PAX West Impessions: Dropzone

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

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Dropzone | Logo

At PAX West this year, one of the biggest, most extravagant exhibits in the main expo hall was one for a new competitive strategy game called Dropzone. No, not the NES game from 1984, but a new RTS-MOBA hybrid from Sparkypants Studios, also known as the developer of Rise of Nations. I had the chance to sit down with Jason Coleman, president of Sparkypants, who showed me how to play and walked me through my first game with another member of the dev team.

Dropzone | Vise in builder

Dropzone is a 1v1 strategy game, where each player controls a trio of units of different classes to try and score the most points within a 15-minute period. The screen is laid out like a standard MOBA or RTS, with characters, abilities and the minimap at the bottom of the screen and a top-down view. It’s different from a MOBA in the sense that games are 1v1 with players controlling multiple units – although there is a new 2v2 mode that I didn’t have the chance to try – and different from a standard RTS because there’s no base-building and each player has a small number of powerful units that respawn when they die. Each character can level up as the player gains experience, which happens by killing AI-controlled aliens in the battlefield, which gives them access to more powerful for use in combat. Coleman explained that the point was to create a competitive game structured like a MOBA, while still retaining the divided attention that a player gets while playing an RTS.

Dropzone | Hive skirmish

Players gain points by gathering cores by clearing out alien nests, and bringing them to the center to upload them. Uploading takes a few seconds, can only be done one core at a time, and completely disables the unit holding the core while it hapens, forcing players to choose wisely which unit to use to upload and which to defend. Uploading can be canceled by killing or stunning the unit that is doing the upload. Points can also be gained by fulfilling sub-objectives that are randomly selected at the start of a match. Selectable units are divided into the Tank, Gunner (DPS) and Mechanic (support) classes, with multiple characters available in each class. Each character has their own ultimate ability which unlocks when they reach level 5, and three slots for offense, defense and utility slots, with several different abilities available to be set to these slots. Matches go for 15 minutes, and will only be extended if a player is in the process of uploading or if there’s a tie, in which case it will go to sudden death. Coleman also mentioned that this feature makes it very convenient for conventions or running tournaments – since matches are of a fairly short and uniform length, one knows almost exactly how long a given number of matches will take.

Dropzone | Core uploading

Keeping track of everything is not easy, but Dropzone is definitely easier than in a true RTS due to the removal of base management and small number of units to take care of. At the same time there’s the added layer of complexity compared to a normal MOBA by having more than a single character, but in the base 1v1 mode there’s also the removal of the need to work as a team. The easiest way to describe the game is as a MOBA, except with a single player controlling each team instead of one player for each character. I ended up winning my first match (although I have a feeling my opponent may have been going easy on me), but the game was still back-and forth for much of the time and I only pulled ahead at the end of the 15 minutes. An interesting thing to note is that it is not possible to gain experience by killing enemy units, forcing players to go out, attack nests, and find cores rather than just stealing them.

I’ve never been good at either RTS or MOBA games, but I enjoy both genres, so it stands to reason that I enjoyed Dropzone, a well-made and deep strategy game from an experienced team. It’s currently in closed beta, accessible through keys given out at events or through the website. The team plans to enter open beta later this year, and then take things from there.

About Chris Melchin

Chris is a computer science student who has been gaming ever since he knew what to do with a Super Nintendo controller. He's a fighting game player, with a focus on BlazBlue and Under Night In-Birth games. His favourite games include Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Persona 5, and Little Busters. He started watching anime in high school, and his favourite series is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. He also writes Vocaloid music for his personal YouTube channel, and has a (slight) obsession with Megurine Luka.