Review: Scars of War

Age_of_Myths_PreviewScars of War (Skar, 2009-2011) is an unusual combination of a relatively recent map using 2005-era scripting. It draws loose inspiration from DotA, and is mostly comprised of minor to moderate twists on familiar ideas. The map includes more features than it needs, and many of them aren’t integrated well, but among the clutter lie a few interesting concepts.

Mmm, symmetry. Well, mostly.

Map Features:

It must be said: the most immediate thing anyone will notice upon playing Scars of War is its garish visual style. Just about everything in the environment sparkles, glitters, glows, or flaunts an unusual colour palette. While the use of models is creative, the constant visual noise makes simple tasks like “trying to find a shop” needlessly difficult.


Left: some flowers in front of a shop. Right: terrain around a creep camp.

The main bases for each team are a bit more appealing. Soldiers can be seen training in the background, there’s workers busy with repairs, and best of all, the bases are surrounded by thick walls which may be climbed upon. Neat!


I’m not sure this is a practical place to defend from, but it looks cool.

Out in the lanes, each team’s towers are accompanied by three defenders and a Garrison building. The defenders are always the first to fall to a push, but as long as the garrison stands, slain defenders will come back to life after 30 seconds, and continue absorbing damage that would have otherwise reached the tower.


Protected by attackable walls and defending mages.

While troops will naturally focus on the enemy tower during a push (since it’s attacking), a hero or its summons can try to take out the garrison first, which will make subsequent pushes more effective. Garrisons have approximately half of a tower’s life, making this achievable, though still difficult.

The bottom corners of the map are occupied by side-bases, each housing a Gold Mine. Despite their close proximity, these side-bases are separate from the lanes, and troops won’t try to enter. Instead, they must be invaded by heroes, and upon razing the gold mine (and the surrounding base), the enemy’s supply of passive gold income will be cut off, and the faction’s troops will have their damage permanently increased.

Periodically, a random pair of runes will be spawned at two points on the upper side of the map. These give the familiar bonuses from DotA, and are hamstrung by impractically short durations given their placement and the size of the map.

Scars of War has a troop upgrade system, but unfortunately it is of the “mandatory gold-sink” variety that I have dismissed in previous reviews, so we will skip past it.


Bosses:

There are three bosses in Scars of War, which have a rather complicated relationship.

  • Galvron: The weakest boss, in the middle of the map. Drops an Emerald Shard: a single-use reincarnation consumable (aegis from DotA) which has no time limit. The first team to kill him gets an extra ‘Galvron’ troop for the rest of the game.
  • Dragon: Powerful boss, drops a (useless) Burning Heart. Combining this with an Emerald Shard creates an item that generates extra ‘dragon’ troops. This item doesn’t stack.
  • Harpy: Powerful boss, drops a (useless) Storm Heart. Combining this with an Emerald Shard creates an item that generates extra ‘harpy’ troops. This item doesn’t stack.

Defeating Dragon/Harpy will permanently improve the damage of the killing faction’s troops, which is a considerable bonus. However, the full reward requires a Shard from beating Galvron as well to get the extra troops on-lane. Hence, despite not being the strongest boss, Galvron remains the most pivotal. All three of the bosses will respawn several minutes after dying.

The boss fights themselves are a bit unusual. As can be seen on the birds-eye map above, the “pits” for Dragon/Harpy are exceptionally deep. A team which is contested while fighting a boss will have absolutely nowhere to run except fighting their way out. To acquire both of the valuable troop generation items, a team will have to defeat one boss deep in the enemy side of the map, where being contested is very likely.

Each boss guards a “roost” building, which remains invulnerable until the boss has been slain. It is upon destroying this reasonably sturdy roost that team gold is distributed, and the reward item is dropped. This means a team can wait until the enemy has just finished the boss units (and hence is at their weakest) before pouncing to steal the prize, since there is guaranteed to be time before the enemy can crack open the roost. The combination of these features makes taking a boss very risky against attentive opponents.


The red dragons and their roost.

A final note on the bosses: I am not fond of how the Galvron “first-kill bonus” works. Having to deal with extra lane pressure for the rest of the game is pretty harsh, and I don’t like that there’s no way to even things out later. It would be much more bearable if the troops were awarded to the most recent Galvron kill, or some other limit was applied. But, enough about bosses.


Powerups:

When a hero kills an enemy troop, there is a chance it will drop a powerup which will stay on the ground for 20 seconds before vanishing. Picking it up will grant the hero a minor bonus until their next death. There are three types of powerup:

  • Gold: +2 gold per last hit
  • Time: -2 seconds from the hero’s death timer
  • Attribute: +2 to the hero’s primary attribute

A hero may accumulate at most four stacks of each powerup, such that a hero who has been laning for a while will have +8 gold on each last hit, -8 seconds shaved from the timer for their next death, and +8 to their primary stat. It’s not a huge amount, but these powerups give a unique reward for time spent laning that can’t be acquired anywhere else.


An enemy could snatch these away; have to be quick!


Items:

Scars of War has approximately 120 items. Regular permanent items comprise most of the roster, but quite a number of sub-categories exist, each with their own twist. The most familiar of these will be recipe items, though there are merely 5 (excluding the boss drop items).

Set itemMany of the regular permanent items happen to be listed in one of the Item Sets. A partial bonus is granted for wielding at least 2 items from the same set, and a full bonus is granted for wielding all 4 items from a set. The bonuses are substantial, and the full bonus will often include new abilities, or upgrade items in the set, making them even more effective as a reward for commitment. Generally, set items are expensive, so buying two cheap ones to get the partial bonus “efficiently” isn’t practical.

One shop sells a number of Pushing items. These are relatively cheap, and have active abilities which affect only allied troops. Buying several of them can substantially boost a hero’s pushing power, by reviving fallen units, healing them, increasing attack damage, and so on. They offer no stat padding whatsoever, making them purely an objective-motivated purchase.

Cursed itemIn a departure from the rest of the pushing items, there’s a single-use consumable that can be bought from two of the shops in the middle of the battlefield, and it has a restock time that applies to both teams. Hence, if one team buys it from a shop, neither team can buy it there again for 2 minutes. It’s expensive but powerful, and (other than the bosses) is the only item in the game that’s contestable in this way.

Cursed itemAlso available are Cursed items, and as typical of their presence in other AoS maps, there are only a few. In Scars of War, the stronger cursed items have respectively the highest bonuses in the game for their stats, which helps them compete for viability with regular items. Among the cursed items is the only item in the game that can increase exp gain. I still feel that opportunity cost is more than enough when it comes to making items a trade-off, and that even if cursed items turn out to be balanced, they aren’t healthy for the game.

A category that I enjoyed seeing were Evolution items: a type of item which starts out weak and cost-inefficient, but pays off later in the game. An example is the item Common Bracer, which costs 500 gold and gives +5 strength. By fulfilling its evolve condition of holding onto it for 10 minutes, it will level up into a +15 strength, +5 agility, +5 intelligence item, which is excellent for 500 gold. Keep it for a further 15 minutes, and it will evolve again, gaining more stats and a special passive.

Evolution items can produce very efficient results from a small investment of gold, but they do have downsides. In particular, dying will undo some progress of the evolve condition, such as setting the Common Bracer‘s evolution timer back by 3 minutes. If this happens too often, the game might have moved beyond the point where the item could bear fruit.

There are 9 evolution items in the game, most of which have 5 levels, and a different evolve condition to fulfil at each level. Below are some examples:

  • Cast 35 hero spells
  • Kill 50 enemy units
  • Kill 3 enemy heroes
  • Deny 20 allied units
  • Deal 5,000 damage to enemy units
  • Deal 6,000 damage to enemy heroes
  • Witness 4,000 mana being spent by nearby enemies casting spells
  • Be the target of 25 enemy hero spells
  • Take 10,000 damage
  • Walk 100,000 distance

The conditions roughly match the purpose of the item: being hit by spells helps to evolve a tanky item, while walking around evolves the boots item, etc. The boots item is an interesting case, because when fully-evolved, it grants the highest speed bonus in the game. Hence, no-one has to pay more than 500 gold to have competitive movement speed, though relying on this item means opponents can kill a hero to stop them from “catching up”. It’s also possible to buy other, more expensive boots items, which have active abilities and will temporarily outpace the still-evolving evolution boots.

While it’s not explored in much depth, one item has two separate evolution paths: an idea which presents some cool possibilities for item progression. In theory, some heroes might be able to meet one condition faster, but prefer the other evolution path, and have to play differently or sub-optimally for a while to get it. (We assume players aren’t forced to take the first condition they meet; that could lead to abuse.)

SoW_2Maxed-out evolution items have special abilities, including valuable counters like mirror image (self-dispel), mana flare (anti-caster), and the best evasion item. This creates an interesting dynamic where heroes need to be thinking about counters very early in the game, since waiting 10-20 minutes to complete the appropriate counter item might not be an option later on.

The premise of evolution items is pretty cool. It presents players with optional “mini-quests” they can attempt, and also presents enemies with a clear way to foil them: by killing the hero. Packaging all that potential interaction into the existing item system is surprisingly tidy, and avoids introducing extras like a ‘quest master’, a means to track progress, and all the other baggage that full-fledged quest systems entail.

Permanent itemThe item effects are only lightly scripted, and will be familiar to most players. There are some creative ideas in use though; I quite like Hindirus (right) for how it gives the otherwise untouched neutral creeps a bit of relevance.

There are a lot of item sub-categories in Scars of War, and I find the lack of focus problematic. One player might be working towards a recipe item, another accumulating the items of a set, a third is busy with evolve conditions, a fourth building around cursed items… there are so many different forms in which heroes can progress that the game loses cohesion and clarity. What is the enemy’s plan? Well it could be any one of 4-5 different types of plan, before we even get into specifics.

I would prefer to see two well-populated categories (regular + evolution items), than have them spread so thinly across different ideas. A simpler system would make it easier for players to make and interpret decisions, and could absolutely retain the same depth if done well.


Overview:

While I’ve described the game’s mechanics one-by-one, section-by-section, a player of Scars of War would actually discover things like “the first team to kill Galvron gets extra troops” through the Achievements menu, since completing the Galvron Rusher achievement is (according to the game) what actually gives a team the ‘Galvron’ troops. Similarly, the consequences of destroying the enemy gold mine are rewards from an achievement, rather than a normal mechanic of the gold mine.

The achievements menu seen in in Scars of War would not be a healthy feature in any game. If a game element does something, it is much clearer to just say so, rather than putting crucial information in a separate place. Those achievements which aren’t describing how a game element behaves, are of the “snowball” variety: further rewarding players who were already the “first to do X”. I am not a fan of this at all.

Overall, Scars of War is a pretty decent map if considered as being from 2005. Its heroes, items, features, flaws, and ambitions all match what I would expect from that era; which is just fine if your players have been around awhile and are accustomed to that style. A contemporary audience wouldn’t be so forgiving though!

Download: Here

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2 thoughts on “Review: Scars of War

  1. Very nice review, I agree with everything you’ve written. When I read this bit:

    “The map includes more features than it needs, and many of them aren’t integrated well, but among the clutter lie a few interesting concepts.”

    I had low hopes for the map, but I was wrong. Some of these concepts really do seem well-executed and interesting. In particular I like the Garrison building. It would be good to see this in a more modern setting.

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