Review: Ultimate War, Part 2

Continuing from Ultimate War, Part 1


Objectives:

Scattered around the map are a number of objectives which may be captured by either team to enjoy certain benefits. They are all initially controlled by the neutral faction Chaos, and guarded by a reasonably strong defender unit. Upon dealing the finishing blow to the objective (all of which are structures), it will be restored to full life under its new owner’s control, along with a fresh defender.

Among the objectives are five Spawn Buildings: the team which controls them will periodically spawn a certain unit type from that location, to march along the nearest lane. Ownership of a Spawn Building will periodically grant the human players with Magical Runes, and importantly: increases the number of friendly units that will spawn during a Great War. This can be the difference between taking or losing towers on the mid-lane each time a Great War takes place.

The remaining map objectives are the three Obelisks, each of which grants a different global aura to the owner’s team. This is a familiar mechanic which appears in many an AoS, but Ultimate War adds a twist: each Obelisk controlled by the human team also enables an extra Team Spell for their main base. The Obelisks are:

  • Obelisk of Power: Passively increases attack damage, its team spell grants a further +100% attack damage to all units for 20 seconds.
  • Obelisk of Magic: Passively increases life regeneration, its team spell is a global-range nuke that deals 30% of maximum life to enemies in an area (this is crazy-strong late-game).
  • Obelisk of Protection: Passively increases armour, its team spell grants a ton of bonuses to friendly towers for 35 seconds (including a huge amount of regeneration).


The Obelisk of Magic, recently captured.

Even if it’s not possible to hold an Obelisk long-term, grabbing one for just a moment is enough to activate a spell to swing the battle (the spells have high cooldowns anyway). While in control of all three Obelisks, an “ultimate” team spell becomes enabled, which summons extra-powerful reinforcements on all three lanes.

I’m slightly disappointed the Obelisk team spells are locked behind one of the higher-tier Glyphs of Knowledge, essentially meaning that the humans need sink a lot of money into “tech” first, and can’t use the spells early-game in a weaker form. They’re among the more interesting perks for controlling a map objective that I’ve encountered, and properly-implemented would create a more meaningful distinction between the utility offered from controlling each lane. After all, it’s possible to get very creative with spells compared to auras, and there’s more opportunity for utility spells which don’t directly snowball in the way that aura implementations tend to.


Deities

Obelisks have another important role: they generate Divine Power for their team. At the start of a match, both teams have 0 Divine Power, which will gradually increase over time. Once it reaches 7500, that team’s Deity will be summoned to march down the mid lane, where it will either eventually destroy the enemy main base, or die trying (losing the game for that team; you can’t let your Deity die). This process takes approximately 90 minutes, depending on Obelisk control.

In this genre it’s important to put a clock on the match, so that victory isn’t secured the moment heroes have grown strong enough to “not lose”: they need to be kept under pressure to actually win. (Aeon of Strife does this too, using a 2-hour countdown timer.) Here we see the value of having a large quantity of towers in each base: distributing the defences over many units gives players better feedback about whether they’re taking the enemy base fast enough to win.


The enemy Deity, surrounded by the usual late-game chaos.

If the humans can’t stop the enemy Deity from appearing, they can still race to summon their own, or try for a direct kill (that global nuke from the Obelisk of Magic is one way to do it). Maintaining control of Obelisks is usually the deciding factor (since they affect Divine Power), but the enemy often sends squads of Elites specifically to contest them.

Finally, it’s worth noting that all the map objectives are on side lanes: there’s none on or directly accessible from the mid lane (where most of the enemy units will be pushing). A pair of Waygates allow units to bypass the mid lane entirely if they want to focus on objectives without getting caught in the crossfire, which some squads of enemy Elites will take advantage of.


Heroes:

The cast of Ultimate War features familiar pop-culture characters, ranging from superheroes and plumbers to vampires and sith lords. There are 33 in total, and many of the enemy Elites are also based on well-known villains.

There are three things to note about heroes. The first is that quite a few of them are classified as Divine Beings, which means they gain experience at a much slower rate, have substantially longer revive times, and are forbidden from carrying Unique items (the strongest type). It’s an option for players who want to spend their resources on team assets rather than personal equipment, or just want a fancier hero model.

The second is that while hero abilities are mostly standard issue, they typically gain increased range/cast range as they’re levelled up. This turns out to be crucially important on a large battlefield where you’re trying to cover a lot of ground or need to hit critical targets on the back lines.


A Divine Firelord throwing a long-range burning disc at enemy Elites.

The third is that each hero starts with a Spellbook: a sub-menu of additional abilities they can use. At the start of a match, this has only the essentials (usually True Sight, Dispel Magic, and a few others), but as more Glyphs of Knowledge are obtained it can reach up to 21 passives and abilities, depending on the hero. This is a lot of abilities, considering that heroes also have items and hero skills to manage.

The enemy Elites are designed around the fact that all heroes have True Sight and Dispel. I don’t think that’s a bad baseline: it makes it easy to create an Elite which requires “the presence of any hero” to defeat, or “the presence of 2 heroes” if it can cast a strong buff twice (Dispel Magic has a cooldown). It also allows some heroes to be special because they possess a second dispel, or can provide True Sight remotely. This implementation relies a bit too much on specific use of Warcraft mechanics, but I think it shows confidence in understanding of the genre to tweak the baseline of what a hero is, to better suit a particular game.


Overview:

Ultimate War packs plenty of ideas, and does a reasonably good job of delivering a co-op “humans versus Elites” experience. Unfortunately, it has its issues: namely poor compartmentalisation of its features, and too much addition when implementing content. We’ve described already some of the issues with Elites and the lack of simple clarity when dealing with them; the game’s strategic options (the ways in which resources/gold can be allocated) suffer in a similar way.

It’s not problem that every building in the base offers some answer to “how do I improve the base’s defences”, but it is a problem that their solutions overlap so heavily, particularly for repairing towers or summoning more units. The minutes-long cooldowns on many of these means that often it’s not even a matter of which is better, but rather, which option is still available. The solution to this is getting rid of overlap: if the Palace can summon units globally, then I shouldn’t be able to hire a unit which has a global blink. If I can hire units at all, there shouldn’t be a consumable item that creates summons.

Another option for making things tidier would be having buildings correspond to the problems players are addressing (repairing and towers, capturing objectives, pushing lanes) rather than game mechanics like items or spells. However: we can see that the Palace having solutions for a lot of things is “untidy”, but that being able to execute only one order at a time adds depth. Unless we’re in an ideal world where all mechanics correspond to solutions (all items repair towers, all units capture objectives), there’s always going to be compromises when defining categories for players to navigate.

I think it’s healthy to examine the “humans versus Elites” format of lane-pushing games. PvP has plenty to learn from the what makes a good co-op experience, and having good co-op is a great way to ease players into a game if both modes are designed with congruency in mind. As an exercise for the reader: what would Ultimate War‘s PvP mode look like?

Download: Here

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