(The following is a transcript for an upcoming video essay. Enjoy while I get around to recording and editing this.)
So I just got watching Arch Warhammer’s video about how dead Dawn of War 3 is and I really don’t think a lot of people get what a MOBA is. Like, Dawn of War 3 was marketed as having MOBA elements. I don’t think this is a problem since the other Dawn of Wars HAD MOBA elements, but this concept of “what is a MOBA” has become utterly incomprehensible.
MOBAs are variants of the RTS genre. If you strip down Dota 2’s HUD, then it quickly becomes indistinguishable from Warcraft 3. Like that’s what Dota literally was, a Warcraft 3 mod. If you look back to Command and Conquer, one of the first things that people were working on was actually a MOBA game, C&C Sole Survivor in 1997. Yeah this idea is actually that old. We simply didn’t have the technology back then to make any interesting interactions possible. Starcraft did have abilities, but Warcraft’s Experience and Leveling systems really pushed the MOBA genre forward into having actual potential.
League came around with this super campy and ugly design that should honestly have never worked in a million years. Look at it now and say that no-one liked the MOBA genre. Look at the 2+ million Compendium prizepools in Dota 2. People like RTS games, it’s just that MOBAs also take the best parts of Fighting and RPG elements that appeal to a wider audience BECAUSE IT FEATURES MORE THAN ONE GENRE. Action is fun and engaging, but people get pissed whenever there are these long stalemates of just trying to generate resources. Not a lot of people find that stuff fun. Dawn of War 2 might have had those aspects, but you could always harass and interact with them through power bashing and jump abilities actually had enough range to go around scenery pieces. You always found something to do in the meantime. Your economy was important, but whether or not you wanted to invest in a single resource was pretty easy since it was just a matter of spending a squad’s worth of Requisition to get a fairly easy investment in Power. The economy was simple enough to just keep you in the action and focus on your micro.
Dawn of War 3 tripled down by adding Elite and Requisition generators while also completely removing any benefit you get from capturing and decapturing a ‘Strategic’ point. They provide just the same benefit as not even having the point in the first place besides increasing your Elite deployment range. This is the state of the RTS genre today. It’s a horrible realization, but it just goes to show how few people have gotten with the times.
Dota is a strategy game and it always will be in its heart, even if Smite and League start to stray away into other fields.
So, how do we try to fix this. Well I think there are definitely a couple of things that the RTS genre can do better.
- Please avoid pointless DLCs. I’m not talking about Chaos Warrior DLCs and skin packs though. I’m talking about access to Company Generals and Experience Gating. People chastised C&C4 for this and it simply doesn’t work when players from all skill levels have to deal with it. At the very least have a General and Map DLC pack so that you are actually paying for multiple things at once instead of only picking the ‘Meta of the Month’ pack.
- MOBA heroes are so much more than their catchphrase personality. Drow Ranger for example is the original Frost Archer. What is in her kit besides low HP and that? A Silence (fight me with AAs), a massive Agility steroid (Autos hit hard and you have a ton more armor) and a scaling % agility damage ability that makes sure she can scale into the late game a bit better. You need to have this with every ‘Hero’ you think of to even remain relevant as a Hero based game.
- Have a REALLY good idea of what resources are useful for. Why the fuck do you have aluminium here, one of the most common elements on the planet. It might be light, but that’s really it compared to Rare Earth metals which are apparently only useful for super-weapons. Oh boy I just love having a dead resource for 30 minutes of a game. Same thing with Elite Points. Stuff like Company of Heroes munitions is a better example, where it’s only useful for unit upgrades and calldown abilities. That matters a lot and is a really good way to cap the number of unit upgrades you can have if you’re going for a heavy calldown general.
- Have Campaigns where the power levels are relatively similar and explore more multiplayer scenarios. I don’t like it when I can get beyond the AI in terms of technology and straight overpower them. That doesn’t lead to good gameplay and makes it a habit of just basebuilding for 40 minutes before you have a big final battle and then the game just ends. That’s not fun. Winning as an underdog is fun. Getting your way through an artillery barrage and killing those cunts is fun. Defending for 30 minutes is not.
- Numbers are Fine. DOTA has a SHIT TON of numbers and abilities yet people are able to recall them just fine. Meanwhile I don’t even know this Homeworld Deserts of Kharak ability existed. Wacky abilities that change a scenario are good especially if you have some great sound and visual effects to back them up, but if they have too binary of a state then they either feel awful to play with or against. That is not something I want to have in a game. Casuals might not care about numbers, but having those number readily available for comparison makes those casuals able to understand the game better than having a sleek as fuck UI that casuals don’t give a shit about.
- Competitive play fuels Casual play. Having a game for casuals means a way to kill time, but a Competitive game is about who is better, a very base instinct that makes people feel really good when they get things right. People go to play video games when they feel like they want to be better. People play on a smartphone when they want to kill time. Also Competitive play is basically free marketing.
And that’s what I wanted to get off my chest. If you think I missed something, you can recommend it in the comments below.
Also, Iron Harvest… Please just be an over the top Red Alert version of Company of Heroes.