If you’re a gamer of a certain age, you undoubtedly have either fond or frustrating memories of the Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy (RTS) games. Maybe even both, depending on how you managed to stack up against your friends. Since every old video game brand is one just waiting to be dusted off at the right time, EA has decided the time is right for Command & Conquer: Rivals (Free) to scratch the mobile RTS itch you didn’t know you have.
First things first: If you’re going to be all “How dare you ruin my childhood like this, EA?” then you probably don’t need to read on. It’s a fair sentiment for, um, some of the things we’ve seen from the company in the past, but Command & Conquer: Rivals is actually a pretty respectful take on the brand, albeit one tailored specifically for quick, fast-paced PvP matches on a whole lot less overall real estate than you might be used to from the genre. It’s actually pretty clever, for lack of a more colorful adjective.
But since it’s all PvP and definitely free-to-play in all the best and most annoying senses, you’ll want to figure out how to not suck too badly and play for the least amount of money possible while still being able to put up a fight. Fortunately, we’re the helpful types here, so let’s see what Rivals is all about.
The object of a match of C&C: Rivals is about as simple as it gets. Both commanders (fancy talk for players) have a base on opposite sides of the game map, and the first one to destroy the other base wins. You could send units over there to attack it directly, but the bases are pretty stout, so that could take a while.
Instead, Rivals uses an interesting mechanic with two or more zones of three hexes each that can be used to control a nuclear missile in the center of the map. There’s a meter that fills up gradually as players vie for control of the zones, and when the meter is at the top, whoever has possession of two or more of the zones fires the nuke toward the enemy base, instantly reducing its health by half. Get in two missile shots and you win. Simple!
Well, simple except that there’s the usual RTS gathering of resources — Tiberium, in keeping with series lore — to build units to battle for those zones. Different kinds of troops at your disposal include infantry, vehicles, mechs and air units. Also, you can “steal” the missile by carefully timing your attacks and movements to swoop in for control of the zones right when the meter is about to top off, so there’s a lot going on in a pretty confined space.
As far as the very basics, though, Command & Conquer: Rivals is quite intuitive. To control a unit, simply tap on it. Tap again to move it wherever you wish; you’ll see a white line that signifies the path it will take. Tapping on an enemy unit or structure will make the unit advance toward it and attack until its dead, the target is dead or you give it another order.
Along the bottom of the screen, you’ll find buttons to produce units or the buildings that make them, along with their cost in Tiberium. Your Tiberium store is at the very left, and while it slowly fills on its own, you can gather it more quickly by use of a unit called a Harvester, which will drive to the nearest supply and continually mine without need to give it more orders.
Bonus tip: Harvesters are pretty durable but have no weapons, so attacking the enemy harvester can be an interesting tactic, especially since you instantly get a bunch of Tiberium if you blow one up.
So while you’re free to send your troops merrily into battle all willy nilly, it really helps to understand that every unit is strong against some other types and weak or even completely ineffective against others. More broadly, this relationship between troop types classifies every unit as either Infantry (denoted by a little stick figure), Vehicle (jeep icon) or Aircraft (fighter jet), as well as being Air or Ground.
If you tap on any unit in your collection, you’ll see what it is considered up by its name, while the kinds of units against which it is strong and can target at all are right underneath its picture.
In this example, we’re looking at the Zone Trooper, a powerful GDI Infantry unit that is strong against Vehicles and Aircraft and can target both Air and Ground foes. It also has a nifty special ability where it self-heals when not in combat.
Tactics in Rivals often break down into having the proper counters to what your opponent is playing. For example, knowing what the Zone Trooper’s strengths are, you wouldn’t throw a tank at it, because it’s probably going to lose. Instead, you’ll want to attack it with Infantry of your own since that’s the type that gives it some problems.
Of course, there are times when the enemy forces your hand and you’ll have to throw down knowing you are at a disadvantage, but such is life in any RTS. Success is earned by minimizing those times for yourself and maximizing them for your opponent, so you’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with every new unit you unlock to see what targets are most logical when you put it to use.
There is no in-match leveling in Command & Conquer: Rivals, so you’ll have to dance with who you brung, to borrow an old idiom that relies on incorrect English. As you may have already surmised just because it’s such a widespread trend in mobile, Rivals utilizes a card system: All you need is one card to unlock any unit, but you’ll need multiples of that same card to bump it to the next rank.
Even when you have enough copies of a card to rank up a given unit, you’ll need to spend coins to level it up three times. Then the actual rank up is free, which is nice. But it’s important not to forget about leveling, because that can make your units just a tad better than ones your opponent has of the same rank. This is definitely a game where little edges can matter.
There are also various commanders you can unlock and level/rank up just like you do units, each with their own special ability. These abilities also cost Tiberium to activate, so they become a de facto seventh unit to go with the six you can have in your “deck” in a match.
Keeping in mind that we’re trying to make you a Command & Conquer: Rivals ace on a budget, the obvious question becomes how you earn more cards to keep your army improving. Fortunately, there are a handful of different ways to get them without spending any dough on IAPs.
- Order a Crate -Every match you play can earn you Fuel, which can be used to order Crates that contain coins, Diamonds (the premium currency, which only shows up in Crates at random) and cards. It costs one unit of Fuel to order a Crate and one more to reduce its wait time by half. You can do both from the bottom of the home screen.
- Complete five bounties – Bounties are specific, cumulative match goals that refresh every day. Finishing off a single bounty gets you coins and XP, but finishing all five gets you a Crate that opens instantly.
- Keep leveling up – Every time you level up your player profile, you’ll earn a reward that includes coins and free cards. The first 10 battles in a day earn you bonus XP to help you level up faster, so it’s worth playing at least that many battles if you’ve got the time for it.
- Buy the Daily Cards in the Store – Mash that shopping card icon to get to the in-game store, then tap the ‘Daily Cards’ tab to find three cards you can purchase with coins. The selection changes (wait for it … ) daily. You can also buy Crates for Diamonds or simply buy more Diamonds in the store if you’re so inclined.
- Open your free Common Crate twice a day – Every 12 hours, you can hit up the ‘Crates’ tab in the store and get a Common crate for no charge. It’s not much, but it’s something.
- Join an Alliance and request cards from your teammates – While Rivals will undoubtedly add more social features as it goes, one of the primary benefits to joining an Alliance is because you can request donations from the other members of cards from the two lowest rarity levels in the game every eight hours. Of course, etiquette suggests that you also donate some you don’t need as much in return. That’s just good manners.
When you first start playing Command & Conquer: Rivals, your only option is to play as the Global Defense Initiative (GDI), who are more or less the “good guys” in series lore. As longtime fans know, there is also Nod, which is sort of the Cobra to the GDI’s G.I. Joe. Nod has its own completely different set of units and commanders, which makes it a whole separate challenge to master.
Sounds great, and it is a good way to keep things fresh. It’s also very straightforward to unlock the Nod faction for your use: Just get to level 9 on your player profile and it automatically is yours. No fuss, no muss.
Advancement up the PvP ranks is tracked separately for each faction, so definitely remember that when choosing which side to play. It might make some sense to specialize in one faction or the other for the duration of a season, but as Black Sheep once famously said, the choice is yours — once you are level 9 or above, anyway.
If you’ve read this far, you should have a pretty good handle on how to play Rivals and how to keep growing in power without sinking money into the game. Still, we can pass on a few more pointers we’ve picked up in our time in-game so far.
- Location, location, location – Positioning might be the most important thing in the entire game. Very few units can fire more than one hex away, so even moving one extra space can be the difference between life and death for your troops. By the same token, securing a zone can sometimes be as simple as physically placing units in the hexes that prevent your opponent from waltzing in, so blocking is a tactic that can absolutely work.
- Get that Harvester out ASAP – The countdown to the start of a match should be your time to get ready to get your Harvester out as quickly as humanly possible. There’s really no compelling reason not to do it, so get that thing in action pronto.
- Keep it moving – Way too many players send their units out to fight and just let them slug it out. Mobility can definitely be used as a weapon, though, and the very best players constantly are moving troops around to make their opponent uncomfortable, keep their units alive and simply to mix things up. Outmaneuvering a stronger opponent might be the only way to defeat them in some cases.
- Death from above – Aircraft are a game-changer when they first arrive, guaranteed to freak you out if your enemies unlock them before you do. The key is not to panic: Study which of your ground units can fight back against them and have a counter ready. Otherwise you’ll get sliced up from the skies.
- Beware of swarms – A pretty common overall strategy that you’ll encounter is just to spam one troop type. The hope is that you will fumble around for the right counter or simply be too slow to keep up until its too late. Occasionally, this is just a setup move, like the player that spams infantry to buy time to get out big mechs for the endgame. Again, the most important weapon you’ll have is knowledge. If you can quickly identify what your enemy is doing and calmly get counters out on the map, no swarm should be able to stop you.