RTS games are a bit out of fashion, but colony sims are blowing up. Diplomacy is Not an Option is an ambitious new game that tries to do both, and I wanted to see if it could pull it off.
Diplomacy is Not an Option puts you in the shoes of a backwater Lord in the medieval era. You don't have thousands of troops and endless supplies of gold in your pocket. You're barely hanging on and you haven't ever fought a serious war. That all changes on one fateful day when a rebellion explodes in your neck of the woods.
Diplomacy is Not an Option Will Test Your RTS Skills
As far as game genres go, Diplomacy is Not an Option is a nightmare to categorize. It is first and foremost an RTS game, but it also has elements of city builders, colony sims, and tower defense games all wrapped up in one neat little package. It's also seriously difficult.
This is not an RTS for new players to the genre, but veterans looking for a challenge will probably love it.
I have a fair amount of experience with RTS games. I've beaten the Starcraft 2 campaign on Brutal. I've played thousands of hours of popular games like Age of Empires and Homeworld along with a fair amount of time in lesser-known titles like Wargames and Warzone 2100. It's not my favorite genre, but I feel like I know what I'm doing.
Diplomacy is Not an Option made me question those decades of experience. I proverbially beat my head against a brick wall, playing the two campaign missions included with the Early Access launch over and over again. This is not an RTS for new players to the genre, but veterans looking for a challenge will probably love it.
Most RTS games require you to send out troops and destroy an enemy objective. That's not the case with Diplomacy is Not an Option -- the enemy comes to you, and you have to do your damnedest to prepare an adequate defense.
The two campaign missions I played featured waves of enemy attackers arriving every few in-game days. The final wave features hundreds of enemy soldiers and a couple dozen siege engines, and I've never survived unscathed. Defenses that I thought were solid would inevitably buckle under the pressure. I eventually realized that my shortcoming was on the "macro" side of the game -- that is to say, the economy. I leaned into expanding faster, cranking out more soldiers and buffing my defenses thanks to a larger labor force.
Defending your town is especially challenging due to one of the mechanics: your dead soldiers can spread disease. If the bodies are left lying about, they can make your people sick or spawn zombies that will attack your buildings and units. Even if you win a battle, the aftermath may still end up causing you a lot of trouble -- and suffice it to say, sending legions of weak troops to their death is probably a bad idea.
The bodies of the dead aren't your only concern: line-of-sight matters in this game. Enemies could move behind a building or wall where your archers and siege engines can't hit them. Simply placing a handful of towers and calling it good won't work here, and that's a credit to Door 407's design.
Your one saving grace is knowing exactly where an enemy attack is coming from. That removes any concerns about splitting up your forces to defend every wall and building... at least in the beginning. As the campaign levels progress, you'll start to get attacked from multiple directions -- and eventually, you'll face an all-out assault from every corner of the map.
(Nearly) Endless Amusement
Although the Early Access launch is a bit short on campaign missions, Diplomacy is Not an Option offers a fair amount of replayability, largely due to the randomized nature of maps.
I'm sure there are tower defense enthusiasts who will love this kind of gameplay.
The campaign missions do not have fixed landscapes. Your battles (and managing your economy) may be easier or harder depending on the lay of the land. Fortunately, fixing that is as easy as pressing the "Restart" button.
This same randomization applies to the Endless Mode's map. Both the Campaign and Endless Mode offer up three difficulty levels, and Endless Mode will continually send greater and greater numbers of troops at you. It's not the kind of thing I'm into, but I'm sure there are tower defense enthusiasts who will love this kind of gameplay.
There is one concern, however. While you can develop endless supplies of Food and Wood, your Stone and Iron mines will inevitably run dry. That forces you to trade Wood and Food for precious Iron and Stone to replace your troops and repair your buildings. I just don't see this as a sustainable option for a truly endless battle. Hopefully, Door 407 can flesh this out a little more and offer up a renewable source of these materials for people playing a marathon Endless Mode session.
Ride Out and Meet Them
As it stands today, Diplomacy is Not an Option has a solid fundamental design. It has interesting mechanics that you don't typically see in a real-time strategy game and even the easiest difficulties will test your capabilities as a gamer. The groundwork is solid.
The campaign map is tantalizingly large, but a paltry two missions won't cut it for the long term. Games -- especially Early Access games -- depend on keeping players engaging with a steady pace of fresh content. Endless Mode is fun, but I can see it getting old quickly without a little more variety.
Whether or not this game has a future depends on Door 407's ability to deliver new campaign missions (and perhaps new game modes) in a timely manner. If it can match the quality of what I've played so far, I think it will be a real-time strategy game that's well worth your time.
TechRaptor previewed Diplomacy is Not an Option on Steam Early Access with a key provided by the publisher.