Strife MOBA

Strife: The Game That Could Have Been

Mar 30, 2016

Strife is the greatest MOBA you’ve never heard of. It threw out all the rules of traditional MOBAs and created something entirely new and exciting. It single-handedly solved the myriad of problems plaguing team games while still maintaining a complex and skill-based atmosphere. It was a revolution. So why haven’t you heard of it?

Some readers may have had a passing acquaintance with the game Strife, but a majority of people reading this right now probably have no clue what it is. No worries. But before we dive into it, a short history lesson first.

All Roads Lead Back to Dota

After the immense success of the WarCraft III mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA), many game developers began to look toward creating a similar game style. At the forefront of the original MOBA movement were League of Legends (LoL) and Heroes of Newerth (HoN), both designed by relatively new and unknown companies (Riot and S2, respectively). There were several other MOBA titles during this time, but these three stood out as the most important.

S2 Game's first title, Heroes of Newerth.
S2 Games produced Heroes of Newerth.

League of Legends was released on a free-to-play model (almost unheard of in 2009), leading to incredible success that eventually made them the MOBA kingpin we know today. Heroes of Newerth, however, was released as a retail game and never caught on like its counterpart, although it arguably stayed more true to its roots in Dota. Valve’s subsequent release of Dota 2 overshadowed HoN, driving the game into obscurity.

A New Kind of MOBA

Despite the mixed success of Heroes of Newerth, S2 Games wasn’t deterred from making another entry into the genre. They began to work on a new free-to-play project called Strife, which would cater to casuals and solve many of the problems other MOBAs were experiencing with balance, items, and toxicity.

Strife’s new look was similar to League of Legends on release—cartoony, fun, and colorful. They took some of the problematic mechanics that slowed down games like backing (teleporting home to your well) and vision control and simplified them so that games were more intuitive and ended faster. They went to great lengths to build gameplay solutions to the toxic MOBA environment, and set a new standard for a “casual” experience in the genre.

The graphics in Strife are clean and the gameplay is very smooth, in many cases better than the other leading MOBAs.
The graphics in Strife are clean and the gameplay is smooth.

In the game, last hitting for gold still exists, but the gold is shared between you and your laning partner. This means that solo laners still get fed, but duo lanes gain gold equally. The same goes for kills—the gold is split equally among all contributing Heroes. In effect, this essentially solves issues with players stealing kills or CS and led to more teamwork throughout the game.

The game features a unique regen mechanic that’s unlike the systems you encounter in other MOBA titles. If your Hero doesn’t take damage for a few seconds, they begin to regenerate HP and mana quickly, allowing you to stay in lane longer and continue to participate in the action. This mechanic allows duo lanes to take turns last hitting vs. playing support and solo lanes can’t be overpowered quite as easily since they can just sit under turret and regen. This mechanic made jungling viable and dynamic, and gave players more flexibility with HP and mana management.

S2 also looked to simplify the item system. Unlike LoL and Dota 2, where build paths are complex and there are tons of items, Strife boils everything down into six basic ingredients: Mana, Clarity (mana regen), Health, Vitality (health regen), Agility (attack speed), and Power. Each ingredient has a few different “sizes” that give more or less of each attribute, but build paths are straightforward and easy to understand. No more studying huge item flowcharts to figure out what each one does.

The game also includes adorable “pets” that are similar to Summoner Spells in LoL. They each give Heroes a passive trait as well as a passive and active ability. For instance, the pet Luster gives you additional gold per last hit. He also last hits for you occasionally if you miss, and you can activate his active ability to deal high damage to a neutral minion or monster, similar to LoL’s Smite.

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All of these were among the plethora of brilliant ideas the development team brought to the table while they were making Strife. Even though the game was designed with the casual player in mind, it never lost touch with the mechanical and strategical aspects of a MOBA and still had the potential to be highly competitive. The game was free-to-play with microtransactions. It had a loyal fanbase. It had potential for long-term growth. It had everything it needed to become the next great MOBA and potentially one of the largest modern esports title.

But it didn’t.

Ghost Town

After two years in beta, with extraordinarily slow updates and very little developer feedback, the game was finally released onto Steam just over a year ago. A small spike in popularity flared up during its initial release, but slowly died over time. S2 Games became more and more despondent and, finally, stopped responding at all. All of the great ideas that the developers poured into the game and support from fans stagnated as the game’s ongoing development was at a standstill.

Players who loved the game and saw its potential cried out, begging for the developers to continue work on the project. We’ve seen doomsday calls in other games crying “dead game,” but Strife had a loyal fanbase who stuck with the game through thick and thin, but even these players were appalled at the state the game finally settled into.

Strife's unique single player campaign entitled "The Prophecy of Darkstone" revolves around a Hero rising during dark times to bring balance to everything—ironic that this was not the prophecy of S2's development team.
Strife’s single player campaign, “The Prophecy of Darkstone,” revolves around a Hero rising during dark times to bring balance to everything.

Unfortunately, Strife was soon forgotten and Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, released mid-2015, quickly overtook it as the go-to “casual MOBA.” Much like its predecessor, the game has faded into oblivion as a game that had a lot of potential but no follow through. Although there has been no official comment from S2, it appears the company has shut down with no plans for updates on Strife or future projects.

Is Strife Still Fun?

The game has, for the most part, been abandoned, but it lacks any significant bugs and is fairly balanced. Aside from the low player base and long queue times, Strife is actually still a completely enjoyable game.

As someone who is always encouraging gamers to play as many games as possible, I highly recommend sinking a few hours into Strife—you’re guaranteed to have some fun. Whether you’re on the powerhouse ADC Fetterestone, the big Shank tank, or the cigar-smoking robot gambler Bandito, you’re bound to find something new that you haven’t experienced in another MOBA. The subreddit is still surprisingly active with loyal players who love the game and are looking for people to play with, so it’s easy to find friends to play with. S2 even developed a short single-player plot you can play through if you don’t have anyone to play with.

Strife MOBA - A revolutionary game that just never seemed to take off like the developers planned.

There’s no hope for Strife to make a comeback—it is, indeed, a very dead gamebut that doesn’t diminish the actual quality of gameplay. Take some time off from your competitive games and give Strife a go, but keep your expectations realistic.

Strife MOBA
Christopher Meek
Chris is an esports aficionado who has followed and written about several different games, including StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm. He has served notable time at Team Liquid, among others, in the pursuit of becoming a freelance writer and editor. He’s sometimes been known in the MOBA community as “that feeder” but continues to improve and remains optimistic for the future.
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