Action RTS or MOBAs, whatever you want to call them, are your DOTA-clones where you control a single unit in a team environment with waves of computer controlled minions throwing themselves at enemy towers and buildings that spawn their own equal waves of ever forward soldiers. You’re an elf , a wizard, an archer, an orc with a big sword or any number of fantasy staples and have 4+ special abilities. The genre is known as being unforgiving of mistakes and full of the most entitled and noob-unfriendly gamers around, and rightly so!
Generally speaking, if you die to an opponent they get a gold and experience bonus which lets them get better at killing you and your friends whilst you sit out for a while and think about what you’ve done and don’t earn any gold in the meantime. If your mate at the bottom of the map dies 10 times to xXxwe3dlordgokuxXx then you’re going to have a hard time when you come across him next.
The original idea was a Starcraft mod but it was the Warcraft 3 mod called DOTA that exploded into popularity genre and there have been a number of similar mods released shortly after. DOTA went through a number of internal developments themselves but it was always a mod and some time before another company gave it a go.
Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, Demigod and a couple of others still in Beta were additional takes on the genre and this is where I get interested. They took the idea and changed it in tiny amounts, they cleaned up the game, and added new heroes and a couple of new weapon stats. They added more terrain to the maps and altered the meta-game and pricing requirements, they added skins and such and ways to get people to pay money for it and they did it to varying degrees. HoN stuck to the DOTA gold rules (more or less) and kept the most punishing of the mechanics and dying, or having a teammate die, really swings the game. It’s a 5v5 game and if one guy on your team (possibly of strangers) doesn’t pull his weight then it is a hard uphill battle to try and make up for their errors. LoL is a bit different, it softens the game and dying a few times isn’t as crippling to your team. You get a modest boost of gold when you kill someone but they don’t lose much other than the time to run back to the fight and a guy who has two or three more kills that you is still someone you can have a chance against, not some unstoppable juggernaught swollen with the gold of your fallen allies.
DOTA2 was released by Valve and the game is as unambitious as the title suggests. With a design aim of hating change, it remakes the original DOTA with a crisper set of graphics, a neater interface and a more robust backroom set of match making, game viewing, tutorials and so forth. The game itself remains almost untouched and is transported to the Source engine as faithfully as possible.
This, I feel, is a problem. There’s nothing wrong with a homage and certainly nothing wrong with working within a genre but DOTA2 is a sorry sign for the future to gamers.
With the massive resources of Valve and the good will and playtesting possibility of Steam there could’ve been a really innovative and exciting take on the genre. We could’ve seen a well financed and stable release of a new look at the game and a something impressive that moves the industry forward, instead we have a really polished graphical update to a popular game.
It’s a shame but that leads me to what I’ve been wanting to talk about all article: Stellar Impact.
Stellar Impact is a MOBA/ARTS like the rest and it has your kills, pushing lanes of minions, individually controlled hero with four abilities. You kill enemies to get gold to upgrade yourself and destroy the enemy base but there is a big difference: You’re a space ship.
You don’t click to move, you click to orientate your ship and you accelerate or decelerate with your W and S keys. This alone massively changes the way the game plays out as you need to manage turning circles and your speed, you have big arcs as you move into position and you don’t just walk exactly where you want straight away.
You broadside guys. Your weapons are mounted along the length of your ship but they can’t all fire forward or backwards. Like a battleship on the sea you want to turn the side of your ship to face the enemy so you’ve got the most surface area of guns facing them. This, combined with the movement, means you fight in a series of circles trying to get your side facing their front or rear. If you’re a slower ship you need allies to cover your flanks and the little nimble corvettes can sneak around and run circles around the giant lumbering behemoths bristling in armour. You’ve nine or so basic hulls to choose from and you can customise your ship to fit your style or you can just pick a chassis with default skills and jump right in.
It has asteroids to crash into and suns to melt yourself in, it doesn’t look at DOTA, and add or remove a thing or two it is a game made from the ground up incorporating the basic mechanical concepts of the genre.
The game has some horrible flaws as well that have been popping up since the Steam release The matchmaking is unplayably slow and you’re better off making a game yourself with a cheery title and waiting for people to manually join that to auto-queue. The ship balance is fine at the 4v4 level but below that it has some issues. The game server and forums have been down for a week or so and the game can crash or lag way more than you’d really like in a team game where people rely on you.
All of that is totally fine by me. The game was $10 on Steam and made by a tiny French company with ten people on their staff and they went and made something new and were overwhelmed when hundreds of people wanted to play it. This is a game that I’d pay $10 just for it to exist, let alone be able to play it.
It has problems and it isn’t at all perfect but it is a brilliant idea that is executed excellently. It has multiple maps, game modes and team sizes (2v2 up to 6v6) and hasn’t shyed away from breaking the assumptions that have stagnated the genre.