So I'm still looking at single-player PC games in parallel to playing World of Warcraft. I mentioned having some fun with shooter games, but traditionally I am more interested in strategy and role-playing games. But looking at the strategy games on offer, or coming out soon, I noticed that there are a lot of them that are terribly complicated. The whole Europa Universalis series seems to be completely unplayable for the layman. The latest offspring of the Total War series, Empire (to be released in March 2009), will take hours to learn for a newbie, having countless strategic and tactical options in both the round-based strategy map game and the real-time tactical battles.
The comparison with shooters is striking: The shooter genre has evolved without getting any more complicated. A dozen keys is all you need for them. The development concentrated on better graphics and story-telling, but a modern shooter isn't much more complex than Wolfenstein 3D.
It would have been possible for strategy games to develop better AI and story-telling as well, but especially on the AI there has been very little evolution. So to make strategy games more challenging, the developers often add more options, and more micro-management. The result is games that are hard to learn, but easy to master once you know how everything works. Just the opposite of a good game. Most strategy games with a selectable difficulty level are actually equally stupid on every level, they just cheat more on the higher difficulties.
Sometimes developers try to capture a wider audience, by making easier strategy games, like Spore. Spore consists of several games, each of which is a simpler version of existing strategy games. The last and main stage, a 4X space game, is considerably easier than lets say the last Master of Orion. But it is still rather fiddly, and has little strategic depth. Instead of enabling you to win by making better strategic decisions, it adds silly arcade elements.
So what the strategy game genre would need would be to return to its roots, make games which are a lot easier to control, and don't have millions of options. And then work on a much better artificial intelligence, so that one would need to play better to beat the higher difficulty levels, without the computer cheating. Anyone know such a game?