Review: The Great Strategy

TGS_PreviewThe Great Strategy (Hank_s, 2005) was one of the first AoS maps to take a hands-off approach to hero design. The premise was that heroes start with a single innate ability, and players can buy and upgrade the rest of their kit by spending a special resource called Ability Points, gained primarily by leveling up, but also by killing enemy players.

Abilities are divided into four types:

  • Innate abilities come with your hero, and have no leveling or interaction with the AP system.
  • Standard abilities cost 2 AP per level (max of 10 levels), and heroes can have at most three.
  • Special abilities cost 5 AP (only one level), and heroes can have only one.
  • Ultimate abilities cost 8 AP (max of 3 levels), and heroes can have only one.

TGS is an asymmetric game, pitting the Alliance and Horde of Warcraft lore against each other. The Alliance have exclusive access to learn and upgrade from a set of 24 standard abilities, 12 special abilities, and 8 ultimate abilities. The Horde have their own set of completely different abilities. Both teams also have full access to the Neutral set. The abilities themselves are simple ones derived from the standard Warcraft III game.

Picking abilities from one of the many ability shops

Once an ability has been bought or leveled up, it becomes unavailable to the purchaser’s team for a few minutes. This stops teams from focusing on a single mechanic like burst damage or summons, because there are a limited number of those abilities available. It also stops players from maxing out one ability too quickly. Abilities can be sold for a partial refund of AP, but because of the delay, pivoting late game isn’t very practical. TGS_1

There are also wandering merchants who travel from lane to lane, offering a few extra standard abilities. If one of these is bought or leveled up, it becomes unavailable to both teams for a while, making them a contestable resource.

The other half of TGS’s gameplay is the ability to upgrade your team’s minions. As well as items, gold can be spent on adding more troops to your team’s waves, or buying upgrades to improve certain minion types. The upgrades have a cooldown, so they demand early and constant investment to keep pace with the enemy team. It’s also possible to hire your own units and build an army.

The cooldowns, coupled with the fact that it gets more and more expensive to add another of a certain unit type to the waves (so specializing is inefficient), mean that late game the minion strategy usually devolves into a homogenized mess. This could have done with more careful tuning.

Unlike most mobas, TGS places very little emphasis on items, which actually makes a lot of sense given the mechanics. If there was a big emphasis on items, heroes would be under pressure to specialise to get maximum return on their item builds, which would kill the diversity and experimentation which makes the game fun.

Attacking the enemy base with upgraded troops

The team cooldown when buying abilities deserves a little more attention. As mentioned earlier, it acts as a counterweight to teams or players doing too much of one thing, which is a rather neat automatic balance correction mechanism. Unfortunately, there’s also the possibility that two players will want the same abilities and be unable to cooperate.

There are some things I dislike about TGS. It’s needlessly impractical to switch to or gank other lanes (you have to teleport home and walk all the way back out), and there is nothing to do besides laning. The customisation of abilities allows for a range of strategies (hence the title), but the abilities themselves aren’t intrinsically fun to use.

Overall though, the game does a great job of letting you make your own hero, and play it in an environment where trying new things isn’t considered bad (contrast: almost every other moba). The ability point system is clean, elegant, easy to pick up, and offers a lot more depth than assigning a single point per level to 4-5 fixed abilities. With a more interesting and dynamic selection of abilities, the hero selection system could work quite well in a commercial game.

Download: Here


5 thoughts on “Review: The Great Strategy

  1. I think that selecting abilities is sort of a naive approach to hero design. It’s every child/amateur’s dream to have a game where you can pick the most ridiculous abilities to make a “super” hero, but designing good abilities to fit in this methodology is severely limited. Compare the “meta” abilities you mentioned in Age of Myths with a well coupled hero design like Orianna from league of legends. A good point of ideal hero design is that you can’t think of an ability to replace an existing one because the existing abilities are so well coupled. This creates a facade of choice in TGS and Age of Myths. Still, the meta abilities is a decent concept, I just think that if the game wants to be successful it needs another huge design difference than just “pick your abilities”.

  2. Now, I do agree with you somewhat. While I’ve played tons of TGS in my days, especially when I was younger, around 13 – 14 years old. I completely adored it. It was great fun, you could find amazing compositions of abilities and one game was just about never the same as the other. I believe that that kind of fun, build your own ability tree, is a really nice concept, even if I agree with you, it’s naive. As someone who love working on different concepts for games, one of my dreams is to make one where you got as much diversity in character design as possible, and that it should have impact on the gameplay (an example is a Evolution based MMORPG that I am thinktanking about ATM), and while I agree that a ideal hero in LoL should feel like you can’t replace one ability like another, shouldn’t a game which got the opposite basis also work in a different way? If I could mix up abilities in LoL, I could make quite the broken monstrosity. But, let’s think like this: My goal is to make a game where no monstrosity, no matter how you combine the parts, is the clear top of the food chain? It would more or less like making entire team compositions into champions and then make team compositions out of that. Sure, something might be very big, tanky, deal damage and have utility. But it’s going to be bound to have weak points, because that’s how the game is designed. While this concept is very unlikely to ever be well executed, I do think it’s a nice concept to work with and if it could be accomplished it would most likely make a incredibly fun and interesting game! As long as, you know, the solution doesn’t end up being to dumb down all abilities so all are just about equally bad and don’t have anything special enough with them to become a monster no matter the combination. Because that would be just foul.

    • Sure, it’s possible. Even a game without abilities or items at all could potentially be fun in its own right – but design is an optimization – about maximizing a game’s fun factor. I might try your game once, but I’ll still go back to league of legends, or dawngate, etc. See what I’m saying?

      • Yes, of course, as I said, I agree with you.^^ But, it’s still pretty nice to theorize about total customization in a competitive environment.^^

  3. Now this is a bit late maybe but still, my 2 cents:

    There’s a lot of parallels to be drawn to older DnD rpgs in regards to character customization. There can be many ways to customize your character but still retain some limitations and have some skills and abilities be tailored more for your character depending on factors like race, stats, other skills learnt, titles, affinities, and more.

    To make some basic examples: A priest archetype and a paladin archetype might both learn “holy light”. For the paladin this would be a player based area of effect since it makes sense that a more melee combat character would be together with his allies as part of the vanguard.

    meanwhile the priest character is most likely sitting back and healing from a distance.

    The tanky dude with the huge tower-shield learning a slow aura might give the added benefit of ranged damage protection to nearby allies while the Savage Barbarian demoralize nearby enemies to reduce their damage and armor instead.

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