I recently had the opportunity to speak with Epiphany Games about their title Frozen Hearth as well as the universe that surrounds it and through the course of our many interesting and fun discussions many of the details of how the game works and what makes it unique to the RTS genre came to light for me in ways that I thought I’d share with the rest of you RealGamerNewz IndieSpotlight readers. As always, if you have any questions for the developers be sure to leave them in the comments or head to their Steam portal as these folks really are very open to ideas and feedback about everything from balancing issues to totally new feature requests with patches incoming just about every week thus far and more on the way.
Frozen Hearth is a real time strategy game available right now on Steam from a dedicated and passionate team looking to preserve the core concepts of RTS while at the same time make a completely fresh and new experience that incorporates role playing game mechanics in a real way. While each player has their own hero, base, and army Frozen Hearth also provides a more full-featured co-op experience in addition to full campaign and multiplayer player versus player with up to 8 people online or over LAN. Although the co-op could be expanded in the future, right now the feature supports up to two players. But these are just basic checkmarks and bullet points that any gamer in their right mind might be curious about. If you’ve read any of our IndieSpotlight pieces before, you’ll know that this article seeks to get a more in-depth and detailed view of this game and its mechanics, so we will begin that below starting with the vision Epiphany Games has for their title.
At its heart of hearts Frozen Hearth is a character progression-based title that uses role playing aspects to add a layer of choice to the game. While in the campaign players may get close to maxing out their hero (and their army) in terms of abilities / spells since experience is carried from map to map, multiplayer is a different beast and demands more of a decisive strategy in terms of what build the player is aiming for in any given match. This is somewhat standard of the RTS genre, but taken to another level with Frozen Hearth because of its RPG formula mixed in. To fully understand how this all works and why the gameworld is like this let’s take a look at the narrative then break down the gameplay mechanics following that brief overview.
The game’s story is described by the developers as an “Epic tale of woe”. A human-like race called the Danaan is introduced at the beginning and while they have their own individual struggles for power within their species (similar to real life Earth humans) they must overcome their natural instinct to fight each other when suddenly they are invaded by a race of ice monsters who travel with a coming weather climate change sweeping the land. The Danaan call these beings the Shangur and while they are able to fend them off at times and battle them quite competently, the “ice creep” or sheet of ice that the Shangur are spreading as they step foot onto Danaan land and manifest their terraformation is another story entirely. This means the Danaan must retreat and survive in addition to doing battle, and in later titles that will be introduced from this universe the Danaan will look back on the events that take place in Frozen Hearth as the catalyst to their departure from their homeland.
Players of the core variety who have been doing real time strategy for years will appreciate the combination of tried and true as well as new ideas being offered here and the fact that an interesting and logical storyline has been introduced to justify the mechanics of gameplay as well. For example, even in multiplayer the Danaan units are meant to be kept alive, keep experience and grow tougher, and are better when strategically customized as a whole. The player chooses from 3 tribes which sort of represent the Tank / Healer / DPS roles from the MOBA / MMO world and magic is purchased such as leadership or herbalism depending on which tribe the player is a part of. The Shangur (also known as ice demons) are more of a traditional brute force team that spams units and can be upgraded across the board in general ways. Players using this race benefit from sending a rush of units since they spread the encroachment of ice across the land during the course of the match and even leave ice behind when they die. The ice can be upgraded in various ways in order to slow down Danaan units on ice, increase the damage they take while standing on ice, and decrease their morale as well as some Shangur spells being reliant on ice being under the player’s feet. Shangur purchase mainly passive buffs called auras and can also unlock buffers like building faster units, having faster cooldowns through building sub-structures – which brings us to the more fine details of the game’s mechanics.
Frozen Hearth has base building which consists of one structure being put together and then up to 6 sub-structures being linked to it. These are chosen out of 12 which are separated by 3 tiers. In this way, more choices must be made and more diverse battles can come about based on those choices. Different buildings provide different units / research / passive buffs, etc. and while the learning of this system can have a curve the reward of that is a deeper game with a more vast amount of play-styles. In a game that’s set in the dark-age setting, melee is king. Units often line up and do battle making attacks hand to hand with melee weaponry – so you’ll see your troops running up to enemies and getting in position. The appearance of this is being updated over time to look more cohesive to the player’s eye though. There is also a slightly randomized look to each troop, although unit type will be easily identifiable.
The hero of the army can have up to 12 activated abilities / spells with units also able to get spells / abilities. This game is a bit complex at times and tries not to be constrained by the casual preset in order to keep multiplayer very skill-based, but players can still storm through the easy mode to get their bearings straight with the feature set first if need be. In higher levels of play the campaign’s AI has been tuned for more of a challenge. In both multiplayer and single player the Danaan also suffer from poor morale if certain things happen in the game such as the ice encroachment taking a footing over their position which can cause penalties to be suffered to the ability of a unit until the morale increases again. Spells can buff morale though, and ice hurts morale with Danaan on ice because of obvious reasons – physical and mental, as their homeland is being dominated at any given moment where ice is covering their footing.
Even before going into a map players will likely already be deciding what skills they want to unlock and level up in a multiplayer match. The map design is based on introducing unit types, features, and gameplay aspects bit by bit in the campaign mode but online where matches take approximately half of an hour it’s more about versatile play-styles for various game types. Players capture resource nodes and control them which also effects other features in the game including the situation with the ice coverage. In one gametype resources work one way and in another they can work differently though. Frozen Hearth is an open-ended multiplayer experience with various game modes and types including Attrition and resources can be in the form of standard resources (from the traditional RTS standpoint), coins, tickets (similar to Battlefield’s system of spawn tickets), and more with a different gameplay experience resulting each time. Epiphany Games has created a set of mod tools that are currently being used internally to roll out new gametypes and game modes and will aim to release these in the future for the community to work on new content for as well.
In the end, Frozen Hearth is a vision of the core RTS formula interpreted in a unique way and backed up by lore and story that make sense. The combination of classic strategy aspects with character progression seen in MOBA and RPG formats aim to provide a unique experience that is fun to master and worth the effort in the end with the payoff being a fluid and varying experience each time a match is played. Eventually many more game types will come and mod tools could perhaps be given to the community as well, with more games set to be developed at a future date to expand the universe that this first chapter story marker introduces. Look out for our professional Review of the game which will evaluate the current build once our team has had time to play around with the multiplayer and our main reviewer has experienced the campaign some more and of course please let us know what you think about this article and hope to see in future IndieSpotlight features from us.