Since the gaming market has been saturated with what seemed like all possible variations of the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre, the fans of S2’s “Heroes of Newerth” (HoN) were very skeptical when they heard the company was creating a new MOBA. HoN players voiced their concern, asking why the funds being put into an entirely new game were not instead being used to further improve the company’s already successful game and were worried this new focus would hinder the development of HoN. However, after playing both HoN and “Strife” endlessly this past week, I feel comfortable saying that not only will HoN continue to improve, but that “Strife” will be an excellent addition to the MOBA genre.
Currently in closed beta (meaning apart from the rare open player weekends, an access key must be provided to you by the company in order to play), “Strife” already appears to have all the cornerstones that make a MOBA game popular, as well as its own unique game mechanics and features to set it apart from other titles in the genre.
The core MOBA formula has not been changed too much with respect to the map setup and win condition: three lanes, destroy the throne to win. The main differences on the map are seen in the jungle and the bases. The jungle has neutral camps, as well as two boss neutrals, Baldir and Cindara, that require the combined forces of a team to defeat. Upon defeating Baldir, the team is rewarded with an increased damage buff, while the stronger Cindara rewards with a powerful non-player character named Krytos, who will push its way down any one lane of the team’s choosing, attacking all enemy units and towers.
Rather than having three towers per lane guarding creep barracks, there are only two towers per lane guarding power generators. There are also no barracks to influence the strength of creeps. These generators are effectively stronger towers, but directly impact the strength of the throne. Destroying a generator removes health from the throne and decreases its damage. Players must destroy at least one generator in order to attack the throne, but are not required to break more than one. Additional generator removal further weakens the throne and provides other lanes of access to the base.
The graphic style of “Strife” is very reminiscent of the high quality cartoony look–on a smaller scale–that people are familiar with from recent animated movies such as “Frozen” and “Wreck It Ralph.” A more direct comparison would be to the visuals in Runic Games’ “Torchlight” series, especially concerning the environment of the game. Heroes are distinct and highly detailed all the way down to their expressions when idly emoting.
Quite possibly the best change to this type of game is the manner in which players farm. In every MOBA, gold is awarded to the player who makes the last hit on a creep. In “Strife,” while being the last one to hit is still the only way to get the gold from creeps, allies that are within range of the creep’s death are also awarded gold, the total of which is split between eligible heroes. This allows more fragile heroes to stay out of the fray without sacrificing their farm and those who are not skilled at last hitting are not punished so long as their ally can make the killing blows.
Another unique aspect of “Strife” is out-of-combat regeneration. Upon leaving combat, specifically not taking damage and not attacking, the hero will gradually heal to full both their health and mana while on the battlefield. This promotes a more action-packed game as those on the offense will try to keep regenerating heroes in combat, and those who successfully regenerate will have never truly left the fight.
There is also post-game progression in the form of pets, crafting and enchanting. Upon first launching “Strife,” players are taken through a three phase tutorial which ends in pet selection. Each pet brings a minor additional ability with no cost but large cooldown that can change the play style of the gamer, such as an extra burst of damage, brief invisibility, or increased health regeneration. Pets can be fed to level up, and each level provides additional passives to the hero, as well as augmentation on its bonus skill. For example, Razer provides brief invisibility, but after a few levels the cooldown of the skill is decreased and the hero gains a passive life steal on next attack every 26 seconds. Leveling pets is also aesthetically worthwhile, as a level one Razer is just a kitten, but a level nine Razer is a ferocious tiger.
Crafting and enchanting brings another dimension of unique play styles. The player can directly alter the items needed to build powerful weapons in game, mixing and matching the stats they want out of any one weapon. For example, if the player prefers a hero build that focuses on solely damage, they can trade out a weapon’s additional, less valuable health regeneration for more damage. After crafting, the player can enchant the new weapon which provides further bonuses. Now, the weapon that used to give damage and health regeneration to the hero instead has significantly more damage from crafting, as well as increased base damage and critical chance from enchanting. These enchanted weapons are not permanent though; a few days after its creation, it will disappear unless frequently attended to with more enchanting.
The materials required to feed the pet and craft and enchant weapons are rewarded at the end of a match, regardless of a win or loss, via a round of the shell game. Three chests numbered from one to nine appear, are then silhouetted and swapped about, and players are free to pick one. The higher the number on the chest, the better the rewards. Higher numbered chests are provided to players who performed the best overall in the game.
One of the smarter aspects of “Strife” is the separation of client and game. When players open the program, a window opens where the user can perform out of game progression with pets, crafting and enchanting, as well as checking the hero page for skill details and finalizing the hero and pet choice before queuing for a match. Rather than choosing a hero after entering a match, players pick their hero first, enter the queue and are placed in a match based on their and other players’ picks. Once a match is found, the client closes and launches the full game which saves computer processing when users want to leave the client running in the background or wait for the queue to finish.
There are currently 14 heroes in the world of “Strife,” each one visually distinct with diverse skills and means of play. Though S2 currently has “Strife” in closed beta version 0.2, it is confidently making its place in the field in its infancy. While it does not have the same level of rewarding highly skilled and aware players as HoN does, there will surely be many changes throughout the game’s beta phase, and will assuredly become a popular MOBA in the very near future. Keep a look out for free play weekends to try your hand at “Strife.”