Blizzard Announced First Free2Play RTS Stormgate wants to inherit Warcraft 3
Development team Frost Giant has finally announced their first RTS game, Stormgate! How does that mean nothing to you? Then let me quickly rephrase it: A team of former Blizzard developers and gaming industry giants presented the next RTS hope and spiritual successor to Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 at this year’s Summer Game Fest!
The ambitious vision is to revive the real-time strategy genre while making it more accessible to new target groups. Cause a joy for RTS fans. But terms like Free2Play, Social RTS, and a focus on e-sports are mentioned in the same breath.
We asked Production Director Tim Morten (Starcraft, Command & Conquer) and Game Director Tim Campbell (Warcraft 3, Wasteland 3) personally in an exclusive interview.
What is Stormgate anyway?
Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Stormgate combines science fiction and fantasy. However, after his time as game director for Wasteland 3, Tim Campbell has already had enough of the dreary setting in which people fight for survival. Instead, a more hopeful tone should be struck for the new RTS:
We want to look at what happens in the aftermath when everything has fallen apart. What’s next? Sooner or later, the survivors will get used to the new circumstances, and maybe a new life or culture will emerge.
So the events occur in a post-post-apocalyptic time, in which the people have to fight against the new threat – the demon-like Infernals.
Yes, people are still struggling to survive, continues Tim Campbell. But there is also hope. Especially in the time of Covid, many people have felt isolated and worked with inconveniences. It was sometimes difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s why we want to deal with an optimistic setting instead of focusing on the demise of a civilization.
The playable factions
So far, Frost Giant has only announced two playable factions: the humans and the Infernals above. Other sections are already planned for the time after the release. The developers do not want to reveal many details about the different civilizations’ gameplay, weapons, and special features – after all, many aspects are not yet final. Tim Campbell shares a few first impressions with us:
Humans are all about adaptability and resilience – about working together to overcome difficulties. The Infernals, on the other hand, have different motivations. They are a race of conquerors who move through portals – the eponymous Stormgates – to access new resources and fulfill their goals.
As with Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2, the factions play highly asymmetrically, according to the developers: We’ve seen that in many different real-time strategy games. But we want to explore that to create other mechanics for the Infernals and the humans.
For example, the Infernals have more units available to give the feel of an overwhelming and intimidating occupying force. On the other hand, the human race has fewer units, which are more adaptable and versatile.
In contrast to Starcraft 2, the focus should be shifted from air units to land units. This is due to Stormgate’s terrain and maps, which give players plenty of opportunities for tactical placement and interaction with the environment. Air units would negate the impact of landscape [on gameplay], explains Tim Campbell.
Some unique features of the factions are also particularly noticeable in the co-op game, explains the game director: The team mode in Starcraft 2 was released after the main game, i.e., even after the factions were designed. Frost Giant now has the advantage with Stormgate to create sections with team play. For example, the humans and the Infernals should complement each other well when playing together.
What game modes will there be?
With the vision of making Stormgate an accessible real-time strategy game comes the philosophy of offering a place for all types of players. The developers rely on four pillars:
Competitive modes and esports
In addition to a classic story campaign, the developers plan 1v1 and 3v3 matches in which players (together) can compete against AI opponents or other players. They want to open the door for user-generated content and offer plenty of room for creativity from the players. They also make their in-game editor available to the RTS community, which Frost Giant also uses for Stormgate.
The Story Campaign
The story of Stormgate is told from the perspective of multiple characters from different factions. By the way, Frost Giant wants to do without classic good and evil. Instead, the motivations and actions of the other civilizations should present themselves in many shades of gray.
In the future, we will be delivering new content in the form of episodes. Only the two already announced factions and their heroes will be available for release. But over time, the other factions and the new heroes will follow, whose point of view can shed a different light on the events. We refer to our story mode as endless mode, Campbell tells us.
The first real social RTS
As a spiritual successor to RTS hits like Starcraft 2, Stormgate aims to capture the feel of the classics rather than significantly changing the gameplay. Just like Warcraft 3 felt different from Starcraft 2. Of course, Stormgate will still feel separate, explains Tim Morten.
According to the developer, Stormgate’s most significant innovation lies in the game’s social component. Each game mode can be experienced together with other players. This allows players to share the campaign with their friends, play the endless co-op mode with three players, or even prove themselves in the classic multiplayer mode in 1v1 or 3v3. There will be opportunities to team up and network with other players in each way. This is an incredible innovation for us!
The strengthening of the Social RTS should not end here. Stormgate will also be strengthened within the framework of e-sports. “There have been so many fantastic but lesser-known tournaments for Warcraft and Starcraft. However, they all took place outside the games, says Tim Mortens.
We want to add this feature to the game so that everyone can compete against their friends, colleagues, or classmates. This increases the visibility [of such tournaments] and the ability of players to join them. I don’t think every one of us has the talent to become a professional esports player. But everyone has the skills to compete against their friends or work colleagues.
What does this mean for a single player?
But what does that mean for single-player fans? Do solo players have to put up with being part of the Stormgate community and connected to other players at all times?
We still have a lot to think about [about this system], reveals Tim Morten. This is one of the areas where we still need a lot of player feedback.
However, Stormgate will never tempt players to do anything they don’t want to, as Campbell explains: The problem with many traditional RTS games is that they have a short campaign that players play through quickly. And then they try to steer everyone into competitive play. We want to avoid that. We love the many facets of real-time strategy.
The developers are not afraid of disappointing their large fan base and campaign lovers with the concept of a social real-time strategy game and the focus on e-sports.
Campbell continues, we’re approaching Stormgate with the attitude that there’s no one right way to experience RTS.
We want to create opportunities for fun social interactions, but you don’t necessarily need a friend group. Of course, players who wish to experience Stormgate and its stories alone can do so too.
The first story chapters of the campaign and thus also the first heroes of Stormgate, as well as the co-op game and the competitive modes, should be available to everyone right after the release. The developers expressly want to do without Pay2Win mechanisms and NFTs. Instead, more content follows, such as factions or campaign chapters – but these are only available in exchange for real money.
The developers see what is a thorn in the side of many players as a great opportunity: [Free2Play] is a continuation of our attempt to tear down the hurdles for new players, says Campbell. Tim Mortens takes this experience with him from his time at Blizzard:
When we had the opportunity to make Starcraft 2 a Free2Play game in 2017, we saw a massive increase in the player base. So having a lower barrier for new players from the start overlaps with our goal of making Stormgate more accessible to a larger audience.
At the same time, this financing model also brings more flexibility for the players. So everyone can put together their own Stormgate experience. Those who are only interested in the single-player campaign can – if desired – buy additional story chapters. However, if you only like the competitive aspects, you can omit paid story content, for example.
It is not yet known at what intervals new content will follow and what the pricing model will look like. Endless co-op and scheduled competitive modes are available for non-paying players. However, story fans will sooner or later have to reach for their wallets if they want to continue experiencing new heroes, factions, and the story.
Selected players can take a first look at the new real-time strategy game as early as next year. Frost Giant is planning a closed beta for 2023 to gather player feedback. At the latest, it will become clear whether Stormgate could succeed in leaving a pioneering footprint in the real-time strategy genre, as Warcraft 3 did at the time – or whether the new title’s community-centric gaming experience and casualization will disappoint the FTS fan base leaves.
The intense focus on the social aspects and e-sports also worries me. As a story fan, Stormgate gets the short end of the stick when it comes to releasing. While the other modes can be played again and again, the end of the story is reached after two heroic episodes. Single players then have to wait for new content that can only be purchased for real money.
In the interview, the developers didn’t seem to agree on how the Social RTS concept and the story campaign should fit together. Tim Campbell promises that you can play the story completely alone. However, Tim Morten mentions that this concept still needs to be worked out.
Frost Giant seems confident and believes it can serve different audiences with Stormgate. But after the reveal, I’m afraid they could develop their new project completely without considering their fan base.
Of course, I hope Frost Giant’s vision is accurate, and they can drop the barriers of the RTS genre for new players while still catering to hardcore fans.