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I'm in like the first 2 hours of the game so the RTS element of the game hasn't really been fleshed out at all. The last mission I've completed was the *SPOILER* spider boss */END SPOILER*. I've tried some ambush missions and my guys basically get rolled over and slaughtered. Additionally I tried a race where the other guy basically got the lead and I never had a chance to get in front of him. I am playing on brutal difficulty but the level of these encounters made me assume that I needed to upgrade or unlock certain things before beating these was even possible. Is this the case or do I just suck/not know what I'm doing?
Well, you are playing on Brutal (good choice imo) so I wouldn't say you outright suck, but since it is early game, I would lean more towards upgrading. I would wander around the area, maybe raise some relics, free some serpents and the like to gain more tributes, then try again. Hopefully that works.
The RTS stuff takes some getting used to, thats for sure. As for the ambush missions try running into the enemy doin a mosh pit as the double teams are really powerful. The races I found frustrating at first but after i got some upgrades for the Deuce, they were cake.
"Crazy people don't know they're going crazy, they think they're getting saner."-John Locke
It helps to get the Call of the Wild solo before you do ambushes. You can use the solo, then start the mission, then use the solo again and have four beasts attacking the enemy. This works in other side missions too.
'Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for!'