Friday, January 12, 2018

Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3

Date: 1998
Developer: 7th Level/Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive

Where to purchase?

 - It's not sold digitally anywhere, so Ebay or Amazon are going to be your best bet.  Looks like it can be a little pricey for an older game.  I see used jewel case copies going for $20.

For the second post ever on RPDG, I wanted to find a game that I have never played, was relatively obscure, and one that had an interesting development story.  Even though Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 came out in 1998, which makes it close to being too modern to fit with the theme of this site, it fits all the other criteria perfectly.  Between my brother and I, one of us bought the game at some point in the early 2000s (hopefully on sale) and the jewel case has been sitting in a drawer with other loose CDs for as long as I can remember.  The game does not have a good reputation, so I never really intended to play it.  But here we are...maybe it will be great.  I don't know much about it so I shouldn't just it ahead of time.  I remember seeing print advertisements for it in PCGamer magazine that had mechs fighting against soldiers riding giant bipedal camels.  Besides the game probably having giant bipedal camels and mechs, I know nothing else about the gameplay.   

What I DO know is that Dominion was developed at Ion Storm Texas during the infamous John Romero/Daikatana/"Make you his bitch" debacle.  That is a story that deserves its own long post, and plenty of people have already written about it, but it should make for a fun development intro for my second post here on RPDG.  I am hoping the game is at least half as interesting as the story of its development company...

Let's find out!

- Development -

RTS games had been around for at least half a decade when Dominion came out in 1998.  People will always argue about what was the first type of game in a particular genre, and you can always keep going further and further back until you eventually get to mainframe games of the 60s and 70s.  SSI released some games in the 80s that could be considered precursors to modern RTS games, but these were before my time and I have never played them.  I found references to Cytron Masters, Utopia, and the Ancient Art of War, among others.

Cytron Masters

Ancient Art of War

 I'm fairly certain I could really crank up the AA and HDR and shadow quality and easily get at least 35-40fps out of my aging Radeon 7800 on some of those games.

The first modern RTS game, and the first one I played, was Dune II, by Westwood Studios released in 1992.  It has most of the now standard gameplay elements of an RTS game such as moving units around the map with the mouse, building new buildings to gather resources and build new units, and finding and destroying an enemy base.  Westwood's Command and Conquer, released in 1995, and Blizzard's Warcraft 2 released around the same time, really solidified what a modern RTS game is and opened the door for many developers to create their own take on the RTS genre.  Examples of these are Dark Reign, KKND, Age of Empires, Total Annihilation, Empire Earth, and many others.

Dominion, being released in 1998, came out after the first wave of RTS games released after Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2.  To give some perspective, Age of Empires was released in 1997 and Starcraft in 1998(!).  I have a feeling Starcraft coming out the same year as Dominion is not going to make Dominion look good at all...

Now that we've briefly covered the state of RTS games in the mid 90s, lets talk about the development of Dominion.  Before I go any further, here is a link to a very comprehensive news story that covers the rise and fall of Ion Storm in Dallas during the development of Dominion and Daikatana.  Dallas Observer - Stormy weather  It is really interesting and I highly recommend reading it.  A lot of my overview of the development of the game is going to come from that news article. 

Two developers, Todd Porter and Jerry O'Flaherty, began work on Dominion in 1996 while working at 7th Level.  Todd and Jerry and had just finished work on a mech game for 7th Level called G-Nome, which was supposed to introduce gamers to the universe that Dominion takes place in and act as a kind of prequel.  G-Nome sold poorly however, and Todd and Jerry left soon after its release to be founding members of a new studio in Dallas, Texas called Ion Storm.  Other founders were John Romero and Tom Hall, both of id software fame.  Ion Storm was kind of like a "supergroup" of software development studios.  John Romero and to a lesser extent Tom Hall were as close to rockstar status as software developers could get.

This was all happening right at the peak of the dotcom boom, so Ion Storm was able to secure quite a bit of initial cash and immediately went to work blowing it all on parties, a fancy penthouse top floor office, and other things of that nature.  They signed an agreement to Eidos to release 6 games, and their initial plan was to grab the rights to almost finished games, finish them, and push them out the door for some easy positive cash flow that they could use to have more parties, decorate their penthouse top floor office, and do further things of that nature.  They also planned to use some of that revenue to work on John Romero's upcoming revolutionary blockbuster FPS game DAIKATANA.

I couldn't help it
One of the games that Ion Storm decided to pick up was the still unfinished Dominion from 7th Level.  Todd Porter lobbied hard for this since it was his game and it sounds like he really did have faith in it.  7th Level sold the game to Ion Storm in 1997, but instead of pushing it out the door to make some quick cash, Todd Porter wanted to put some real work into the game and make it into an actual, legit great game.  According to the news story linked above, Porter told the rest of the Ion Storm team he could have the game ready in 3 months and that it would sell 500,000 copies.

One year later, after going millions of dollars over budget, the game released to bad reviews and total sales of around 24,000.  During that year and the years immediately afterwards, Ion Storm seemed to check all the boxes of how to fail spectacularly as a company.  John Romero took out his infamous Bitch ad above, the founders of the company all seemed to buy fancy sports cars, people sued each other and counter sued each other, even more money was spent on their fancy office, there were accusation of corporate espionage and press leaks, employees threatened to quit en mass, and press started circling like sharks to chart the inevitable implosion of Ion Storm.

Ion Storm Dallas (there was a slightly more successful Austin office headed by Warren Spector - another game developer superstar) did eventually close in 2001 after releasing the great RPG Anachronox and the not-so-great FPS Daikatana.  Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 faded away into obscurity and bottom drawer full of loose jewel cases.

There does seem to be a semi-official community page still up at Storm Over Gift 3 site
On the official forum at that link, it looks like there is a few posts per year.  So technically it is still active!  At least you can find patches at that site.

- The Game - 

Starting with the installation, I am immediately impressed that I was able to install the game.  Since there isn't really any community to turn to for help (no offense to those 2 or 3 posters at the semi-official Storm Over Gift 3 site), I was worried I would be stuck at the installation.  Especially after writing that long Ion Storm intro.  I have Windows 10 and I ran the setup executable off the first CD in XP SP3 compatibility mode and it worked like a charm.  The only hiccup I ran into was when the installation program became worried that I might have my Netscape Navigator open.  Thanks for the warning!

 After installation I am presented with the CD main menu.  The options are

  • Play Dominion
  • Install Dominion (greyed out now)
  • Uninstall, DIRECTX (greyed  out)
  • View Readme 
  • System Info 
  • Register Online
  • Check Updates
  • Daikatana Demo
  • website

The intro cinematic begins with a strange probe orbiting a distant planet.  A human looking space craft approaches the probe and scans it and in return gets a huge info dump uploaded to it from the probe.
The strange probe

Scanning the probe
  Next we are presented with a breaking news segment showing ambassadors from the 4 playable races (Humans, Scorps, Mercs, and Darkens) sitting around a table arguing about what to do about the new planet and probe:


I don't know...Darken?

I think I heard the cutscene say these guys were the Mercs
Something about the Scorps makes me not want to trust them.  It might because they are obviously monsters.

According to the probe, there is technology down on the planet (now known as Gift 3 since it's the 3rd planet in the Gift system) that is all powerful and messiah-like.  The 4 races can't agree on a messiah-sharing plan and so as is tradition when religion and politics mixes, they decide the easiest solution is war.

And then begins a really cool second intro cinematic with pumping music and fun, futuristic battle scenes.  It really is a fun cinematic, I recommend taking a look: Dominion Intro Cinematic

There's Todd Porter - Remember him?

And after everyone got done shooting each other, we get to the main menu:

...which is just like any other main menu for a 90s RTS game.

You can start a new singleplayer campaign as any of the 4 races.  I'm going to choose the Darken for no particular reason.  I'm pretty sure they are the brown guys that look a little like catfish with a big mustache-whisker.  I did not see any difficulty options, so lets just jump right into it then!

The campaign starts with another cutscene that is specific to my race, which is cool.  I like when games have stories and cinematics specific to whichever side the player chooses.

This guys with the cigar must be a commander
My troops and I (I assume I am the commander with the cigar) are in a drop ship coming down to land from orbit.  The guy with the cigar gets a briefing on an ipad that says we should expect the enemies to be Mercs.  Our mission is to establish a base and clear out any Merc presence.  In a nice surprise, the briefing showed which troop types will be available to me and which enemy troop types I can expect.  At least I think it did.  It may have been a generic set of animations, but I hope it is different and specific for each mission.

Starting area
I started in an area of brown rock with about 10 soldiers and no buildings.  The interface is different than what I'm used to in RTS games like Command and Conquer.  The build options are on the upper left of the bottom interface bar.  You can see the 4 categories in the screenshot above.  Clicking on one of the 4 build options shows you the different choices you have to build below it.  In the screenshot above, I selected the first building category icon from the left, and then I clicked on the 3rd building option in from the left below it, which started building that building (refinery) and covered up the other 2 building options while the refinery building is in process.  If you hover the mouse cursor over an icon, you get a description at the bottom of the screen, which is really helpful.

So far I've built a main base (middle), colony (left), and power plant (right).  You build units just like you build buildings, and they come out of the main base.  So far I'm only able to build a single kind of soldier called a Guard.  I'm not sure what the colony does yet, I think it either allows me to build new units or increases my unit cap.  Building new units and buildings decreases the numbers on the right side of the interface, so those must be resources.

As I was fumbling around trying to figure out the interface, I was attacked by a Merc scouting vehicle and then Merc soldiers and then a damn mech!  They were firing rockets and killing my machine-gun firing Guards just as fast as I could build them.  They destroyed my base pretty quickly so I had to start over.

This time I discovered I can upgrade my colony and it allows me to build Heavy Guards.  I also built a refinery on that puddle of green goo which let me harvest resources and have an income.  So now its time to build some Heavy Guards and be prepared for the Mercs!

I also built an umbilical...I don't know what it does yet though

This time I am ready for those Mercs

Marking quick work of more Merc soldiers
   Now that I have a good number of soldiers and I've exhausted my build options, it's time to explore the map and find the enemy Merc base.  My plan is to leave some soldiers back at the base (since there is not defensive build options yet) and send out a recon-in-force group to scout out the enemy.

Base defense group at the top, scouting group at the bottom

I've lost all my initial starting soldiers except one, and he is different than the normal Guard or Heavy Guard.  He seems to be a cyborg or something.  He shoots a laser weapon that does a ton of damage, but he is SO SLOW and there is something wrong with his pathfinding software...

Cyborg trying his best to follow the rest of the group
The map is small and I'm running into small enemy groups of 1 or 2 guys.  So far it is pretty standard RTS gameplay.  Left click to select things (or drag select), left click to move them or attack, right click to deselect.  The map is 2D tilesets like Command and Conquer or any other RTS of this era.  I can't tell if terrain height or line of sight plays a role in accuracy, but I would doubt it.  Pathfinding seems good enough, my group of soldiers go around obstacles and take the quickest path to get where they are going.  Or at least most of them do...Mr. Cyborg is really struggling still, I may have to leave him behind.

Come on cyborg!  How did you even get up there??
I've decided to just leave him here for now, bye cyborg.
I found the enemy base!

Those puddles of blood are what is left over of my army.  I learned some key lessons just now when attacking the base: 1.) The rockets fired by my Heavy Guard soldiers do a lot of friendly fire damage, and 2.) The AI will not fire back if they are fired upon if they are already attacking a structure.  The battle lasted about 10 seconds.  I had my army all bunched together and I set them to attack the main base building (middle of the screen above).  My Guard soldiers grouped together and ran up close to the building to shoot it with their machine guns.  As new enemies were built and exited the base, they exited right into my group of Guard soldiers.  When I directed all my soldiers to target the enemy soldiers, my Heavy Guards proceeded to fire their rockets right into the dense mish mash of friendly and enemy soldiers.  They enacted a heavy toll.     

Cyborg still hanging out by himself
Time to recruit another army and try that again.

Before I try attacking the base again, I think I'll explore the rest of the map since it's not very big.  I'm also running out of resources from building all of these new units, so hopefully I can find another green puddle to build a refinery on.

Ah ha! Success!
 I found this enemy refinery just to the southwest of my starting area.  I destroyed it but I couldn't build my own refinery in its place because I would out of energy range.  Maybe that is what the umbilicals are for?  Let's try building a chain of those and see if I can build a refinery then.

Success again!
But my resource counter in the bottom right doesn't seem to be going up any faster so I don't know how adding this refinery made any difference.  If I hover my mouse over it, it says it is at "60%", but my original is at "40%".  Is that how much green goo is left to be harvested?  They aren't damaged at all so it isn't damage.  Hopefully I'll figure out what that number means later.

My new army - notice the perfect square
I have now raised a new army and I am ready to take the fight back to the enemy Mercs again.  I like how my soldiers formed a perfect square when I had them move somewhere.  I don't know if it happened on accident or what, but it looks cool.  Makes me feel like I trained them well.  Cyborg is no where to be found.  I think he wandered off somewhere on his own.  If that is what he wants to do, then I won't stand in his way.  I wish him the best in all his future endeavors.

Attacking the enemy base again

Boom goes the enemy main building

The mission summary screen - I want some huge mechs like that 
Darken - Mission 2

The second mission opens with a cinematic again.  Unfortunately, I alt-tabbed out of the game which results in the screen looking like this when I went back into it:

Ipad briefing
I'll have to make sure not alt-tab out anymore.  The mission again begins with an orbital drop and our cigar-smoking player getting his briefing on his ipad.  For this mission, we need to find and rescue someone from the Mercs.

Starting area
Again I start with some troops and no buildings, but this time we are in a grassy environment.  Now that I know what to do, let's start building up our base.

The finished base
Here is our finished base after building all the buildings available.  The headquarters building on the upper left is new this mission, which let me build a vehicle called the sentinel.  I am also able to upgrade the colony building and main base so I can now produce Armored Guards, which are the cyborg I had so much trouble with the last mission.

 Alright, time to start building an army.  I think I'm going to stick with Heavy Guards and regular Guards for right now since I don't have a lot of faith my cyborg Armored Guards will be able to keep up with the rest of my army.  I've built some Sentinels as well, they look like enclosed motorcycles with side cars.  You can right click on any unit in the game to bring up an action menu that has actions such as kneel, crawl, attack, move, and guard.  The Armored Guard has unit specific actions like Detonate and Detonate at Target, which makes him a kind of suicide bomber I guess.  I'm surprised the game has these options, I can't think of any other RTS game that had options like this.  Having options like kneel and crawl and the unit specific actions adds a tactical or RPG layer that could have really made the combat a lot more interesting.  But so far I haven't figured out any good use for any of these options.  Kneel and crawl just made my soldiers slower, and I couldn't get my Armored Guard to actually blow up near a target.  I could only get him to blow himself up on command with the Detonate action.  Still, I am impressed the game had these options this early.

Wait...what is this...?
They are doing jumping jacks!  If I let them sit idle for a while, they start doing jumping jacks.  That is great, I love little extra details like that.  Notice my one cyborg that is idle is NOT doing jumping jacks.  They are not really "team players".  Now that my team is warmed up and in shape, time to go rescue my target.

The enemy just built these two energy beacons after I moved my troops past this area and started attacking their base.  The energy beacons form an impassible barrier between them, and no matter how much I shoot them, they repair faster than I can damage them.  

But I found an umbilical hiding in the trees (the purple smudge in the screenshot above) that is providing the beacons power.  After destroying the umbilical, the barrier between the beacons went down.  I have to say, that is pretty tricky for a 90s RTS game, especially for the 2nd level.

I found the rest of the Merc base a bit to the west of the energy beacon barrier.  I am guessing this guy trapped in a square of energy barriers is the guy I am supposed to rescue.

He's our Guard Leader, so let's rescue him
 The only problem is, just like the first energy beacons, I can't seem to destroy the beacons holding our leader captive.  Nor can I destroy the main building.  Here is my trying to do just that.  Notice the building's health is not dropping at all:

So instead I'm going to try destroying the power plants.

Success, the energy barrier is down!
 I could not figure out how to get the Sentinels to attack anything, and since this is the first mission I was able to build them, I thought maybe they could act as APCs or transports.  But nope, I could not get Guard Leader to enter a Sentinel, so instead I just had him run all the back to my base.  I still don't know what to do with Sentinels though.  Right clicking on them doesn't give me any options besides normal ones like guard, patrol, attack, etc.  Maybe it is built only for scouting? 

Darken - Mission 3

I realize now the mission intro cinematics are all the same animation until it gets to the ipad briefing segment.  Then it does indeed present you with a custom mission briefing and it does tell you which new enemies you'll be going against and which new units you'll have at your disposal.  So that is pretty neat.  Not as good as Command and Conquer or Warcraft 2's storyline cinematics, but Dominion also lets you play as 4 different races.  

Mission 3 starting area

 Mission 3 objectives - we need to capture the enemy HQ
OK first up is to establish our base.  As I build buildings, I'm going to set my Sentinel to recon, which is a handy feature.  My goal is to find the enemy base or find another pool of green goo so I can double my resource collection.

Passing the enemy recon vehicle - "Hello sir, don't mind me..."

I found that tower and it killed my Sentinel
Wow, whatever that tower is in the upper left of the above screenshot, it wasted my Sentinel in about one second.  It has a rapid-fire machine gun, its obviously some kind of defensive tower.  I think I'll avoid that area if at all possible for right now and focus instead on building up my forces.  I've got a good start on my base and an army of Guards and Heavy Guards.  I have a new building called a Weapons Plant that will let me build tanks, but right now the tanks are too expensive.  I'll see if I can do this with only infantry right now.  

Uh oh...
 I can see enemy units coming from where I explored earlier with my Sentinel, and it doesn't look good.  At least the plateau my base is on has a narrow entrance, so it should make defending it a little easier.  Here comes that Mech.  They do a lot of damage and are hard to kill, so this could be close...

Destroyed the Mech with minimal casualties
 Now that I killed their Mech, I'm going to advance up into the area where the enemy came from to see if there base is up there.  It is the same area with the machine gun tower that killed my Sentinel, so I need to be careful to avoid that.

Advancing - Notice my Powered Guard (cyborg) lost as usual on the right

What? Another mech?
As I advance, I run into ANOTHER enemy mech.  Come on game, all I have is unarmored guards and you are throwing mechs as me! 

 A well placed rocket from the mech hit in the middle of a group of my guys and blew up about 8 of them at one.  Nice.  At least I've got a few regular Guard troops left...

And now there are battle tanks.

All that's left of my troops again - bloody smears

 My "army" just got steamrolled by the Mercs.  I don't know how I am supposed to fight against battle tanks and mechs with my soldiers.  Even if I would have had the money to build a tank from my Weapons Plant building, this huge enemy attack would have arrived  too early.  I barely have time to build anything besides some buildings and some infantry.

 Right, I'm going to rethink this and try again.  I think I need to get my Weapons Plant up right away so I can make tanks.  Then I'll have something to counter the enemy mechs and tanks.  So let's try that.

Right, that was not the answer.  I still got absolutely dominated.  I'm going to look on the internet and perhaps turn down the difficulty and see what I can come up with.

<A little while later> The only thing I could find online was someone playing through the first part of this mission.  They made use of energy barriers to block the entrance to the base and they build another refinery to the north.  I'll try out this strategy and see if it works.  This mission is getting kind of annoying, I'm tempted to turn off Dominion and move on to the next game, but I'll stick with it and at least see this mission through.

My norther refinery (main base in center of minimap)
I've been saving screenshots using Dominion's built in screenshot capture, but I somehow lost my shots from earlier in my re-attempt at this level.  I built some rocket towers on the western edge of my base over-looking the area the enemy has to pass through to get to my base, and then took care of protecting my base.  Then I built a big force of tanks and soldiers and just rushed the two machine gun towers the enemy has.  I could not figure out a better way to get past them.  It also took me a few reloads because I kept getting all my soldiers killed.  This is a hard mission.

Attacking the enemy towers
After blowing up those two towers, I moved up into the enemy base area and found their refinery.

The enemy refinery

I blew it up and built my own refinery on its spot
Enemy base with HQ about to be captured by my technoid
Thank God I finally found the enemy HQ and killed all the enemy units to give my technoid a clear shot at capturing it.

This was not a fun mission
Finally.  I bet I reloaded or failed this mission 10 times.  I'll give the developers credit for creating missions that are not just straight forward tank rush/kill the enemy base cookie-cutter levels, but this one was just miserable.  A big part of why I didn't have fun may have had to do with the fact that I am still learning the mechanics of the game.  It took me until this mission to learn that in order for your refineries to produce at 100%, you need to have 100% power from power plants.  So that helped me with my income.

But with that said, the mission is still really unforgiving.  I had to do trial and error to find out where the enemies were because there were many instance where a mech or tank would be revealed by the fog of war and kill half my guys before I could even react.  I routinely had all my units wiped out and then had to rebuild them from scratch.  Normally that kind of thing doesn't bother me in RTS games, but in Dominion it seems to happen so fast that it feels like you  are fighting the game engine instead of the enemy at times.  It was particularly bad in this mission because you start with infantry and the enemy starts with mechs and tanks.

Draken - Mission 4

My new unit for this mission - a mech!
 Mission 4 has me eliminating the Merc presence on Gift 3, I assume the rest of the game would have me fighting the remaining 2 races until I can claim Gift 3 for the Draken.  I won't find out first hand because this is my last mission of Dominion.  I've been playing for a few hours now and its time to move on to another game.  But I am curious to try out my new mech unit, so I'll wipe the filthy Mercs from the face of Gift 3 so I can at least finish the campaign against them.

"Erase their presence" i.e. blow all of them up

This is a sandy environment and my starting area sits in a nice depression with the only entrances between the surrounding cliffs being to the north and west.  Right away after getting my base started, I took a page from the previous level and built some energy barriers in the northern entrance, and then flanked my barrier with 2 rocket towers.  That should deter any invaders.

Here comes some enemy tanks, lets see how they do against my rockets towers:

Rocket towers are good
My rocket towers make quick work of the tanks coming from the north, and soon after that they stop a tank attack coming from the west.  Jeez these things are really powerful, I feel like I could just leave defense of entire base to 2 or 3 rocket towers.  In fact, that is what I'm going to do.

My next move is to set my Sentinel to recon and send it on its way.  After a few minutes, he found some artillery units farther to my north.  I sent some tanks up to destroy them, and I found another green goo puddle (Matter well).  After laying some umbilicals, I am able to build another refinery to pump up my economy numbers.

I also built a rocket tower to guard that refinery.  If you look at the minimap on the lower left of the screen, you'll notice some red dots on the northwestern corner of the map.  My recon Sentinel ran into a bunch of enemy units and defensive towers, so I'm guessing I can expect an attack from that direction as well.  Hopefully rocket tower will take care of that.

I'm going to take a chance and see if I can rush the enemy base early on.  I'll gather an assault force and attack those units to the northwest and see if I can break through their defenses.

The assault force moves out
This attack did not go well.  My entire force was destroyed by the enemy defenses, and then the game crashed.  Now the save is corrupted, and I can't load my save for this level.  I'm really tempted to call it quits right now, but I said I would finish this last level so I'm going to restart the level and try again.

I'm not going to post screenshots of me re-doing the beginning of the mission again.  I did essentially the same thing except I'm going to explore and not attack those units in the northwest.  I'm going to fastfoward to when I finally found the enemy base.  Annoyingly, the map is laid out almost like a maze.  A series of cliffs and plateaus and ridges form branching paths you can take, many of which end in dead ends.  It took me a while to find a narrow spot that looks blocked by trees but you can squeeze through a small section of the spot between the trees and cliffs.

Traffic jam 
This narrow passage spot was really annoying.  You can see the trees that make up the barrier on the left of the screenshot above.  The only way through the trees is a narrow gap at the top between them and the cliff.  Since only one unit can fit through the trees at a time, the AI pathfinding has an awful time trying to find their way through this section.  I had to micromanage 2-3 units at a time to get them through, otherwise they would turn around and drive the other direction, or just stop and refuse to move.

Enemy unit patiently waiting its turn
Hilariously, the enemy AI also didn't quite know what to do with this section either.  They did not attack me when we crossed paths here.  In fact, the enemy units patiently waited their turn to pass through this section, then continued on without firing a shot at me.  How polite...

OK, I've built a big assault force on the other side of the trees, so let's go find their base and finish this!
My new assault force
I found an energy barrier, so that is a good indicator that I am close to their base.

Found it

Now that I've found the enemy base, it should be a straighforward process of mopping up any remaining units and destroying the rest of the buildings.

I'm running into a problem I had with the previous mission: the Mercs can repair their main base building faster than I can damage it.  I think this is a mechanism put in place to prevent players from making a bee-line straight to the enemy main building and destroying it and ending the mission early.  But this seems like a cheap way of doing it, the building is basically invulnerable.

I don't like the look of these artillery pieces coming down to defend their base, or that mech coming up from the south!

 No!  No no no...

No!  Dammit

 I thought I was basically done with the mission.  Instead they wiped out my whole army.  Time to raise another army and try this again.  At least most of their defenses are down and most of the enemy units are dead.  I'll try something different and try taking over the main building with a technoid.  I was able to take over the enemy HQ building with a technoid in the last mission, so I'll try it out on the main building in this mission.

My technoid

Technoid about to capture the enemy main building...

Nothing happened
Nothing happened when I tried to take it over with my technoid.  The cursor became a bomb-looking icon when I clicked on the building, and the technoid went in and disappeared.  Now there is a flashing bomb-looking icon over the building but nothing else happened.  Time to go back to the brute-force option:

I cleared out all the rest of the enemies and buildings on the map, and now I can damage the building without it being repaired.  As I am firing on the main building, the enemy started building things like that power plant to the upper left, but its too late for that.  It's game over for the Mercs.

Some final notes about this mission:

  • The only other way into the enemy base was through those defensive towers and units to the northwest that I originally ran into before my game crashed.  I'm not even sure if the path through the trees was meant to exist or if it was a map oversight.  I'm assuming it was supposed to exist as a shortcut instead of the main way to the enemy base.
  • There was a neat part of the map where I could build an umbilical to transfer power over a river, and resume building umbilicals/other structures on the other side of the river.  Nice touch.

I've eliminated the Mercs from Gift 3 and that's good enough for me when it comes to Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3.  I guess for me it was more of a Dominion: Passing Rain Shower Over Gift 3.  Just enough to eliminate 1/3 of my enemies.

- Review -

Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 is an unfortunate game.  Underneath the poor control, bad pathfinding and AI, uneven game balance, and tedious missions, there are some really great ideas.  I appreciate that there are 4 different playable races, each with their own units.  I like the heavy use of umbilicals to extend your base out to resource collection nodes.  And I wish they would have done something with the right-click action menus for the units.  Including options like "kneel" and "crawl" and "patrol" for units was pretty innovative for the time, but I never found a use for any of the various commands besides "Recon" for the Sentinels.  It was a wasted potential that really serves no purpose in the game.  That is how Dominion feels to me: wasted potential.  All of the ingredients are there for a great RTS game, but the implementation is just not there.

The game feels like it was released before it was ready, especially given the problems with the AI and the unevenness of the gameplay balance.  The result is a game that is just not fun to play.  In the last mission I played, I spent most of my time micromanaging the movement of my tanks from my base to the enemy's base because I couldn't trust the pathfinding to get them there on its own.  And I only built tanks, because by then I had realized that there was no point in building any other unit.

When this game was originally released, I think it received average to poor reviews, so it wasn't well-regarded even in its own time.  Dominion came out two years after Command and Conquer and Warcraft 2, and its graphics are not much better than those games.  It also plays much worse than these predecessors.  Based on what I read about Ion Storm, it really reflected poorly on the studio and only served to draw more attention to the studio's woes leading up to the release of Daikatana.  If Dominion is an unfortunate game, it definitely came from an unfortunate studio.  The whole situation is unfortunate.   

Which really is too bad.  This could have been a great game if it was just smoother to play.  I'm giving it 2.5 Mission Accomplished's out of 5.  It may be worth playing today if you really like RTS games from the 90s and want to experience a decidedly average example of one, or if you are just curious about the game as a historical tidbit regarding Ion Storm.  Otherwise, I recommend games like Starcraft, Age of Empires, Total Annihilation, or Command and Conquer Tiberium Sun.

Did anyone else out there play and enjoy this game?  Is it worth continuing on in the campaign?  Let me know in the comments!

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