Wednesday, 6 March 2013

GUIDE: Natural Selection 2 - Alien Commander Guide

To say that Natural Selection 2 has a steep learning curve is a gross understatement. In this world of hand-holding video games that will nudge you in the right direction if you even think about venturing off path, Natural Selection 2 throws you into the deep end of a diving pool with a cement block tied to your shoes.

Today I’d like to jump right in to one of the most overwhelming features of the game: commanding, and more specifically, a feature that is new even to Natural Selection veterans: Alien commanding. A role previously occupied by gorges, Unknown Worlds have decided to even the playing field this time around and allow Alien players to experience the RTS/FPS experience of a live commander that was previously exclusive to marines.

As a new player, the Aliens themselves, with the melee focused hit-and-run tactics, are daunting enough, let alone the concept of commanding the damn things. This guide is by no means an exhaustive list of legitimate strategies, but rather, a guide designed for players eager to try out the system. Simply put, it’ll probably stop your team from raging at you. Probably.
Playing as the Aliens can be pretty daunting for new players
Just like in my Marine commander guide, your first lesson is to buy a microphone. I'm not saying you can't be an effective commander without one, but having one is a huge advantage.

The Alien commander role is both very similar and distinctly different from the Marine commander role. Let's start by looking at the most major distinction  The Alien commander can kind of do his own thing. While the Marine commander relies on his marines to build and repair structures and powernodes, the Alien commander can drop cysts and structures at his own leisure. The role is actually a lot less stressful than the Marine commander, because you don't have a team full of dudes yelling at you to "DROP THE RT IN COMPUTER LABS!" and so I actually recommended that novice commanders try out the Alien commander before the Marine commander.


So now that you've jumped into the hive, you'll find yourself with around 50 starting resources. Your first order of business is to build cysts leading to the nearest two resource towers. A couple of notes on efficiency here: press 'A' in the main build menu to drop cysts without having to manually click them. Also, cysts take a small amount of time to 'spread', so once you've built up to the first tower, instead of sitting around waiting for the cyst to spread so you can drop an RT, built a couple more cysts in the other direction. If your team is asserting dominance of an area, it may be worthwhile to expand to a third resource node, but otherwise, two is fine for now.
Hotkey-building your cysts with the 'A' key saves you a lot of time
Next, you'll want to research an upgrade at your main hive. I have seen the benefits of shade first. I have seen the benefits of crag first. But, I'm going to recommend a shift hive for your first hive for the same reason I recommend  fast phase gates for Marines: It's the most versatile. Celerity and adrenaline are incredibly useful for the Skulk, Gorge and Lerk, the main three early-game life forms. Shifts themselves are also extremely versatile - allowing you to quickly and easily supply an area with re-enforcements, as well as help your Gorges to build new hives by giving them almost endless energy. Once the research is complete, build a spur and get celerity. It should help your Skulks assert some early game dominance.
Shift is the most versatile hive, in my opinion.
Now that your first hive upgrade is complete, it's time to look for your second hive. By now, your teammates should have scouted where the main marine base is. What you will want to do is find the hive location that is closest to your main hive, but furthest away from the Marine base. Build cysts up to the hive, drop a shift, and then drop the hive. Urge a member of your team to go Gorge and heal the hive - it will make it build a lot quicker. A lot of people will tell you "don't bother cysting up to the hive, it's just wasted res as the hive generates infestation when completed." I don't like this argument for several reasons. 1.) You can't get the res node in the area until the hive is finished being completed. 2.) You can't but a shift down to help a Gorge build the hive and also re-enforce it if it's attacked.


If you've played your cards right, by this point you should have four or five resource towers, two hives, and the celerity upgrade. This is when your build order deviates depending on your team's performance. Do you have a resource tower that is continually being taken down? Consider putting a whip or shift there to help defend it. Are your Gorges begging you for adrenaline? Build a spur and upgrade it to an adrenaline spur. Otherwise, upgrade your second hive to a crag hive. I feel that at mid game, when the shotguns start to come out, the crag is infinitely more useful than a shade. Even if you go shade first, I would probably recommended crag as your second hive.

Now that you have two hives, you can start researching ability upgrades for your team. You can research them by clicking on a hive (in this case, click on your first hive, as your second hive is already busy upgrading to a crag hive) and selecting lifeform evolutions  Leap is a pretty safe bet for your first upgrade, although if you have some pretty gung-ho Gorges, you might consider bile bomb (either way, you should get bile bomb shortly after leap).
Leap is a pretty solid choice for your first ability upgrade
Once your crag hive is upgraded, drop a shell and upgrade it to carapace. Skulks with celerity and carapace are nothing to scoff at, and when you start getting lerks and fades it will be even better. Drop crags in strategic locations, such as behind your hives and resource towers to help defend them. At this stage, you can start making "forward positions" - drop a shift, a crag, and a whip in an area close to a Marine base to help your team siege it.

At this point, you'll want to look for a third hive. On the smaller maps which only have four possible locations, this can be quite difficult, as it means you'd have to have a pretty big map dominance. On larger maps, encourage your team to try and secure a third hive location. If you can't get it, it's not too big a deal, but it does help if you can. By the late mid-game stage, fades will start to come out. If they are good and they specifically request it, get blink. Also consider getting regeneration by building another shell and upgrading it to a regeneration shell. Similarly, if your lerks are kicking ass, get them spores.
Drifters are a cheap way to help support your troops - they can reveal units in an area and spawn an enzyme cloud.


Once you have secured your third hive location, or failing that, once the Onoses start coming out, you've hit the late game stage. If you got the third hive, upgrade it to a shade hive and get silence and cloak for your team. You should also research stomp for your Onoses if you can spare the res. Umbra, xenocide and vortex are very, very situational abilities, and you should only really research them if you are swimming in res. If you couldn't secure it, work on getting some of the remaining abilities that you didn't get before. Defend your bases by dropping crags, shifts, whips and shades. If the enemy is using grenade launchers, try to have a whip in pretty much every location you have a base - whips can fling grenades back at their owners.
Whips can be upgraded with the bombard ability, increasing their rather short default range.
When you have three hives, you can drop Onos eggs. Click on a egg and select "Onos egg." A teammate can then evolve to an Onos for free. At the late game stage, Gorges are incredibly vital to winning the game, as they heal your Onoses and bile bomb structures. However, many players don't like, or want to, play Gorge in the late game (everyone wants to be the hero Onos). Fortunately, you can force them into it! Build eggs at a shift, and upgrade the eggs to Gorge eggs. When the next players spawn, they will spawn as a Gorge instead of a Skulk!


Aliens have considerably less siege options than Marines. Just like how the Alien commander is a lot more "hands off" than the Marine commander, he also has to rely on his team a lot more to finish off the enemy team. The best you can do is build forward positions close to the enemy's base, and encourage your team to rush in all together. You can send in drifters and use their enzyme cloud to help, but that's about it. Whips can move but are pretty inefficient at taking down a base. You pretty much have to upgrade them with the bile bomb ability, make some cysts within range of the base (and hope the Marines don't kill them instantly), and then move the whips up and have them bombard the base.
Players and structures can only be affected by 3 healing sources, so any more than 3 crags in an area is just a waste.
Try to hold as many tech locations as possible. Marines need at least two command chairs to build jetpacks and exosuits, so if you can corner them in to a single chair, you can drastically cut their offensive power.

Keep this up and you should eventually be able to starve them out. Thanks for reading guys, and try to remember, Natural Selection 2 is a very fluid game. Every match you play is different, and strategies that worked in some matches may completely fail in others. This guide is meant only as a basis - feel free to try out new ideas and strategies as you become a more confident commander.

Liked this guide? Check out my other Natural Selection 2 guides:
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