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Strife: Striking out MOBA Evil

Familiarity with MOBAs often involves at least a little awareness of the oft-hissed title of Heroes of Newerth. Developed by a group of hardcore DotA fans under the banner of S2 Games, HoN has consistently held a reputation for being incredibly difficult compared to other MOBAs – though the centerpiece of its reputation is the sheer viciousness of its playerbase. No gaming community – none – spits so much venom in each other’s face as the HoN population does. The commonplace hatred between carries makes a rotten League of Legends game (almost) desirable.

Then, S2 Games did something about it.

They turned away from the worst MOBA community of all time… and created the best. Enter Strife.

Admittedly, I’d heard the name a couple times. A new MOBA? Meh. We’ve got tons of those. The market is easily reaching saturation point with the past couple waves of triple-laned bird’s-eye views that’ve crashed upon the rocky shores of F2P land. Then, I was subjected to Strife’s brilliant little piece of advertising: a flashy banner displaying various characters, with text that read something along the lines of, “Be a hunter, be a warrior, be a cat wizard – just don’t be a d**k.”

Interesting. This banner sent a terribly clear message. “We don’t want rotten behavior anymore.”

To quickly address what might come to mind at that message, S2 Games is certainly not the first MOBA developer to put a heavy focus on improving player behavior. Riot Games, developer of League of Legends, has done some serious work between the “honor” system and the Tribunal, their method of punishing misbehaving players – but both systems are heavily criticized for their effectiveness – or lack thereof. You can’t argue with Riot’s results: the LoL community has grown up a lot over the past couple of years. However, they didn’t have the advantage of starting from scratch.

S2 Games and Strife did. I found myself intrigued from the get-go by the central concept of “real” teamwork. With LoL, I’ve been conditioned to know when to back off of CSing (or last-hitting, the concept of gaining credit for the death of a minion by being the person responsible for directly killing it) in order to give someone else on my team gold that, perhaps, they might be able to better use than myself. I’ve learned to hastily apologize should I play a support role, then proceed to inadvertently “steal” a kill from the carry, thus robbing my team of a little bit of our overall power and efficiency.

Strife, however, operates with the philosophy that “we’re all working hard, here.” Instead of granting certain characters more gold, a few key modifications have taken place on the basic, tried-and-true formula of laning with a total stranger.

1. All characters will automatically regenerate health and mana at a relatively quick rate following a delay after leaving combat.

2. Regardless of who scored the last hit, as long as you or one of your teammates killed the minion (or ‘brawler’, to follow Strife terminology), you and any allies you have in lane with you will gain equal gold. Whoa. No more leaving all the work and calculation to the ranged carry.

The combination of 1 and 2 creates a basic and intuitive strategy: If there’s two allied players in a lane together, they can both work together to secure last hits without fear. Should one of them take significant damage, that person can back off and let their passive regeneration kick in while their lane partner does the last hitting for them. Hmmm…

3. The same goes for player kills. It really doesn’t matter who gets the kill! Are you playing a support tank alongside a heavy damage dealer? Smash away! Strife puts such little weight on the number of kills you have that when you mouse over the portraits of your allies in the middle of the game, it doesn’t even display kills as their own statistic. Instead, you are greeted with that player’s number of combined kills and assists. Ego begone!

Naturally, some characters are better at slaughtering than others, and the game will still prominently announce when someone gets a double-, triple-, quadra-kill, etc. It’s an exciting event. However, as wealth is distributed equally among participants in successful combat, the entire endeavor becomes a much more friendly one. In the 17 wins I’ve had myself (as the game doesn’t even count your losses for you – move on after a defeat, right?), there have been two games with toxic players. Two games, out of roughly 30. My continuing League of Legends experience involves at least one toxic player in ~20% of my games, and I’m being a tad lax with that statement.

In terms of mechanics, there’s not a whole lot that sets Strife apart from its competitors. It’s a fairly standard, though easy-to-play entry in the MOBA flood. The incredible experience of working with a team that is – heaven forbid – kind to you even should you make mistakes is made available with Strife, though. It’s truly phenomenal, and even though I’m working my tail off to get to Gold division in League of Legends before the month ends… my efforts there fail to match the time I’m spending in Strife’s lovely community. You’re onto something, S2.

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