Everyone I know plays either Dota or League of Legends. This is not an exaggeration. I think every single person I know one of these games or the other. If they do not currently, they more than likely have at some point and will again. If they haven’t, they still care way more about a game they don’t play – and may never play – than I would ever expect. Even Therese, who doesn’t really play herself, is obsessed with competitive pro-League of Legends matches and follows different teams on and off. It’s crazy. This game is like something that has crawled out of the depths and consumed my friends.
I’m not immune to the draw of League of Legends, either.
Rather, I’m not immune to substantial amounts of peer pressure.
If everyone else is doing something it’s not usually long before I begrudgingly at least give it a try, too. At first glance, it seems like something that I would enjoy. MOBA gaming in general seems like something I would enjoy. I like playing games with people and they seem simple enough. I am not the world’s best gamer. I’m a terrible gamer. But MOBAs seemed like something I could handle. I figured you log in, mess around, probably get killed a lot, and just have fun.
Very quickly, however, I learned that this was not necessarily the case.
As I think most people are aware now, MOBA (which for the uninitiated means multiplayer online battle arena) gaming has become increasingly popular but it has also become a very antagonistic and mean-spirited genre. That’s why I can never really play League of Legends with my friends. I know I’m a terrible gamer but that community really turns me off from trying to play and get better. It’s intimidating. People tend to become real dicks about the stupidest things. For me, that’s just not fun. Especially not when the people turning on me are actual friends that I have in real life that afterward I’d rather just stab than play games with again.
This is why I am very interested in S2 Games’s new project, Strife.
S2 Games is not new to the MOBA genre. They came in fairly early on in the craze with Heroes of Newerth in 2010. But even they admit how hard it can be for new players to get into the genre. They understand the sort of culture that has risen up around MOBA gaming and how quickly players turn on one another. That negative connotation with MOBAs and asshole teammates in general has drastically limited the ability for new players to embrace the genre. S2 Games’s Heroes of Newereth has really become just as bad as any other toxic online community.
But they have actually decided to take what they’ve learned and try something new.
Departing from the usual MOBA set up, Strife has been built from the ground up in an attempt to address the problems with current MOBAs to make the experience as a whole more enjoyable and more approachable. They aren’t just making a new property and hoping that newer players get in on the ground floor and hopefully get to have some fun before the douche baggery begins. S2 Games is actually reworking the entire MOBA formula.
A lot of their choices effect the player’s immediate experience. Voice chat will be significantly altered and limited in an attempt to stop people from immediately harping on their teammates and harassing them the second they make a mistake. There will be no catcalling the enemy team or even an automatic line to your entire team. Similarly, certain stat attributes will be hidden so that players with certain abilities who don’t use them or can’t use them do not come under attack by their teammates. (According to Joystiq you can also choose which attributes and states to share.) Other changes include more equitable loot sharing and a largely player-policed karma system that offers perks for players who contribute to the culture of cooperation and community.
It all sounds like little things but they are hopefully going to help the casual gamers who want to play MOBAs but are too afraid now get a chance to embrace the genre. People like me.
I will say, though, that the changes and emphasis on encouraging players to be decent human beings is not the only thing that draws me to Strife.
It’s the story.
And not only the story but also the commitment to telling the story and engaging the players in something that is larger than just the game itself. S2 Games has developed a very compelling fantasy world that I genuinely want to learn more about and they are just as excited to share that world with gamers as I know I am to learn more about it.
The game is set in a world that has been divided into six different planes of existence by a group of all-powerful gods after a period of chaos and stife. Of those planes, five are still accessible today while the sixth was sealed along with what everyone presumes are the most evil of all creatures to have existed. There are all sorts of stories and legends about a second coming of ‘the Dharkwave’ once the sixth seal is broken and an outpouring of chaos, evil and ruin that will be wrought on the other planes. The players are all heroes who have set out to complete a series of tests and trials in order to become great warriors who can protect their realms against the darkness that looms ahead.
That sounds awesome, right? It’s a great idea. S2 Games has really seemed to flesh out the backstory. And they aren’t going to stop with the game itself. The website will offer some supplemental materials, too. The coolest thing they are doing, though, is working with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman to create a tie-in comic book to help flesh out the history of the game’s world and also the sort of events that take place when your heroes aren’t rushing through their training missions MOBA style. If you’re going to PAX this year the word on the street is that you can get a first look at the comic at their booth! (I think I also read somewhere that they are developing a mobile application, too, that will tie into the game but don’t quote me on that just yet.)
The point is that I am a total sucker for stories that cross over mediums. Someday I am going to write a love story to the creator of the Iconica card game series because that man is a total genius and his work between the card game, his books, and his website absolutely floor me and sort of set a standard for other cross-medium storytelling. Strife, though, seems to have this on lock. They’ve got a great plot, a great comic icon to work with, and hopefully the sort of potential community that will rally around a game that tries to be different like this.
Really, I’m rooting for an ultimate fantasy series tie-in. But that’s probably wishful thinking.
To wrap all this up, Strife is one of the first free-to-play games I have ever really been excited to play. More often than not playing online is intimidating to me. Not because I really care that people might bitch me out but because I just don’t find playing games competitively only to have my own team mates turn on me to be fun. Strife seems like it can actually give me a chance to play MOBAs and enjoy them and I am going to latch on to that hope until I have a reason to disbelieve it.
At present, though, S2 Games seems ready to make good. And I am ready to follow through if they do.
If you want to know more about Strife and how the game has been developed and what not, check out the videos GamerHub.tv’s Youtube channel. They talked to a lot of people and got a lot of information out of them. The videos are definitely worth a look if you’re interested. And why wouldn’t you be?
Strife is another MOBA in an ever increasing pool of MOBAs, yes. But it is the first MOBA to genuinely attempt to address the problems that have been allowed to fester in the genre. I appreciate that. I think everyone should.
Here’s one of the GamerHub.tv videos in case you need more convincing: