Talking about RTS games nowadays will quickly turn the discussion towards Starcraft II and perhaps Company of Heroes to a lesser extent. At the same time, the MOBA scene has its giants, with games like Smite and Heroes of the Storm finding a place of their own because of adding a twist to the recipe. What happens when these two worlds meet, though? Dropzone, a title coming from Sparkypants Studios, that houses people with experience when it comes to RTS games, could be our answer to that question.
Dropzone’s, primary mode has you controlling a squad of 3 Rigs, each fulfilling a certain role and having their own abilities. The goal of the game is to upload cores to the map’s central platform. In order to obtain these cores, you’ll have to destroy Kavash hives, read alien bugs. As you destroy them, they become tougher to deal with, spawning sturdy Alpha mobs, while yielding more cores. Two vision towers cover each side of the map. Lastly, you’ll find bosses which provide a damage boost upon death and tie in to a separate objective. These separate objectives act as an extra way to obtain points. Whether it’s capturing all vision towers, killing a number of Kavash or Kavash Alphas, or being the first to kill a certain number of bosses, you need to choose wisely when to approach them, as they represent and extra risk at being ambushed by an enemy, should they catch on to what’s happening. This provides an element of constant movement and dynamicity to what could, otherwise, be rather straightforward gameplay. Moving around from hive to hive, stepping into the enemy’s half of the map while managing your squad’s health are key elements to your success.
You’re most efficient when your team fights as a unit, so, deciding when to spread in order to gain vision, or maybe attempt to harass the enemy as they’re battling a higher level hive will make the difference. Dropzone isn’t a game where you constantly butt heads with your opponent and win if you have the bigger gun. It’s very much a game of positioning, proper movement and knowing when to retreat. Killing your opponent does have its role in slowing down their progress and giving your Rigs experience points to level up, but it’s not what wins games. Falling back may seem like a loss, but losing a Rig is significantly worse, as respawn timers are long. That being said, comebacks are very much possible, especially early on, as bonus objectives can act as a catch-up method.
Rigs come with a set of four active abilities, out of which one is an Ultimate, and three passive abilities. These can be changed around, as, each Rig has a good number of options to choose from. Options are limited to a Rig’s role and tend to follow a certain theme, however, you will end up having to play one character in different manners. Changing the weapon, which determines both auto-attack damage and the skill assigned to Q, on my healer Rig meant I could choose an AoE skill that stunned enemies for a short period of time, or a longer lasting corrosive AoE attack that removed Armor the longer a unit stood in, among other things. My gunner could either choose between enhancing the auto attack with electricity, in order to deal damage to adjacent foes, or a long range projectile that dealt more damage at the cost of higher cooldown. There’s quite a variety of skills to be used and getting to learn how to use them will take a good chunk out of your time. It’s worth noting that certain skills damage your Rigs as well, and that changing skills also changes the way Rigs look, being good proof of the attention to detail the developers have given the game.
Skills are also tied to the game’s business model. Dropzone may be a buy-to-play title now, but upon release the plan is to shift to a free-to-play model. That being said, players can buy crates using either in-game currency or premium currency which costs real money. 5 euros will nick you about 3 crates, at the moment, and each of these crates contains blueprints for skills. It might sound like you could buy hundreds of crates and get access to all the high-damage skills, thus gaining an advantage over those who choose to not pay and take the slower rout, but that’s not exactly the case. In matches, skills require a certain rig level in order to be used and usually, the stronger skills require a more upgraded rig. This brings up another component that’s important in the game: planning your leveling-up order. Nothing’s stopping you from equipping the strongest damage dealing skills you can buy, but chances are that while you wait for that fourth level on all of your rigs, the opponent can gain the advantage with his level one or two skills as versatility is important. Apart from skills, pilots will also be available for purchase on the in-game store, which is pretty standard, as are the daily quests that help you obtain regular in-game currency.
You’re never forced into choosing a certain combination of roles, instead having free rein over how you build your squad. The tutorial level suggests going with a tank, a gunner and perhaps some healing, but that can be easily changed around. A couple of my most fun matches were with a squad composed of two gunners and a healer. These matches were very dynamic, as higher mobility meant I could move around the map more easily, engaging the opponent and attempting to steal vision points and hives in their half. At the same time, having no tank meant I needed to take more care with healing and damage prioritizing when it came to hives and bosses. This amount of flexibility allows for a good amount of experimentation, though, learning to play different hero combinations well is not something you’ll do after just a couple of matches.
You can play against AI, in PvP matches, the highest difficulty being a good challenge, especially for newer players. Dropzone’s PvE component is represented, currently, by Infestation mode and Open Season contracts. Infestation mode is a mode that’s currently in alpha where a player, or a team of two, must defend their core against waves of bugs. Apart from defending, you can push forth and destroy the hives where Kavash spawn from, thus giving you a break in that particular section of the map and gaining a core. The hive will, however, come back more powerful. As waves come, they will get stronger, receiving a number of modifiers. This happens because Infestation is approached as an endless mode. I’m not one that usually spends too much time with endless modes, but the circular map in Dropzone’s Infestation mode has one moving around and deciding on when to split one’s squad, when to push for destroying the Hive and, especially in single-player, managing all these things is quite challenging and, ultimately, fun. Of course, team composition is as important as ever so getting to a team that’ll be optimal to your playstyle will require a good amount of tries. This mode can also be approached with a friend which brings even more synergy potential to the table. The Open Season Contract is a time-limited event where you can control one Rig in a smaller PvE-centered map. The goal is, again, to kill hives and upload a certain number of cores, however, you’re dealing with stationary hives as well as incursions from outside the map. This mode is a neat way to familiarize yourself with the capabilities of certain heroes, albeit not in the context of a team while gaining some backstory.
The amount of variety when it comes to Rigs does make one get over the fact that there’s a single map for each of the modes. I’ve encountered no server issues during my playtime. Dropzone has a neat little feature that allows you to begin a single player match while waiting to find a multiplayer game. When an online opponent is found, you can jump in, finish the online game then resume your single player session from where you left off. This is handy as there’s a chance of not finding players all the time, although, in my experience I haven’t had waiting times higher than five minutes. Should you not be able to find players, there are two Discord communities where Dropzone enthusiasts gather. The developers are active on the forums and the most recent patch added a much-asked feature that allows you to take up to three squads to the match lobby. That means that you don’t need to commit to one before entering and can make a last-minute choice.
In its current Early Access state, Dropzone comes off as a competent, polished RTS/MOBA hybrid. Its fifteen minute matches require attention to movement, positioning and a certain amount of prediction, both when it comes to your opponent’s locations and when it comes to their skills. The good amount of skills each hero can swap between guarantee different playstyles and a longer time before sticking to the same hero begins to feel stale. Dropzone has already had E-Sports showings and there is definitely potential for it to become an E-Sports title. Provided the developers remain as communicative and responsive, while adding content on both the PvP and PvE fronts, Dropzone has all the chances to grow into a recognizable name.