PAX Prime 2013: Strife
There are a lot of MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games at PAX. Hell, League of Legends practically has its own floor. Most of the games have something in common: they’re chasing the top-level player. Companies have hired popular Twitch commentators to make their not-even-out-yet games look like popular e-sports. Strife, a new MOBA from Heroes of Newerth creators S2 Games, is aiming a little lower.
That’s not to say that the game isn’t any good – far from it. From the looks of things, Strife is pretty far along already, with a nicely polished art style and slick, helpful UI. It features all the things, at a glance, that a MOBA should have – three lanes, diverse characters, and towers to push down on each side. The biggest differences are in the smallest places.
“Strife aims to make the learning process a little easier”Strife‘s designers are trying to eliminate some of the barriers to entry they hear about MOBA games. Namely: they’re too complicated for new players, and the interplay between teammates can be incredibly toxic and intimidating. Strife aims to make the learning process a little easier – for example, killing creep waves (the computer-controlled monsters that push each lane) in most MOBA games gives gold (vital for purchasing items to improve characters) only to the character who got the kill. In Strife, everyone on the team shares a little bit of the gold each time – and characters standing within proximity of the kill split the 70 gold evenly. This means that players learning support characters don’t have to worry about not stealing creep kills, and are free instead to learn to help their team in a broader sense.
Another, more outlandish mechanic is the game’s map boss equivalent. When defeated, it jumps in the air and lands in a lane a minute later, helping the team that defeated it with a lane shove. This forces a fairly binary choice – join it in the lane and team fight, or try and split-push another lane while the enemy team is busy trying to defend their towers from the boss. It’s a novel mechanic that probably only forces a binary strategic choice, but it’s a fun idea.
To be clear, this isn’t so much about fixing problems with MOBA design – there’s an obvious strategic reason for games to reward good timing with things like creep kills. It’s just that S2 sees a void where there could be a slightly more accessible “gateway” MOBA. League of Legends and DOTA 2 are incredibly popular – some of the most played and most watched games in the world – but they also have massive learning curves. Strife could just come and go like so many of the other me-too MOBAs being shown at PAX, but its humble aspirations of easing players into the genre could be a small touch of genius.