I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was invited to preview Steel Circus. I don’t particularly like MOBAs, nor do I like sports games (as I’m not good at either). In fact, the last real sports game I played was Baseball Stars for the NES back in the early ‘90s. Accordingly, I was initially skeptical when I tried Steel Circus’s practice mode, but I was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive the mechanics and interface were. Movement was smooth, and each character had two special abilities, meaning the bulk of my attention as a new player was on the action and not my action bar.
Some things worth noting – the visuals are great, as is the character diversity. Character designs at this stage are interesting and eye-catching. Although about six characters were playable in the preview (each with unique abilities and stat combinations), the developers stated that more were on the way with a current goal of at least 15 playable characters.
The same can be said for the arenas and game modes. One arena and game mode were available in the preview, however the developers discussed possibilities for future additions (at least six arenas planned) to help spice up gameplay. I should note that throughout the preview, the developers expressed enthusiasm and a desire to expand the game, yet they tempered that enthusiasm with an affirmation that whatever additions they make to Steel Circus, they should add to the fun, rather than take away from it.
At present, Steel Circus is set to be free to play with both earned and purchased currencies, both of which can be used to unlock sprays, skins, and emotes for each of the characters. Experience earned in game yields increases in level, which in turn garners more currency for purchasing said items. Accordingly, the game’s current monetization is decidedly not pay to win.
Back to the action - the highlight of the preview was an opportunity to engage in a series of 3v3 matches. We were provided with plenty of premium currency to customize our characters, but I was more interested in the gameplay. Players must ultimately throw a ball into the opposing team’s goal, but they have to maneuver said ball across the spacious field, past each opposing player. Characters’ special abilities may be leveraged to damage (and eventually temporarily KO) or slow down opponents, place obstacles on the field, or still other effects. Imagine that you’re using MOBA skills in a game of rugby or soccer and you have a sense for what Steel Circus feels like.
It took me a few matches to get my bearings. The learning curve doesn’t seem too high, and the meta seems much less complex than what one sees in games like League of Legends or DOTA. Teamwork is essential – that’s probably the highest difficulty element of Steel Circus for me, and I imagine it will be one of the game’s greatest challenges when they begin early access. That is, the precision teamwork necessary (such as for passes, etc.) may be difficult to acquire in random matchmaking in ways that LoL and DOTA don’t have to worry about.
The 3v3 format seemed a little light compared to other games, but in practice it worked out very well. Despite the large field, action was often centered (appropriately) on the ball. Having four to six players vying for the ball with special abilities flaring was chaotic and very entertaining. Especially fun were melees at the goal, where the ball could change hands several times in a few seconds as players blocked, passed, and shot the ball at the goal and between other players.
Steel Circus is, by developer admission and my observation, a game that the developers are passionate about and genuinely enjoy, and that really shows in the game’s presentation. One very telling experience for me was how absorbed some of the presenters became during gameplay. As questions were asked during matches, it wasn’t uncommon for a train of thought to be disrupted by a good play or narrow miss. Given its entertainment value (both to play and watch), and its format, Steel Circus is setting itself up for an eSports format, one that – if it catches on – has the potential to be very successful.