For quite a while now we’ve been seeing a lot of MOBAs pop up in the gaming landscape. Each one trying to claim the glorious crown of the ruler from League of Legends. But few of them have done more than copy LoL’s core mechanics and change the visuals. Dropzone from the Boston-based developers, Sparkypants aims to change all that though by getting back to its RTS roots while integrating much of what makes MOBA entertaining and competitive.
In a lot of ways Dropzone brings things full circle. MOBA’s were spawned from RTS mod and now they seem to have ended up with a hybrid that’s both and neither at the same time. The basic premise is simple enough, you and an opponent face off in 1v1 matches where each of you control a team made up of three mechs. You have 15 minutes to earn more points than your rival and win the match. Points are earned mostly by finding alien nests and destroying them then taking the cores that they drop to an uplink usually placed at the center of the map. Your opponent can attempt to destroy you or upload their own cores at the same uplink. You can also score bonus points by taking out boss monsters or controlling satellites on the map that remove the fog of war for you. I was a bit out of practice on my RTS multi-tasking skills, so it took me a minute to get the hang of operating an entire MOBA team at once, but by the time my first match was over I had the hang of the game’s basic controls and concepts.
To keep things fast-paced and frantic there’s no base building. All the real prep and component strategizing happens pre-match. Players will be able to pick pilots with various buffs and ultimate abilities to pilot their various mechs and each pilot will be able to equip their own custom arsenal of weapons and skills like flamethrowers, rockets, tazers, shields, and defensive turrets. All pilots will also have an “alter ego”; it’s sort of like an unlockable alternate skin, but with its own set of skills. A balanced team will usually consist of a heavy mech, a support mech and an engineer. As you level up in the match, the various skills you’ve chosen will be unlockable, but only one mech can get a boost each level.
A lot of Dropzone design comes from the fact that they wanted to make a competitive title that would appeal to a spectator just as much as it would a player. And a lot of my hands-on time with the game seemed to focus on that, but there will be several modes of play available for more than two players at a time. The only one I was able to play at the time though was Infestation mode which pit me and three other players and our three respective mechs against wave after wave of invading alien bugs all hell bent on destroying our uplink. Once one of your mechs was busted in Infestation mode, it was busted for good, and the waves amped up pretty quick adding the same intense feeling of the 1v1 mode. And even if you just want to kick back and watch some matches, or host some tournaments of your own, the devs have included a robust observe system.
Visually Dropzone is looking sharp and detailed for a game still in it’s early access phase. Hints of influences could be seen in the design but definitely have their own spin. Such as the alien bugs who have a little Zergness to them, but also reminded me Starship Troopers and a hint of the X-Men’s Brood aliens. The maps themselves felt more like symetrical Star Craft maps more than they did your traditional three lane MOBA maps, but still fed your strategy in a similar fashion.
Dropzone goes into Early Access today and you can pick up the Squad Bundle for $20 if you want to get everything they’ve made so far, or you could go for the $40 Commander Bundle and get all future content and pilots forever in perpetuity. If you’re looking for a MOBA where you have no one to blame but yourself for success or failure, or you want an old school RTS skirmish experience without all the tedious base building, you may want to check this one out.