Halloween isn't the only thing to celebrate this week; it's also the 10-year anniversary of the spookiest AoS around: Extreme Candy War (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004)!
This map was released as a seasonal treat, and distributed as part of Battle.net's update patches. It marks Blizzard's first entry into the world of multiplayer lane-pushing games, and is remarkable for following very few of the usual AoS tropes of its era.
The map is of course themed to celebrate Halloween, with Angry Fathers marching down the lanes to deal with Sugar High Ghouls and Boogie Kids. The heroes and item names also stick to the light-hearted spooky motif.
Terrain and Map Features:
The terrain consists of three horizontal lanes, dotted with the usual defensive towers. The middle lane and corner bases also have a special tower with no attack, but an aura which increases the attack rate of nearby units. Interesting...
The main base for each team is invulnerable, thanks to the three Candy Mages which maintain a protective barrier over it. These Candy Mages have the Divine armour type, making them take negligible damage from almost everything, but they do have one weakness...
Candy Monsters are large but otherwise harmless NPCs which start off standing in the middle of each lane. If no enemy heroes or towers are around to stop them, Candy Monsters will walk with your hero along the lane towards the enemy base. Once escorted all the way, they will eat the Candy Mage corresponding to their lane in a single bite.
Essentially, Candy Monsters are the knots for the tug of war that's happening on each of the three lanes. Even after eating one Candy Mage, they will be perfectly happy to eat another if escorted into the other team's base.
Candy Mages do not respawn, but nor does their loss confer any other benefits to the enemy team. Once all three Candy Mages have been chomped (by pushing with each of the three monsters), the main base becomes vulnerable.
Candy Monsters are probably the most memorable feature of Candy War, but they don't actually add anything to the game. They represent lane equilibrium, but troops already do that without the added monster unit. I think it's fair to call them a (harmless) gimmick.
Strategically, Candy Mages are far less of a concern than a team losing one of their corner bases. Once lost, the team can no longer spawn troops on that lane, which will apply a lot of pressure on the remaining towers and base (and eventually the Candy Mages themselves).
The terrain features a number of waygates (teleporters) which help heroes move around the map quickly. These waygates are included in pathfinding, so ordering a hero to move from the fountain to the top/bottom lane will cause them to head to the middle lane and teleport most of the way. This shortens travel times, and makes ganking more practical depending on which lanes a team controls.
The creep camps on the map are not of the respawning variety, so while they offer minor gold, exp, and item drops, they aren't a properly integrated or important component of gameplay.
Extreme Candy War was released less than a month before the launch of World of Warcraft, and its heroes clearly reflect that. The 8 heroes on each team correspond 1:1 to the eight classes on Alliance/Horde at WoW's launch, with matching names and skill sets.
Blizzard even went so far as to implement non-mana resources like Rage and Energy for the Warrior and Rogue classes respectively, as well combo points for the Rogue's abilities. Since WoW heroes have large skill sets, their Candy War counterparts start the game with 2 innate abilities that don't require skill points or levels; totalling 6 abilities per hero.
There's no doubt that Extreme Candy Wars was intended to introduce WoW to Warcraft 3's existing player-base. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does bear mention because the rest of the gameplay was designed around heroes built from existing hero archetypes.
The hero death mechanic also emulates World of Warcraft. Upon dying, heroes respawn as a ghost version of themselves at their team's Spirit Healer. They may pay an experience cost of (30 × Level) experience to revive immediately at the Spirit Healer, or alternatively can walk across the map to their physical corpse, and revive it there at 75% life. (The delay before appearing as a ghost is negligible, so players experience very little down-time. Dying at max level will cost gold to revive at the Spirit Healer.)
This presents an interesting dynamic for kills and deaths: dying in an unsafe location means you will have to pay an experience cost, but dying in a place that your team can protect (such as during a team fight that your team eventually wins) is less harmful, and places you right back onto the battlefield near whatever objective you were fighting over. Overall, the mechanic is very punishing for the losing team.
Item design was also influenced by WoW's upcoming release. In RPG style, many items are categorised as a Weapon, an Armour, or an Accessory, and heroes may carry at most 1 Weapon, 1 Armour, and 2 Accessories. There are a modest 6-10 items available in each category, which allows for a little variety .
The game also has a number of uncategorised items. Some of these are single-use consumables like teleport scrolls and potions, but quite a number are what I will call "trinkets": cheap items which have a re-usable active ability.
Every hero starts the game with the "Boots of Haste" trinket, which gives +150 movement speed for 4 seconds (on a 2 minute cooldown). Other trinket abilities include:
- Salve (non-combat heal over time)
- Clarity (non-combat mana over time)
- Frost Nova (minor nuke + slow on enemy units)
- Roar (+attack damage for nearby allies)
- Howl of Terror (-attack damage for nearby enemies)
- Will (+armour to nearby allies) (all of the above cost 200-300 gold)
- Cloud (channel to stop enemy towers in an area from attacking)
- Hex (turn enemy into a critter)
- Blink (short-range teleport)
AoS maps don't usually make permanent active items available until much later stages of the game. Most early access to actives is restricted to single-use consumables which are not economically desirable. This is a trend inherited from Warcraft III: items available in both ladder and the campaign are exactly the same when it comes to item cost and actives.
After all, a re-usable active acquired early in the match would be extremely efficient because it can be used in fights throughout the match, so higher costs try to offset that. But Blizzard changed that for Candy War, making re-usable actives available early, and I think it was a great move.
It's refreshing not to have to worry about economic progression when you want to active abilities early in the game, and it also promotes more excitement and action. League of Legends later built on the same philosophy by giving players a not-dissimilar range of actives early in the game (Summoner Spells) without any cost.
One of the necessary parts of playing Candy War are the troop upgrades. There are two shops in each team's base which allow players to upgrade their faction's spawned units. One shop allows upgrading of damage and armour for melee/ranged/caster units, while the other allows upgrading the units themselves into evolved forms.
Despite having lots of buttons to press giving the illusion of choice, it is unfortunately just that: an illusion. In order to not lose, players generally have to buy every upgrade as soon as it becomes available, and the upgrades do nothing to specialise the troops, they just make them "stronger".
Which makes sense in a game of tug of war, but in Candy War they're a gold-sink and a nuisance that offers no strategic value. The question of who should be footing the bill is a potential cause for strife within teams as well.
Extreme Candy War also got a makeover in 2005 to increase the pace of the game. Blizzard decreased the cost of troop upgrades, lowered cooldowns on most hero and item actives, and made the Candy Monsters move faster, as well as adding new items and balance changes.
The death mechanic was reworked so that heroes revive almost instantly at their base, but are "feebleminded" during what would normally be their death timer. Functionally, this is a silence, slow, and attack damage reduction all rolled into one. It allows players to purchase items while "dead", and at least start walking back to where they want to be. I can see why Blizzard wanted to avoid players waiting 20+ seconds doing nothing while dead, but "feebleminded" doesn't really solve anything, it's just a distraction.
Despite being distributed directly by Blizzard, Candy War never achieved much of a following, perhaps due to a lack of heroes and items, repetitive gameplay, and failing to offer the "power thrill" that came from other AoS maps at the time. As the troops in Candy War get significantly upgraded over the course of the game, heroes couldn't quite become the unstoppable forces of destruction seen in competing maps.
Nonetheless, Candy War was still a welcome Halloween treat.