The war over the Tiberium-scarred landscape continues in Kane's Wrath, the newest expansion pack for EA's popular real-time strategy game, Command & Conquer 3. Expansions can be hit or miss depending on the commitment from the developer, but Kane's Wrath appears to have been created by a team that cares a whole lot.
Unless you're completely up to speed on Command & Conquer lore, the story in Kane's Wrath will likely be a little bit confusing. Focusing exclusively on the Brotherhood of Nod, this expansion serves to fill in a lot of the blanks between what happened around the end of the second C&C game, up through the end of C&C 3.
True to form, the single-player campaign features a handful of lesser-known actors doing the best they can with cheap sets and cheesy dialogue. But narrative nuts and bolts have never been the strong suit in the C&C games. Rather, it's the intriguing setting and chain of events from game to game, that keeps players coming back for more.
Kane's Wrath does an admirable job explaining certain elements of the C&C storyline both between levels, via cutscenes, and from within each mission through data entries that you slowly gain access to.
Kane's Wrath offers a wealth of updates to the core C&C experience. While there is no completely new side to play per se, each of the three sides from C&C 3 have been augmented with two additional splinter factions.
These factions, while retaining the basic make-up of their side, also contain unique units and buildings. For example, the GDI's Steel Falcons faction uses aggressive walker vehicles last seen in older C&C games. While Nod's Marked of Kane faction relies heavily on specialized cyborg personnel.
Each main faction also gets a brand new epic unit, and no matter which one you choose: GDI's MARV, Nod's Redeemer, or the Scrin's Eradicator, they put an incredible amount of firepower at your fingertips. The epic units help bring about a fittingly explosive endgame to your matches.
While the dozen or so missions in the single-player campaign only allow you to play the Nod factions, the new global conquest mode opens up all factions for play.
Global conquest adds a risk-like strategic layer to C&C. Players build bases and armies and set out to either wipe the enemy players off the map or fulfill the victory objective unique to the side you're playing as. For instance, GDI players can win by claiming a certain percentage of the map, while Nod players can win by inciting unrest in a set number of cities.
Between the new units, skirmish maps, and global conquest, Kane's Wrath undoubtedly has a lot to offer when compared to the typical expansion.
The gameplay definitely delivers. The single-player missions, while nothing special, are solid. And it really is enjoyable to play through more of that wacky C&C storyline. The new splinter factions work very well within the established mechanics of C&C 3. There's also been a fair amount of balancing and tweaking.
Rushing to air superiority used to be a pretty effective tactic, but each side has gotten more air defenses to play around with. In fact, many of the new units are focused on added defense. Even so, Kane's Wrath is still a brutal, fast-paced brawl of a strategy game.
The nicest surprise here is the global conquest mode. EA tried something similar in its Battle for Middle Earth game, but it's hit the nail on the head this time.
There a lots of things to consider during the turn-based phase of the game, and juggling your resources between expanding, upgrading, and conquest isn't always easy. It's by no means as detailed as something like the Total War series, but there's plenty of meat here and it fits well with the frenetic nature of C&C.
The game engine used in Kane's Wrath and nearly every other recent EA strategy game still holds up amazingly well. And it has the added benefit of running quite well on aging computer hardware. The single-player campaign uses all the same tricks as in C&C 3. That means you'll be treated to in-game video feeds from Kane and others in addition to the between-mission cutscenes.
As for the cutscenes themselves, hammy as they are, they're still effective and fun to watch at least one time through.
Despite the somewhat confusing storyline in Kane's Wrath--especially for newcomers--this expansion has plenty of new stuff to play around with. Even after you blow through the short campaign, you've got lots of new factions to tinker with in Global Conquest mode, not to mention what awaits you online, if that's your thing. Simply put, Kane's Wrath is an expansion pack done right.