A single player RTS. Is that really a thing? It’s truly a rough thing to wrap my head around. Even after playing Meridian: Squad 22 I’m still not sure if I accept it. They always have multiplayer and I’m sure a lot of people will get stuck on that fact. Well… They shouldn’t.
If you consider Meridian as simply in the RTS genre and that it would follow the usual concepts, then it works really well. I remember when Starcraft came out and I loved the crap out of the campaign mode. Multiplayer was an added benefit to be able to share the new experience with my buds (it was the second RTS I had ever played after Total Annihilation). Starcraft 2 rolls around and I learn that going online to play wasn’t that fun to me. Was I not great? Sure. However, going online wasn’t exactly playing with friends. I didn’t have many left that played RTS’s. Bots allowed me to continue to enjoy the game after I was done with the single-player campaign. So, a single-player RTS? Yeh, that can be a thing. Why not? If it’s fun enough, who cares. Is Meridian: Squad 22 fun then? Let’s explore that idea!
The first cool thing here is the skill tree (or the Battlefield Research). This isn’t your traditional skill tree of buffing units and giving you specific abilities. What it allows you to do is to pick which units you can build at what time. How does this work? Well, on the battlefield you’ll find these canisters that give you points into one of three fields: Combat, Economy and Defense. Combat tends to be more focused on infantry and other assorted units. Economy is more about resource gathering and the like. Defense gives you the ability to build some heftier tank units and some defensive turrets and shields. This is a cool method of going about giving you units. How many times in an RTS tutorial/campaign did you want to build one specific unit, but you had to wait until twenty missions in until they unlocked it for you? Well, now that you can pick up canisters on the battlefield and run straight to that unit in a smaller amount of matches, that of course is in exchange for other units that can be pretty useful… like anti-mech units. I’ve been overrun quickly in the Conquest matches because I was not prepared. I tend to hoard points because I can’t really decide what I like yet. Once again, competitive RTS was never really a strength of mine so fast-paced decision-making skills aren’t my strong suit.
Conquest mode is awesome if only lacking one feature. First up, it’s an open map of hex-shaped pieces and you pick where to go on the map and do battle there. The farther out you go, the more difficult it gets (obviously). There are some resource nodes as well that simply act as “gimmie” hexes and just give you some supplies to spend on your research. That’s always welcome. It gives a sense of freedom in conquering where you want, when you want. The only way I think this could be cooler is if the AI fought back and took over your territories. Granted, you’d have to have a way to defend your hexes so that they’d be harder to take and like-wise, they’d have some maps that are just mean too. Overall, I like this mode a lot.
I don’t have too many complaints about Meridian because most of the issues I deal with are more about my inability to play the game better. That, or at least they can come off as that. I’m more of a one-trick pony with RTS’s. The whole group composition thing and the “build counter” thing really is rough for me. Proper build? Nah, turtle-up and then move out when you have a large enough force to walk over them. This doesn’t really work well in the higher difficulties and it really doesn’t work well against players who know how to play RTS’s. If I were to pick the one thing that bothers me it would be the aesthetics of the talking scenes. While most of the cinematics are great looking ship battles with things exploding (and those do look pretty snazzy), the talking/exposition of the story is done with in-game assets. That’s not to say that the in-game assets look bad, but during these scenes, while informative, they lack the living aspect that the rest of the game has. It’s almost as if everything is on hold while you read/listen to how the story is unfolding. This would be better if maybe a larger and animated profile picture would pop up and have the words next to them rather than around the characters themselves. This is a nit-pick detail, but it does stand out every time it comes up.
The other issue I have is the hard cap on resources including money. Having a cap isn’t really something new, but with others in the RTS genre, you could just mine to your heart’s content. In Meridian you need to build up storage to raise the cap. This is more of a hindrance than it is a real issue per se because the “necessity” makes sense. It would be overcome easily for a person used to playing in more the competitive scene since it would be another notch in the resource management schedule that would be second nature. “Just start building!” you say and I get that. It’s just hard to shake that first step of starting your collectors to … well collect rather than build since I’ve been doing that for years.
Everything else works as I would expect. The ground, water and air troops all control accordingly to how I imagined they would. Although the flying units may feel a bit too fluid, that’s just because every other unit has something to traverse while the air has no obstacles and it simply takes getting used to. This is a good RTS that entertains and doesn’t make me feel like I’m missing out due to the lack of multiplayer. It kind of gives a sense of ease in playing it. Without the possibility to play with other people, there isn’t this feeling like I’m ignoring a portion of the game that everyone else is playing. That is a personal thing and I realize that some people love playing competitive RTS’s against others, but that was never really my thing so that helps me to enjoy Meridian: Squad 22 all the more.