It’s been awhile since a studio has attempted to build a new type of real-time strategy from the ground up. Generally, it makes sense due to the migration to MOBAs, which currently seem easier to design and reach a much larger audience, but Sparkypants Studios has designed Dropzone to bring back the core RTS design.
Dropzone finds itself somewhere in-between the MOBA and RTS. It’s difficult to classify it as a true RTS, in the purest definition, due to the lack of base-building mechanics, but it’s also a solo experience that relies on controlling multiple units. In fact, it feels closely related to Warcraft III, where players would control multiple hero units and roam around the map killing monsters for experience and items.
The goal is to complete map objectives and upload the most cores by the end of 15 minutes. There are randomly spawning alien hives, the Kavash, that drop cores once slain and grant player units experience. These cores need to be taken to the central uplink in the middle of each map and take 10 seconds to upload in order to score a point. Additional points can be scored by slaying boss units, capturing all four vision towers simultaneously, destroying 50 Kavash units, killing 9 Kavash Alpha units, or securing First Blood.
The core idea behind Dropzone is a fast-paced 1v1 experience that’s both fun to play and watch. The team decided to cap the matches at 15 minutes to deliver a thrilling experience that constantly feels back-and-forth. During each match, players will control three separate mech units and attempt to complete map objectives, harvest cores from alien infestations, and deny their opponent from doing the same. When asked why they decided to make certain design decisions, the development team responded:
“We wanted to get back to RTS. We wanted an RTS that was really fast paced. We felt that MOBAs did a really good job of taking the basics of the RTS and distilling it into a really fun team experience. We wanted to take those same basics and have that same kind of moment-to-moment combat but really focus on a 1v1 experience.”
In addition to making Dropzone a great 1v1 experience, the importance of making it enjoyable to watch was also stressed. Apparently, every day the entire development team will take a break to watch two players face off against each other. This allows for feedback regarding development and ideas for future content, but it also judges how well the game performs as a spectator sport.
“It’s really important to us that this is a watchable game. People love watching games, people love streaming games. And we wanted a game that was very easy to understand and as fun to watch as it is to play.”
One of the downfalls of typical RTS games is that they can be incredibly drawn out, even if one player is clearly outmatched. In Dropzone, the score is always present, which means players know where they stand. Furthermore, the lack of a base building element minimizes the chance of one player gaining so much momentum that it doesn’t because a contest anymore.
In Dropzone, player units can gain levels but initially the only advantages will be based on team composition and skill choices. Players will select three total pilots from any combination of Gunners, Mechanics and Tanks. It’s possible to roam around with three Tanks or Mechanics, but it’s probably not the best idea. Each unit is controlled independently and operates like a hero from a MOBA with skills set to QWER, but the first three abilities can be customized before each map. Only the pilot’s ultimate ability is locked in. The amount of different skills and pilots leads to hundreds of potential combinations for every match.
During my match of Dropzone at E3 2016, I decided to take a more risky approach with two Gunners and a Tank versus my opponent’s balanced composition. It was a constant back-and-forth experience that gave me the same thrill that classic real-time strategies used to. It’s one thing to have four other players to rely on, but when you’re alone every decision matters.
Despite the seemingly simple nature of the game, there was quite a lot of strategy involved and every action I made was met by a reaction from my enemy. When I would take down a Kavash hive, my opponent moved to capture all four vision towers to secure map objective points. When it looked like he had the upper hand, I ambushed his squad while he was turning in cores and took the lead for myself. In the final seconds, I had to hold off my enemy at the central uplink to prevent him from taking a last-minute victory. I watched our mechs trade fire and fall in similar fashion, but in the end I was the last one standing.
Overall, I had a fun time with Dropzone and would recommend it to anyone who likes MOBA gameplay but doesn’t want to rely on a team. The units control really well, the dynamic map objectives make each game exciting, and the variety of skills give a lot of customization power. Although the game is targeted at RTS players, I feel that it’s really more suited for MOBA players looking for a 1v1 competition. Most MOBAs aren’t balanced with that sort of gameplay in mind and having multiple heroes definitely increases the skill cap.
The lack of base mechanics will likely be a big drawback for the typical RTS player due to its major function in the genre’s core design. Instead, Dropzone feels more like a midway point for players, like myself, who are generally bad at base macro management but enjoy micromanaging small groups of units. Therefore, it almost seems wrong to classify it as either when it’s something that takes parts of both to create something new.
Having said that, I could see Dropzone becoming a fairly successful spectator game. The quick matches and constant action could definitely keep viewers entertained, and it already has built-in streaming support and playback modes. The team is also planning to support competitive play and tournaments.
Dropzone is being published by Gameforge and we can expect a North American and European launch sometime in 2016. If Dropzone interests you, stay tuned to MMOGames for upcoming details about the game and an official release date.Related: Dropzone, E3, E3 2016, Gameforge, MOBA, Preview, Sparypants Studios, Strategy