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Multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, is perhaps the most-used phrase you’ll hear in gaming this year. Many developers already have or are in the process of making their own free-to-play MOBA, including a veteran studio that isn’t afraid of adding one more game to that crowded list.
Set for release in 2014 (with a beta planned in the fall) for PC, Mac, and Linux, Strife is S2 Games’ second MOBA. Its first, Heroes of Newerth, will live side by side with it. The developers showed off Strife last week at an event in Sausalito, Calif., and gave me an exhaustive overview of their goals and motivations for the new game.
Strife is a MOBA: Two teams of five choose their characters, pick a path or lane to fight in, and try to destroy each other’s bases using their abilities and A.I.-controlled creatures. But the most intriguing part of Strife are the ideas that you don’t normally find in a MOBA. Here’s a rundown of six features that stood out.
Creating a deep backstory
S2 Games introduced us to Strife by talking about its extensive backstory, which is usually missing or tacked on in other MOBAs. Strife’s world consists of six different planes: Gale (high-fantasy realm), Tempra (fire and ice), Vorbis (cybernetic and underwater theme), Nestra (astrological), Lyrie (plants and animals), and an evil plane that remains closed off from the rest.
Characters from these different places gather for the Trials of Strife, a training ground that serves as the setting for the many online battles that will take place. Each hero has a specific reason for fighting, and you’ll see some of these tales in short animated clips, similar to what Valve did with Team Fortress 2. S2 is going to explore the plot outside of the game as well. It plans to have a Wikipedia-style site that breaks down the lore and a comic book series from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman.
Unleash the Krytos
Locked away near the center of the map is Krytos, a giant and powerful ape who’ll aid whichever team defeats the boss guarding him. After you collectively decide which lane he should run through (if you’re playing by yourself with A.I. teammates, you can just click one of the lanes), Krytos respawns on your side and smashes his way to the enemy base by attacking and disabling the deadly towers. He’s got a lot of health, but a well-coordinated team can take him down.
The philosophy behind Krytos is to give players the option to “create action” instead of passive gameplay, especially in matches where the winning team ends up playing defensively to protect their lead.
A ‘significantly less’ number of heroes
Some MOBAs have hundreds of characters to learn and master, but Strife will have much less than that — the developers would only say that it will not end up anywhere near 100. Due to this smaller pool of choices, Strife doesn’t have rigid specializations, like tanks (characters with high health) or support classes. Characters do have stats and abilities that fit into those traditional definitions, but they’re also flexible and well-rounded enough to occupy other roles.
Part of the thinking behind this is to get rid of the hostility among teams when specific roles aren’t represented on the field, a discrepancy that might lower your chances of winning. In Strife, you can play and customize your hero to whatever style that suits you.