Last week Ironclad came to visit us to tell us about a new, unexpected project: Sins of a Dark Age . They introduced it by saying it's "kind of like a MOBA," and we smiled politely, making inconspicuous looks at our wristwatches. But then we heard more. It's also an RTS. It has some novel ideas about defusing some of the hostility MOBA-style games like League of Legends are known for. It uses a new engine, forged from the Iron Engine code base. And it's coming this year.
"We're all getting older—I just had my first child," Ironclad producer and co-founder Blair Fraser told us as he explained the origin of the project. Ironclad is known for Sins of a Solar Empire—the intricate, massive sci-fi 4X game that can take an entire day to play. Building a shorter-form strategy game fulfills one of their broad goals as a studio and as aging people, and it lets Ironclad tap into a genre that continues to grow. But between Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, SMITE, Blizzard DOTA, Rise of the Immortals, Realm of the Titans, and others—it's also a genre that's suddenly crowded with similar experiences.
In order to distinguish itself from that pack, Ironclad is trying to integrate RTS gameplay that plays in parallel with MOBA-style champion-on-champion combat. Sins of a Dark Age will use champions (Heroes, in their terminology) as the primary playable characters, but minions will be human-controlled by a separate role, the Commander. Commanders won't have a character on the battlefield themselves, but they'll work with Heroes by directing minions manually and throwing down special spells that do things like temporarily increasing mining rate (economy) for their teammates. From the press release: "As Commander, you're responsible for building your base, directing your peons and positioning your defenses. It's up to you to properly train your units and use them to support your team's Heroes in calculated assaults on enemy positions and to capture key resources. The Commander role allows players to call upon larger-than-life 'Realm Powers' to turn the tide of battle."
Ironclad's other priority is making SoaDA accessible; part of that means building incentives for players to be not-jerks to one another. "Sins of a Dark Age is easy to learn and accommodating to both new and veteran players of any strategy genre and is designed to minimize griefing and other common causes of hostility in the community," reads the press release "The innovative match design means never missing out on a match or a session being ruined by players dropping out: instantly rejoin games or jump into shorthanded battles to save the day and earn bonus rewards for yourself and your clan." If someone rage-quits your game, in other words, an entirely new player will be able to fill that slot (and they'll earn something extra for doing so).
In addition to PvP, SoaDA will include some PvE scenarios where players can team up against AI. Oh, and it'll be free to play (duh), but Fraser from Ironclad assured us that they "Won't sell power," only Heroes, factions (associated with Commanders' different unit types), skins, and other aesthetic stuff.
We'll genuinely excited about this; adding a Commander sounds like a great way to mutate the existing template for MOBA games into something new, and hopefully in a way that creates real teamwork. Go read more about it and see more concept art on the game's website .