Easy-to-pick-up RTS suggestions

I’m the only gamer in my circle of friends, but I’ve managed to occasionally suck them in for hours at a stretch with Unreal Tournament (the original) and Tekken 3 (on the PS1). A good friend is visiting me tonight & I’d like to try out an RTS or two with him.

I’m certain he has never played an RTS before, so my primary concern is that the game be easy to pick up. I inherited my copy of the original Rainbow 6 because this friend thought it was a typical shooter. He gave up quickly after seeing the hefty manual and the need to outline tactical paths before each mission.

I’ve bought most of the influential RTSes, and play their single-player and skirmish components, but have never played them against other humans (as I said, I’m the only gamer in my circle, and I don’t trust my mid-30s reflexes online against strangers). Any ideas which ones might be most rewarding for us to try? Virtually any game released in the last 10-12 years is feasible – we don’t care about the latest graphical eye-candy. My initial thought was Age of Mythology, or maybe even Age of Empires II. The military model seems simpler in that system than in Warcraft 3 (more similarity between different nations, no unique heroes), although there are more types of resources.

On a related note, do any of the RTSes have a significantly richer co-op experience than the others? We liked playing on the same side in UT’s assault mode. In an RTS, I could presumably handle the infrastructure & he could play the general and lead assaults.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

EDIT: Made it clearer that my friend is a RTS n00b

I really liked playing co-op Warcraft III with a friend of mine. It might seem a bit more complex because of the micromanagement involved but it was fun co-ordinating complementing units, like he’d go for melee units and I’d have shaman casters behind the melee to buff them up, or I could build numerous moonwells near a forward base where we attack the enemy and can easily go back for healing. Or he’d have conventional units and I’d build tons of frost wyrms, just made for some very nice variations on attack strategies and interesting tactics in bringing down opponents.

That said, I always enjoy co-op in RTS games, regardless of what the game is. It’s always a lot of fun.

Another suggestion would probably be Generals, that’s a lot of enjoyable co-op play right there, but I found it more interesting to vary the attack strategies in Warcraft III, but this might be because I’m more familiar with each unit’s spells and counterspells from playing it so often (though I still suck at it).

Actually, Battle for Middle Earth should be pretty easy to pick up. There aren’t a zillion different units that you have to familiarize yourself with, and the controls are pretty streamlined. It’s also quite good, aside from one big flaw in the build mechanics that makes me yearn for BfME2 (where, apparently, said flaw has been remedied).

Total Annihilation or Starcraft would be good starter RTS games. Not a lot to learn to mainpulate, but plenty of depth once you get going. Best of all, I think both games allow for spawn installs so you only need one disc to try them out.


Don’t listen to Dave or you’ll kill any potential interest in RTSs your friend might have developed! TA and Starcraft are great for vets, but Starcraft doesn’t have any tool tips to explain what does what, so your friend’s going to have to be really into pausing the game to look up in the manual why his Science Vessel sucks as a front line combat unit even though it’s expensive. As for TA, it’s got way too many types of units that aren’t immediately clear what they’re for.

The problem with playing co-op is that you’re going to have to put the computer on retard level to keep it from plowing over your friend, and that’s probably not going to be much of a challenge for you.

I would say don’t so Age II, since it’s so heavily econ-oriented. Age of Mythology is a good idea, as is Warcraft. Warcraft in particularly for the complementary co-op gameplay Tranquility mentioned.


Eh? I think the newer games, while they do have the tool tips, add way too many other “things” for people to learn about. Total Annihilation especially is great because you can just build shit and throw it at people. It looks great when stuff blows up and it’s fun watching it all whirr around and blast.

n00bs do best with games that have a lot of flash and simple beginnings. I know a lot of people who played Total Annihilation as their first RTS and they became big fans of the genre because of it. It’s easy to teach the shift-click and it’s one game that shows you all those clicks onscreen and retains visual knowledge of them after you’re done. Once again, these newer games are great, but they’re even more hardcore than TA or Starcraft.


One of my favorite rts games was Red alert 2, not sure if the severs are still up though, haven’t played it for at least 3 years. Playing any blizzard game online for a first timer is not a good idea.

I remember coming back to starcraft in 03 for abit, logged on to battle net and join a game, I asked one question since I was trying to remember what’s what and got cursed out before my partner left.

Dune 2000. The tutorial is decent, the tech tree is simple, there’s only one type of resource to collect, and everything basically does what you think it does. Plus, it’s dirt cheap, runs on old systems, and features cheesy Dune-themed FMV clips starring John Rhys-Davies.

If you want something newer, Dawn of War is pretty good, and co-op “hold off the Ork siege” can be lots of fun.

  • Alan

Though I dearly love Red Alert 2, it’s very much of a hassle to get up and working on XP systems.

For something quick and easy, and if your playing on an older system, I would suggest StarCraft. I’ve never had a problem running it, patching it, or otherwise playing it. The standard player vs bot modes are there, and there’as a ton of custom map if you venture online.

Act of War: Direct Action is a pretty easy to pick up RTS. Not only that, but it looks great, and really wows. It’s not very deep and you can’t really call it complex, either. If he’s having trouble doing the RTS elements (capturing money, making an army, ect) you can always set him up with a specific task like building a lot of air power and then bombing stuff - this is a LOT of fun, especially for newer players. You’ll need some good rigs to run this puppy with the eye candy turned up, though.

I would suggest Command and Conquer Generals as a step down from AoW. It’s pretty simple to pick up… less eye candy, and a lot more micromanagement than Direct Action, however it’s easy to setup and run, and doesn’t need a new rig to run decent.
Games like Rise of Nations, Age of Empires/Mythology, Total Annhiliation, Total War, ect. would probably be a bit too much.

Summed up:

  1. The easiest and quickest game to setup over a LAN is StarCraft. It’s got some very strong RTS elements - but lacks any graphical wow and it’s sci-fi theme might be a put off.

  2. Direct Action would be my #1 suggestion if your looking from some fanastic visuals and effects. Probably one of the more immersive RTSs around. It’s got a modern-day theme so he should be able to pick out things he recongizes, and it is pretty easy to pick up and play for a first-timer.

  3. Generals would by my suggestion for a little bit of both. Easy to get setup and running on a less than stellar rig, has some solid RTS features, and looks pretty decent for an RTS.

I like Rise of Nations.

I love Rise of Nations as well, it’s a very deep and involved RTS. However, I can’t really see anyone new to gaming, let alone RTSs, appreciate Rise of Nations like they should…

C&C Generals is the best for this situation. Easy AI enemy to Somewhat challenging when your experienced. Plus it’s cheap. Although Zero Hour is highly recommended, but you can get that later if Generals works out for you.


kidding, I’d say Total Annihilation to gear up for Supreme Commander, which is supposedly going to offer a far more robust co-op mode than your regular joe RTS game. Plus TA is just plain kickass. The interface is intuitive - replete with onscreen fully labeled tabs for most of the options. Many things are automated to reduce micromanagement (less clicking, mircochores). And after dealing with all those units, all other RTS games will be cake.

Also if you don’t want the AI kicking your ass, just play one of those humongous map with personal islands. It will take the AI a long time to pull off a significant attack.

Does it matter? Pick an RTS, set the AI to easy, and let your friend learn the game. Age of Mythology, Starcraft, and RoN are all excellent choices.

UPDATE: After I loaded about 2/3rds of the RTSes mentioned here onto multiple machines, we ended up getting back from dinner later than we thought. My friend needed to head back home fairly early, so we ended up playing co-op Unreal 2004 assault for a few hours.

Ah well, I’ve got enough drive space on my wife’s laptop to keep the strategy games on there until the next time he comes over. I may be able to convince my wife to play Warcraft 3 co-op.

Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War should fit the bill perfectly. Micro is kept to a minimum for new players, relationships and counters between all the units are intuitive, AI skirmishes scale fairly well to all skill levels, econ micromanagement is hardly necessary, and things blow up real good and purty. I’d stay away from Warcraft 3. The unit relationships are quite complex and microing all the different tasks in the game is tough and overwhelming until you get alot of game time under your belt. Age of Mythology is pretty complicated, too, but perhaps not a bad choice. Generals would be a good choice, too, but it lacks the neat, neophyte friendly squad groupings found in Dawn of War. So, stick with Warhammer.

Dawn of War may not be the simplest RTS out there, but I think its production values and gameplay have a pretty good shot at hooking a newb. Its atypicalities are huge improvements on aspects of RTSes that would piss off most newcomers – capture points instead of peon harvesting, squads instead of individual little C&C doods. The original Dawn of War demo is fantastic and has a surprising amount of content, although maybe not as much as the Rise of Nations demo did. I dare anybody not to like the Space Marines.