It would be fair to say that I have a complicated relationship with MOBAs. No other type of game has the ability to utterly frustrate me, and yet at the same time utterly enthrall me. As the saying goes, it’s a love hate thing. I love them, and I love to hate them. I have sworn off MOBAs and thrown them out of my life many times. And yet they crawl back, swearing that they have changed and this time it will be different. Like a fool I allow them back, and every time I do I hate myself a little bit more for it.
Yeah, it’s complicated.
My first MOBA experience was the HoN beta. Never had I played a MOBA. Never had I heard the acronym. Never had anyone told me about a MOBA, or what to do in a MOBA. And it went about as well as you can guess.
I had two new experiences that day in my less than ten minutes of HoN. The first was the MOBA itself, although I actually quit without even knowing what I had just played (it wasn’t until LoL that I came to understand MOBAs). The second was the absolute seething vitriol that was directed towards me from the other players. I was shocked. Do real people really talk this way to each other? I even explained that I was brand new in the beta, but to no avail. It was eye opening to say the least. I didn’t know gamers acted like that. Sad but true. About my ignorance, I mean.
Well, and about the angry ass-hats.
So it feels strange that I am now beta testing Strife, the next generation MOBA from the guys and girls at S2 Games, the makers of HoN. It would seem that I have come full circle. Actually S2 Games might say that it is a half-circle. Strife is meant to be the polar opposite of HoN and other MOBAs, you see. Oh, it has the three lanes, the towers, the creeps, the items. But it doesn’t have the ass-hats. Or, at the very least, it does its best to hide them.
Perhaps there is some irony in all of this. It might be ironic that I am now playing the younger, albeit gentler, brother of the MOBA that started and almost ended it all for me. The cosmos is probably laughing at me right now. I feel that way sometimes. There also is some irony in the fact that a game named “Strife” actually trying to reduce friction between players. Beautiful irony indeed. Does it work? Does it succeed? Let me tell you about my experience so far.
The Strife UI is clean, attractive, and simple. In fact it is confusing in its simplicity. Where are the rune pages? Where do I go to look at the heroes? What the hell are these buttons for pets and crafting and enchanting? I am being a bit facetious of course, because Strife’s tutorials explain most of those. It just feels odd that I have to hit the big button that says “Play Strife” before I get to the screens that allow me to inspect heroes or make my own in-game guides. No biggie though.
The in-match UI is equally clean and attractive. You have the option to de-clutter the screen somewhat by hiding items and status bars and team portraits. The rest is standard. Mini-map? Check. Skill hotbar? Check. It’s all accounted for. Oh, I should mention the controls. I love that they added an option to apply global quick casting to all controls. Kudos!
Game art style is nice in my opinion. I want to say somewhere in between DotA2 and LoL. I don’t recall what HoN looks like. Don’t speak to me again of HoN. Ever.
Gameplay? Well what can I say that some gameplay videos can’t say better? Standard trilane with a jungle, although as of yet I haven’t seen any jungling. I keep meaning to try it, sort of like bungie jumping. I will get around to it one day. Game mechanics also seem to be in between DotA2 and LoL (I’m sorry…what is this “HoN” you speak of?). No denying like in LoL. Item couriers like in DotA2. Grass to hide in like LoL. Line of sight with elevation changes like in DotA2. I could go all day.
More important to highlight the differences, I suspect. Well, the big one is gold sharing for last hits. Last hitting a regular creep (brawlers, as they are called in Strife) gives you a chunk of gold and gives all of your teammates a small amount. Dual laning? You and your lane partner both get a big chunk. I like it. It makes playing support or tank more palatable. Speaking of gold, there are no neutral buffs to be gained from the jungle, only gold and more gold. Everything is about gold.
Well, almost everything. Krytos is the exception. Defeat his guardian and he gets chummy with your team. Yeah, you get gold for that as well, but the real boon is that Krytos can be launched down a lane where he will tear apart towers in his way for a short while. A nice way to push a lane, but no game-changing buff. If you want Baron and Roshan, you know where to find them. Not in Strife. If you don’t know what I am talking about then you won’t care anyway.
Oh, and no wards. Warding is done by capturing ward towers in the jungle which give complete vision in that area for 30 seconds. Simple, and it works. I should also mention that the map feels smaller. As a result, getting from one end to the other seems must quicker in Strife than in other MOBAs.
The heroes are fun, and seem versatile. Skills are standard fare in that if you play any of the major MOBAs you will instantly recognize just about all of them. That isn’t bad though, and so far I have enjoyed almost every hero I have tried of the fourteen currently available. Each has four skills like in DotA2 with no innate passives (suck it, LoL!). My favourite hero so far is Vex, a sci-fi hero that appears to be a cyborg with a fish head. I have a sneaking suspicion he was inspired by Minion from the movie Megamind, although I haven’t confirmed that.
Pets! I must mention the pets that you take into battle. These pets have their own skills (one active and a few passives) which can be leveled up over time. I really like them. The pets act like the innate passives in LoL, with the notable exception that you can actually pick which one you want to use for any hero. And their active abilities are helpful as well, doing things like healing you, providing mana, slowing an enemy, and so on. Otherwise, you don’t control the pets directly.
There is one last thing about heroes and pets, and this is significant. You pick your hero and pet before you queue up for a match. That’s right, no more racing to get that one hero you are dying to play. Pick one and queue up. The matchmaking isn’t fully working right now I believe, but from what I understand eventually the game will take your choice into account. Choose a hero you play a lot, or one that you don’t play much at all, and Strife will try to place you in a fairly matched game based on that. It will also try to put together a reasonable mix of heroes. No more tankless PUGs just because everyone was selfish and picked a carry. Brilliant!
What can I say about items? Well, they exist in Strife, and once you figure them all out they will seem more or less standard. There seems to be less of them in Strife, but I don’t mind. All the necessary stats boosts and combos seem to be covered. The great thing about items in Strife is the crafting and enchanting. You receive materials from playing PvP matches, and these can be used to craft new variations of existing items. Want to replace the health buff with a mana buff on an item? No problem!
Enchanting allows you to enhance these new variations to make them more effective, and to make them permanent (otherwise they degrade). All in all, a very nice addition to the game that turns the small number of available items into a huge number of possibilities. One thing to note is that as you craft more powerful variations the in-match cost goes up. You can create a powerful kick-ass weapon, but it might take you a long time to purchase it during a match and might not be worth it. It keeps things balanced.
The karma system in Strife is one of the big selling features. Strife is designed to encourage friendly behaviour, or at least actively suppress dickheaditis. At the end of each match you have the option to judge every other player. Praise them, toxify them, or remain neutral. The system isn’t fully working right now but eventually getting toxic marks will decrease your end-of-match rewards and make it more likely that you will play against other toxic players in a murky morass of douche-bagginess. At least for a time, because a negative rating will wear off if you change your ways.
I suppose this system can be abused, although it sounds like it will eventually be intelligent enough to figure out that if everyone in a match praises you and only one player toxifies you then the one toxic mark shouldn’t affect you much, if at all. Likewise, if a player only ever toxifies other people the weight of their opinion decreases. I think. I am still learning about the system. The main point is that acting like a dick will directly and quickly affect you. Cause and effect, baby!
Does it work? Well so far it seems to, mostly. I did run into a premade early on that taunted my team for losing and told us we should “Go back to League!” among other less savoury things. I have also seen the occasional ranting about bad players and such. But it isn’t as nearly as bad as in other MOBAs. Players seem to behave themselves for the most part, so I guess thumbs up on this front.
Besides the karma system there are a few other nice little touches that Strife does to keep the ass-hattery at bay. For example, during a match, you can’t see the K/D/A of other players, only yourself. In fact, all you can see is total of kills+assists for your teammates. While you can still get a sense of who isn’t playing that well, it is less obvious. Also, there is no cross-team chat until after the match ends. That still doesn’t prevent your own team from berating you, but it does remove a big source of, well, strife. As I said, it is ironic.
And it seems to work.
“OK that is all well and good, but Cyber, do you like the game?”
Good question, I’m glad you asked. As I play Strife and I ask myself that question, the immortal words of Charles Montgomery Burns come to mind:
“…I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this.”
I don’t hate Strife. In fact, I rather like it. Gameplay is smooth and relatively lag free. There are a few bugs in the UI but it is a beta test after all. I like the look of it. I like the heroes. The pet and crafting systems are great. And it is relatively ass-hat-free, which is a major achievement unto itself. Strife is designed to be more casual player and MOBA-noob friendly while still appealing to more experienced MOBA players. It is looking to bring those two player bases together without the usual friction and shower of sparks. It isn’t perfect, I suppose, but then what game is? The real litmus test is that when I finish a game I want to play another, even if I just lost. There aren’t any big glaring reminders of my defeat, and no lingering anger due to pricks being pricks in public. I like Strife, and I want to keep playing it. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that about a MOBA.
Not everyone will agree with me about Strife. I have noticed plenty of beta forum posts from players upset that Strife doesn’t fit into their vision of a MOBA. Requests to add features to make the game more competitive and less new-player-friendly are common enough that I noticed. Either they are missing the point or I am, and since I am writing this we will point the finger at them. Strife probably will have a competitive scene of some sort, but it isn’t trying to be LoL or DotA2 or HoN, and I suspect that people will simply need to get on board with that.
Me though, I like what I see. I like the vision that S2 Games has for Strife, and I embrace it. Perhaps I am just tired of the other MOBAs and want a streamlined experience. Perhaps I just want to be a more casual player and play a MOBA where that is acceptable. Irrelevant, I don’t really care why.
Strife is a lot of fun, and that is all that matters to me.