The good things I found were that it played fine on XP and it was made for Win98, a big plus today. Also, the game really only had one resource, water, which gave you money, although some other green-looking resource could pump up your power generators. Dark Reign has a good tutorial with both basic and advanced learning scenarios. These let experienced RTS players get right into the game. I didn’t read the manual and was able to pick up most of the game fairly quickly.
Now for what I didn’t like. I had to go back and read the review on Gamespot to figure out why they gave the game a 9.2 because I didn’t see it. Apparently this game introduced some things we take for granted now in RTS games: unit queuing and post-production formation. I can see those two things being pretty significant for RTS games. While I did notice the amount of controls the game provided, such as advanced waypoints and AI controls, these things are not something you have time to stop and fiddle with when your enemy is coming at you constantly as in most RTS games. The interface was easy to navigate, but even the advanced controls didn’t work as expected. For example, I once selected a tactical group I had created and set them to “Search and Destroy.” Instead of moving around as a group and kicking butt, they each scattered to the four winds and started dying as they took on enemies singly.
After playing through the first two missions on either side with ease, suddenly the game ratcheted up the difficulty from easy to hard. I also don’t enjoy games where you have to protect someone or keep them from escaping. As the Freedom Guard in the fourth mission, you have to kick the Imperium out of a city, but also protect civilians. Well after you’ve just about pacified the city, the civilians get in on the action and start attacking the Imperium troops. Unfortunately if one or more get killed, you lose. Dumb. On the Imperium side I had to recapture an escaped person. After you battle your way into his base, you are alerted his convoy is leaving. Too bad my troops all were killed in the base at this point. I had no time to get more people in before he left. Again, I lose.
At this point I was too frustrated to go on. The story of the game, sometimes a saving factor, was way too convoluted to make me care what happened. All I knew was I had to play 12 missions from each side. If you finish those there’s some last mission where you can save some guy who died a long time ago. Unfortunately, the missions play like separate scenarios. I didn’t feel any connection between them to make me care what happened next.
I did find a way to “help” with the difficulty since there is no way to change it in the game. If you go into the Dark Reign game folder, then to the dark subfolder, then to the deftxt subfolder you will see a bunch of text files. Open units.txt and find the unit you want to change. The two values you are looking for are “SetStrength,” which you can increase to give the unit more hit points, and “SetCost,” where you can lower the first number to decrease the cost of the unit and lower the second number to decrease build time.
Overall I can see a good game in Dark Reign, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. After having played more recent RTS games, the advances Dark Reign set were no longer advances. What I was left with was a game too difficult and complex to be fun, and with no redeeming storyline. Find it cheap if you can; you may have better luck with it than I did.