Ruiner's Domination is one of the most polished and professionally made AoS maps of its era. Its clean visuals combined with simple but well-embedded game rules has led it to age gracefully, even when played over a decade later.
One of the challenges faced by Ruiner's Domination was introducing and integrating a new map objective: Bloodstone Caches. These are control points that are captured when a hero channels on them uninterrupted for 15 seconds.
Upon capture, the caches spawn some protective towers, and doubly so for the central cache (which sees double the traffic due to being at the convergence of two lanes).
Once caches are under your control, a worker will start mining Blood Stones for your team. This secondary resource has only one purpose: it's used to buy a Soul Gem from the Devil's Advocate shop (which wanders randomly between four locations around the center of the map).
This special item must be escorted back to the team's base by a hero. While held, the Soul Gem applies to its bearer a silence, a 50% movement speed slow, disables teleports, and broadcasts their location. It's similar to how "capture the flag" is done in other games, and makes the holder a tasty target for ganking.
Once a Soul Gem makes it back to base, it can inserted into the base's Runic Generator building. This can hold up to four soul gems, granting new benefits with each gem inserted:
- The enemy main base loses its invulnerability. You need at least one to win, though it's not important early.
- Enemy towers no longer regenerate (the regeneration is quite strong).
- Your troops spawn twice as quickly on lane(!)
- Enemies can no longer spawn troops(!!)
As we can see, securing four gems is a pretty close approximation to victory.
One interesting feature of the overall terrain is that the enemy can push to your main base right from the beginning: the only buffer zone is the central control point, so if you don't control that, they'll be right on your doorstep. However, until they stop your towers regenerating it would take a lot of effort to break in properly.
A design decision that I really like here is that the control points are placed right in the middle of the lanes, where the troops will first collide. This might be the right decision for balance, but there is a more important factor at play.
The difference between an arena and a lane-pushing game is the inclusion of lanes, and the primary contribution of lanes is structure. They add structure to resource flow, vision, combat, and eventually the victory condition. They also play a strong role in structuring a player's attention.
When unsure of what to do next, the lanes are visually easy to evaluate and prioritise. And that's why I like putting the control points in the middle of the lanes. There is no way a new player can overlook them. They are tied right into gameplay, without risk of being forgotten or ignored.
Somewhere or other, the developer developed a fascination for fountains. Not only are they spotted around the map as decoration, there's two different types that are also gameplay elements.
The most common type is the Warcraft III staple "Fountain of Restoration", which heals nearby units over time for a small percentage of their maximum life. Each team owns three of these, two in their bases, and one close to the central cache (as the crow flies - it's very distant on foot).
The fun begins when using a special item called Vial of Purity/Vial of Corruption which converts an enemy fountain into one of your own! This process is reversible only by another vial.
Vials are an interesting way to exercise map control, but also mean the fountains in enemy bases can be converted into assets during a push. The fountains inside each team's bases aren't hidden in a corner at the back, they're right in the middle and intended to be contestable.
If the enemy doesn't have vials handy when their side base fountains get converted, they'll have to find healing somewhere else.
Each team also has one healing well in their smallest base, based on Warcraft III's Moon Wells. These buildings spend their mana to provide instant restoration to a nearby unit that requests it, but it takes a while for their mana to regenerate.
If you like messing with your opponents, diving into their bases and polluting their water supply can be a great way to indirectly harass, since it may be some time before they can ship out a vial to clean it up. How devious.
On the topic of items, it's worth mentioning that the significant majority of items in Ruiner's Domination are consumables. As well as the usual potions, there's a decent variety of limited-use abilities available, such as:
- 4 charges of blink on a four second cooldown for 150 gold (great for polluting enemy fountains)
- 3 charges of resurrection (revive the 3 strongest nearby non-hero units permanently) for 250 gold
- 1 charge of maximum movement speed for all nearby allies for 10 seconds, for 50 gold
These consumables don't stack in a single item slot, so inventory space is precious. With this in mind, the modest selection of permanent items available makes more sense and actually has good coverage of a hero's possible needs.
Many consumables can be applied to allies, so it's possible a team might choose to stack permanent items on one hero and support with the rest.
I mentioned two fountains earlier that are geographically close to the centre of the map, but require a very long walk on foot. Usually this would be strictly terrible feature placement, but since the Blink consumable is cheap, fountains can be accessible if you allocate more gold/item slots towards hopping cliffs. I'd prefer if the terrain was more forgiving, but I think this interaction was very intentional and it does put pressure on usage of blink charges.
The other major avenue for spending gold is troop and tower upgrades. Surprisingly, both are very viable, as teams will be spawning new towers even late into the game as they capture control points, and the upgrades themselves pack a punch and are definitely worth their cost. Not upgrading often will quickly concede control points and eventually the game, unless the extra gold spent on items helps with recapturing soul gems.
Curiously there's a single mana capacity upgrade for your team's only healing well. It doesn't seem very good in practice, but what if healing wells were more common...? I always find these links between different mechanics interesting; maybe actual fountain upgrades would have been added at a later date. Combine that with stealing one inside an enemy base and who knows what could happen!
For a shorter-term boost to troop performance, it's possible to hire reinforcements among seven different specialised troop types. Some are cheap and can be spawned often, others are more expensive with long cooldowns. Different types will counter each-other.
There's also a selection of three Charms which will boost the stats of your entire army (structures included) for 3 minutes. Choose from bonus damage, armour, or attack rate... or activate all three at once! These have a 15 minute cooldown though, so they're best timed to achieving a particular objective (such as claiming a control point).
Finally, it's possible to outright buy blood stones with gold if you want them badly enough. The conversion rate from gold is steep, but that's to be expected.
The heroes are pleasant and tastefully themed with nice use of custom resources, though nothing remarkable in terms of custom abilities.
Worth noting is that the maximum hero level is 15, while a total of 18 skill points may be allocated. The extra ones are acquired by putting soul gems into your team's generator: every hero on your team gains a skill point the first three times this happens. This is a nice bonus for getting an early soul gem, but skill points aren't really that scarce at a 15:18 ratio.
A tiny detail that I like is that all of the units and most of the heroes on the "good" team share a subtle colour tint, which causes the entire team to feel as though it has a more cohesive colour palette, despite the relative diversity of textures in Warcraft as a whole.
Ruiner's Domination implemented a couple of neat ideas, but it's primary success was taking a set of mechanics, and integrating them really well to create a cohesive experience.
That stands the test of time: the map looks and feels great, even when compared to its peers that were developed after Warcraft modding had been maturing for several years.