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Gameverse | April 29, 2017

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Is Strife Really the Next-Gen MOBA We’ve Been Waiting For?

T.L. Bodine

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When you think of MOBAs like League of Legends, DOTA 2 or Smite, a few unflattering words probably burst immediately to mind – things like “toxic” and “worst community ever.”  The truth is that there’s just something about the MOBA game layout that incites rage in the hearts of players.  Playing as a team with four other people, often strangers, is challenging enough.  Throw in an often arbitrary meta game and plenty of opinionated would-be theorycrafters who have watched one too many Twitch streams, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Rising to the challenge of creating a MOBA that sidestepped some of the traditional rage-inducing features of other games, S2 – the creators of Heroes of Newerth – set out to build a “second generation” MOBA specifically designed to reduce player toxicity.  Going into it, I was skeptical.  After all, jerks will be jerks – what could a game designer possibly do to stop that from happening?  As it turns out, a lot more than you’d think.

S2’s new game is called Strife, and it’s a powerful new contender in the saturated MOBA market.

In terms of design, Strife takes a page from the book of its predecessors.  It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel in that regard.  You play on a 3-lane map in teams of 5v5, with an isometric camera angle.  You grind gold and experience in the early game, build items from various components, and push tower objectives.  If you’ve ever played any MOBA in your life, picking up the basics of Strife won’t take very long.

But the devil is in the details, and there’s a lot of little things that make Strife really stand out.  For one, instead of talent trees or rune pages, you gain additional abilities as you level up through the use of pets.  These little companions follow you into battle and can do various things, from healing you to breaking you out of crowd control or boosting your ability power.  You can level up your pets over time so that they become stronger as you increase in player level.  You can also craft your own items, taking existing items and modifying them with new stat combinations for a more customizable experience.

Strife-pets

How Strife Combats Toxic Players

Several of Strife’s most unique features were designed specifically to combat toxicity, sometimes in surprisingly intuitive ways:

— There are fewer heroes available to choose from, and they’re not divided into standard roles.  Most characters can play multiple roles, and you can build any type of items you want – so if you want to build an attack damage mage or ability power tank, you’re free to (and the builds can actually be viable if you’re smart about them).

— You choose your character before you queue, so you don’t have to worry about calling a role and fighting over who gets to play the ADC.  If you can’t decide who to be, the game will actually make some suggestions based on what other people in queue with you are choosing, which is a nice touch.

— There is no warding.  No single player has the automatic responsibility to control vision on the map, and it’s not immediately the support’s fault if somebody gets ganked.  Instead of wards, the jungle is littered with “observatories,” which light up the map briefly when you walk through them.

— You can’t see all of the game stats.  This is actually a really clever idea.  You can see how many kills + assists a teammate has, but you can’t see his deaths.  That makes it a whole lot harder to start jumping on whoever happens to be doing worst on the team and laying on the abuse, and it reduces the urge to start pissing matches over stats.

— There is no dedicated jungler role, and supports aren’t expected to roam or rotate like they are in some games.  Instead, every hero has a chance to gank, with some being more mobile than others.  You automatically regenerate health and mana out of combat, so taking some time to dive into the jungle and gank another lane will help you recover and make things more interesting than if you had to go back to base every time you took damage.

— And, perhaps most importantly, the gold and experience from last-hitting minions is shared between teammates instead of going only to the person who landed the killing blow.  Gone are the days of under-leveled supports and lane partners raging at you for accidentally killing a couple of their minions.

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Ultimately, Strife is all about teamwork, and its design encourages and rewards it.  Outside of the match, you’ll get rewards for your behavior as well in the form of commendations, a sort of karma system that lets teammates give you a thumbs-up.  People with good karma have better chances at getting more loot from winning games.

All of this is not to say that Strife is the perfect MOBA.  The bright, almost Disney-like art style is charming but may not be for everyone.  And the heroes feel largely derivative, with kits that feel as though they’ve been cobbled together from familiar champions in other games.  But all in all, Strife is a lot of fun, and from my experiences so far within the game and its forum and Reddit community, it seems to live up to its reputation for friendlier players.  For those beleaguered players who are sick of catching the brunt end of a stranger’s rage, Strife is like a breath of fresh air.