A specific expectation comes with development of a sequel. Fans expect to see the core ideas remain while also including enough changes and features that improves upon those familiar ideas. Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight tried to introduce new gameplay ideas and significant changes that would expand its appeal to wider audiences. These changes in Command & Conquer 4 alienated the core fan base by ignoring what made the series popular in the first place. With the upcoming free-to-play Command & Conquer, BioWare’s Victory Games studio aims to return to the roots of the franchise’s success.

Victory Games wants to “wash the stain of C&C4 away” by returning to the core concepts that makes Command & Conquer so recognizable. The Senior Technical Game Designer, Jeremy Townsend, describes the C&C experience as “base building that doesn’t feel like a chore”, simple resource harvesting and fast action when in combat. With these core concepts lining the foundation of C&C, Lead Designer, Samuel Bass, wants fans to immediately recognize the look and feel of this newest real-time strategy game.

EA shared the first episode in the “Beyond The Battle” video series (watch above) and in it the developers talk about being fans of the original games and how they’re picking and choosing the best features from the original titles. Borrowing ideas from Command & Conquer: Generals – and originally conceived as a direct sequel –  Victory games wants to bring a greater variety to the returning three factions; EU, Global Liberation Army and Asian Pacific Alliance, by including a wide array of Generals. Each General will come equipped with abilities, upgrades and different player powers that make choosing from three factions seem like “hundreds of factions.” Selecting different Generals can also remove existing units in place of a specialized unit.

Command and Conquer Beta Signup

Determined to provide the best Command & Conquer experience for veteran and new players alike, Victory Games wants to include their community as much as possible. With the privilege of receiving feedback in a very quick and timely manner, the “on-going conversation” with fans allows the developers to address and implement significant changes. Since they aim to build a game for the fans of the C&C series, Victory Games wants to “grow together” with them. Players can participate in the process and try out the game themselves by signing up for the closed beta here.

All of these returning ideas and design promises also come with the largest and probably the scariest change, the free-to-play, always-online model. Command & Conquer, like every RTS, lives and dies off the balance of the game’s units. Paying for unique units could upset the balance the developers worked to achieve in the first place. To keep the competition fair, Victory Games can’t sell anything outside of cosmetic items, maps and EXP bonuses. And then there’s the always-online issue which crushed EA’s launch of the similarly always-on SimCity.

With the inclusion of unique Generals, players can easily expect the exclusive sale of newer Generals – an idea similar to the permanent purchases of Champions in free-to-play game, League of Legends. For EA and Victory Games to try and apply the free-to-play model to the RTS genre heavily dependent on perfect game balance seems like an unlikely fit when trying to avoid the “pay-to-win” stigma. The combination proves risky, especially with a franchise desperately trying to return to its former glory. EA could however, foreseeably charge for a campaign as well since it was dropped when it was announced the title had dropped the “Generals 2” subtitle and was going free-to-play. That last point does not work in favor of the idea of returning to franchise roots.

We’ll learn more soon as we approach the open beta launch and E3 presence of Command & Conquer.

Command & Conquer releases on PC later this year.