Remember S2 Games? The indie company that developed and published the critically acclaimed Multiplayer RTS/FPS/RPG Hybrid games Savage: The Battle of Newerth (2003) and Savage2: A Tortured Soul (2008)? No? How about the uber hard-core MOBA Heroes of Newerth (HoN) complete with trash-talking player base in 2010? Well known in a small but ardent community of gamers, S2 Games releases their 2nd generation MOBA today, August 27, 2014 into Open Beta, Strife. This will be an international launch, not just in North America. Built from the ground up in a completely new world and design, using all the experience and knowledge from more than 10 years of developing online games, Strife is design to be much more open and accessible.
Philosophy and Design
At first glance, Strife does not deviate from other MOBAs out there. There are three lanes, a base to protect, towers to destroy, NPCs that provide additional XP and gold, and minions (called Growlers in Strife) that spawn in waves and move relentlessly towards the enemy. Characters start at level zero and as they gain xp, unlock abilities, and with earned gold, buy equipment.
“That Strife is familiar, is intentional,” said Executive Director of Design, James Fielding. As CEO Marc DeForest put it, MOBAs are designed for a certain type of gamer and the core mechanics will not change, what can be changed are the nuances and micro-decisions that make the game innovative.
“LoL, DotA and HoN were the players out there four years ago, and we were infamously the game with the most toxic players.” Marc admitted. The decision in their 2nd go around with a MOBA was to get rid of the traditional conflicts. That of xp, loot and “sacrificial lamb” characters. XP and gold is shared in Strife, and support characters do their fair share in the game, acting more like MMO versions of support than traditional MOBA support. The “burn” points of HoN have been alleviated and the graphical look of Strife is visual clarity. From the distinct characters drawn in a light hearted style, to the linger rate of spells and particle effects, all decisions were made with visual clarity in mind. No matter the skin, the characters are still obvious, and the diversity adds charm to the game.
“Less is more” seems to be a good description of Strife’s content. The extent of the customization is pretty crazy. Known as Crafting, all items can be customized. There are fewer items, but with effect and enchantments, a player can have as many versions of a single item as they like, and sort them with “Guides” for different characters and builds. Want a tank-mage? Play a tank and buff equipment with items that assist the mage-like abilities, or play a mage and buff equipment with items and enchantments that increase health points.
To further the character customization, there is a pet system, and the pet also has an ability that is unlocked in game. Each pet has certain stat boosts as well and adds more options to your character build.
A companion App for Strife will be released on iOS and Android. With it, players will be able to do just about anything except play the game. They can check character and pet stats, equipment in inventory and also craft. There’s also a daily spin – which if you are lucky, you can gain about an equivalent of 3 games worth of in-game currencies (for crafting and pets). If you are like most gamers these days, your game time is limited. You’d rather get in the game and play, than fuss around with equipment once on your PC, and this app is a useful tool for checking on equipment and crafting while AFK on a commute or some “waiting” activity like the doctor’s office.
Story and Effect
The story is integrated into the game with the use of Boss NPCs. Destroy one (Cindara) to free another (Krytos) that moves relentlessly towards the enemy base and while opposing players try to stop him.
The character design is also reflective of the story as the world of Strife has several planes of existence, accounting for Moxie, a cat character that throws a ball of yarn and Bo, a long-horned bull that is reminiscent of a WoW Tauren. Each character also has a back story which in a welcome and exciting move, S2 is also releasing a series of single player experiences that introduce players to characters and their stories. Gamers get to play these adventure games independent of the MOBA and learn to use each character’s skills in a more deliberate setting.
The game is free to play and players can buy gems to quickly unlock item customizations and different pets. However, there isn’t any “pay to win” here, as the more powerful the item, the higher in the in-game gold cost and players still have to win that in-game gold to purchase the item in game.
There are also cosmetics to purchase and S2 has seen that perform well in HoN. Players can purchase new skins – Blue cow (character Bo) anyone? – as well as the baby and adult version of the pets to unlock. Some of those baby ones are freaking cute.
We got to play the first of the short RPG adventures: Strife: Prophecy of Darkstone – Child of the Dawn. This is Bastion’s story – he is the child of the prophecy. It might be a short adventure, but it’s long on fun and production values with great visual effects, sound and music. You can tell from playing the game that it isn’t just a “Eh, let’s throw our players a short game as a cheap extra.” But that thought and effort was put to great use there. We are also introduced to the Rook who helps Bastion escape. I won’t spoil the story, but it was a marvelous little game with a super boss which really helped to extend the world of Strife and increased engagement with the world’s characters.
What’s a media event without a few games of Strife with other devs and press? I want to say that we had more fun than crisis management, even trying out silly builds and trying to gank each other instead of heading for the goals. “Cow against cow!” when both teams had a Bo character. “Monkey! Monkey loose! Hey guys? The monkey??” were shouted across the room.
Every character has three skills and an “Ultimate” skill (on a longer timer) that when deployed at the right time can turn the tide of a battle. The “pure” healer in the game, Lady Tinder has a enormous plant that does melee damage and entangling vines that pulled many a fleeing enemy back long enough for team mates to destroy. Most in-game team chat consisted of short phrases “Cindara” Indicating that team mates were either targeting her to release Krytos (the White Ape) or the other team was and the other most seen was “Ult up.” For availability of a character’s Ultimate. For Lady Tinder, that usually meant “Gather round boys, we’re gonna destroy this tower now!”
Strife is S2 Games’ vision of a second generation MOBA. They have designed the game to remove intra-player and team conflict by sharing XP and gold. Support characters are not just viable, they carry their own weight in a team. I am not a MOBA player, but they have touched on all the values that MMORPG player are interested in, the big one being character customization (stats through equipment crafting). For me personally, fixing the toxic player syndrome by sharing xp and gold is big, and that support characters are no longer the “sacrificial lambs” of the team.
S2 CEO Marc has told me he wants me to play his MOBA. Well, S2 has removed all my objections to the genre and I do want to play the single-player adventures. Will that tempt me into the MOBA? I don’t know yet. We shall see. I will admit, it is very tempting.