17th Apr, 2014By Softmints4 minutes

In light of last week's interview, I've decided to take a slight detour from our usual menu to review a concept AoS called Elemental Wars.

This was never made into a playable map, but is unique in several ways that I feel are worth discussing. The concept was originally posted here on wc3c.net, but I'll run through the main points below anyway.

Elements:

As the title suggests, the game heavily involves 'elements', which are the theme for the game's grid of Damage Affinities.

As can be seen below, there are five damage types, each of which is strong against two armours, and weak against two armours. The grid is symmetric: Earth damage is strong against Fire armour, while Fire damage is strong against Earth armour.

Table showing the five elements, each dealing +25% to two other elements, and -25% to two others

Each hero in the game represents a pair of elements, one offensive and one defensive. The offensive element determines the damage type of their auto-attack, while the defensive element determines their armour type. The hero's abilities are also matched to their elements, two offensive abilities themed with the offensive element, and two defensive abilities to the defensive element.

Let's look at an example hero which, for simplicity's sake, has abilities adapted from Warcraft III rather than a unique custom set:

The 'Keeper of the Grove' hero. Its 'Chain Lightning' and 'Monsoon' abilities use the Storm element, while 'Rejuvanation' and 'Force of Nature' are Earth-aligned

We can see that all of Keeper of the Grove's offensive capacity is aligned with the Storm element, while his defence is aligned with Earth. Even before we look at the specifics of his abilities, he has a natural advantage against certain heroes, and a natural disadvantage against others.

In total, there are 20 distinct elemental pairs (we don't allow heroes to have the same element twice). There are two teams in the game, and each gets exclusive access to 10 heroes.

Heroes with the same pair of elements but swapped offence/defence are assigned to opposing teams: so Keeper of the Grove (offence: Storm, defence: Earth) would oppose Far Seer (offence: Earth, defence: Storm). Therefore, each team is guaranteed a good variety of pick options.

Hero Progression:

Heroes may acquire additional Fire Power: a stat which increases their attack damage (if they have fire as an offensive element), or armour (if they have fire as a defensive element). It will also increase the effectiveness of fire-themed spells, by increasing damage, healing, or any spell-specific value. So if a hero has fire as a defensive element, then Fire Power improves almost everything defensive that they can improve.

Of course, there also exists Spirit Power, Frost Power, etc. stats for the other elements, which behave in the same way.

Generally, the design document favours boosting the Power of a hero's offensive element rather than increasing its attack damage directly. Cutting out attack damage as a direct pursuit leaves heroes with only two real builds: offensive Power or defensive Power.

However, the item system itself is quite versatile. There are three classes of item:

  • Consumables: Items granting an active ability, but only for a limited number of uses. Mentioned are temporary boosts to elemental powers and healing potions, as well as a temporarily switching offensive and defensive elements. I think it would be plausible to let players buy element-aligned spells as well, providing they didn't scale with elemental power (as then players could build very defensively but still enjoy strong offence via consumables).
  • Gems: These items are cheap and offer small bonuses. They are cost-efficient, but not very useful on their own.Shows an icon with a small red crystal. It reads: "Fire Gem: +4 Fire Power"
  • Artifacts: These are more expensive, and offer more substantial bonuses. They also have up to four slots into which any gems may be placed. Once all of an artifact's slots have been filled with gems, an secondary bonus will be unlocked.Shows the example item 'Ten-ton Hammer', which grants +100 maximum life, and a further +100 maximum life when fully slotted There is a good deal of opportunity to have interesting items here, such as an artifact which has no basic bonus, but a powerful secondary bonus once all the slots are filled. Or consider an artifact which starts with a defensive bonus, but later unlocks an offensive bonus.

Gameplay:

As can be seen in the sketch terrain at the beginning of the article, each team has two bases at opposite corners of the map, with neutral creeps scattered around the centre.

At the beginning of the game, each base is assigned a random element (one stays benched), and will spawn troops of that element for a fixed number of waves. This is followed by a brief downtime, before the next "round" and random allocation begins.

Due to the symmetry of the damage type chart, the lanes won't push on their own, but troops from both sides will die faster/slower in some element matchups. Also, heroes will much prefer to be on a lane where they deal more damage to enemy units, and take less!

The overall theme of Elemental Wars is that there is always advantage and disadvantage somewhere, both within team compositions and on the lanes. The skill of the game is in exploiting those advantages while they exist, and attempting to kite your opponents while they don't.

Implicitly there's a lot of teamwork required, both in the initial stage of composing a team, and also when adapting to the frequent, drastic changes to the environment that define the game. I really like this aspect of the design.

Closing Thoughts:

There are some interesting things to take away from all this.

Firstly, balancing would be very tricky, since heroes can counter each other not just with abilities, but also by elemental typing. This creates a much more complex web of dependencies, which might offer a lot of depth to explore, but also take a long time before reaching equilibrium. That said, maybe a little imbalance isn't such a bad thing.

Secondly, this is a game with a fixed hero pool, by design. There is no other AoS I'm aware of that shouldn't add another hero, because no other game has such strict typing. This limits the game's growth, though there are other ways to keep players interested, such as new arenas or items.

Sadly, I doubt any commercial venture would try to set sail towards such a "closed" design goal. I accept that new heroes could be introduced by limiting teams to not picking two heroes with the same pair of elements, but that skews the picks until there's two of each ordered pair, then three, etc.

Finally, while the item system feels a bit limited, I think the introduction of more formalised stats like cooldown reduction (common in most modern mobas) would help a great deal towards making build options more dynamic.

This is a game I'd personally really like to play, because I feel adapting your team's approach to each round's lanes would be a consistently enjoyable experience. Couple that with modern hero design and I'm sold!