Promising a deep, challenging, and robust IP that's free-to-play while dedicated in the mobile scene typically elicits overtly dramatic eye rolls from the hardcore. It's no secret that this model usually aims at the gamer-lite crowd with cheap, bread-crumb game mechanics preying on the uninitiated that result in pay-to-win schemes. Shedding the stigma of F2P and getting the hardcore crowd interested is quite the mountain to climb but one game company thinks they have what it takes with their new RTS game "Champs: Battleground."
You're probably asking what is a "Champs: Battleground?" Though the title is a bit on the generic side but if you can't tell from the above video, "Battleground" is a real time strategy game that mixes parts of "Tactics Ogre," "Final Fantasy Tactics" and "DOTA." I got to play a bit last week with the iPad version.
Emphasizing custom-built teams of heroes, you're tasked with defeating an AI opponent through skill and deception. I was instantly transported back to my youth when I was a big fan of "Final Fantasy Tactics" and it shows here with the grid layout and character classes. Basically, you have 6 slots to fill with any combination of fighters, mages, rogues, etc. who each have specific strengths as well as weaknesses. The big draw being a fully fleshed out army of various soldiers who can be earned or bought for a nominal fee. Additionally, each basic soldier type can level up gaining new abilities. For instance, your squire can eventually become a knight or barbarian, one soaks up damage like a tank while the other dishes it out. There wasn't a final word on the full roster but expect a large variety of choices with the possibility of more after the launch.
Playing the game on the iPad felt pretty smooth and the basic mechanics are easy enough to grasp. By tapping and dragging, you move your units around the map. Moves and attacks are consumed using energy that slowly refills. Like any other RTS, positioning is key as characters gain bonuses from elevation and range. Mages and especially the rogue character could deal tons of focused damage but required a height advantage. Other tiles act as hotspots that can boost energy regeneration so long as you hold them.
The game appropriately feels frantic but controlled as you make tactical choices. Of course the "real" in Real Time Strategy forces you to make on the spot decisions that can turn a battle in your favor. Though, I played mostly in the tutorial, the AI was just aggressive enough to let you know it meant business. We'll have to wait until later this month to see how this will pan out for the full game but it looks well on its way to becoming a fun and challenging experience.
Furthermore, Quark Games is hoping to capture a dedicated community of competitive players. One thing Shawn Foust, Vice President of Game Design, talked about during my demo was that competitive games require a large and active community to survive. With full community features from friends lists to ranked matches, "Champs" should turn more than a few heads. No word yet on user generated content, but expect new maps and characters to roll out in a timely manner -- giving veterans something new to master. Balance is one the issues that crops up, and Quark is handling it in rather elegant way. They have a detailed system of players' skills that is dumped into a massive server whereby each user has their own profile and will be matched to like-skilled players. In fact, higher level players cannot even jump into a newbie game with their maxed out powers and crush them. A ladder of sorts will determine ranked games. When asked about tournaments, Shawn only gave a big smile, so I think that possibility will definitely manifest at a later date.
All said and done, Quark Games is well on their way to a polished, and more importantly, accessibly deep game that anyone can pick up but only the hardcore will master. By implementing a complete online component to "Champs," alongside a robust single player, gamers of all types should have something for them. The only question that remains is can they shake off the negative connotations of the dreaded mobile/F2P market enough to gather a sizable community. If so, then we may see the beginnings of a new franchise for the future.
"Champs: Battlegrounds" hits iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Android devices July 2013.