With Sins of a Dark Age, currently in limited closed beta testing. developer Ironclad Games aims to not simply introduce a new challenger into the contested MOBA (multiplayer onilne battle arena) market, but to shake up the genre itself by introducing new ways to play the lane-conquering game.
Studio co-founder and director Blair Frasier explains in special developer roundtable discussion attended by Neoseeker that this means introducing big new ideas which fit on the foundation of first generation titles like the classic DotA (Defense of the Ancients) to the current League of Legends and Dota 2, and that's the concept of a living, dynamic world in SoDA's matches. Two key gameplay features help realize this "living world umbrella": the Realm Quest system, and SoDA's take on the day/night cycle.
Under the living world umbrella
Realm Quests can activate during matches and are designed to provide additional risks which players can pursue as a team to potentially gain more reward advantage, or use against the other team. Some quests might even put the MOBA action on hold until a duel is resolved between heroes, or all heroes need to defend themselves against a common foe.
No more than one Realm Quest will emerge at any given time during a match, but there can be several such quests that can trigger each week and Frasier believes that savvy players will want to take them into account when formulating cooperative strategies, choosing heroes and allocating them to the maps' lanes. It's all part of SoDA's process to break expectations by forcing players to move beyond static, predefined hero allocations (and the flow of the ensuing match) while tackling Realm Quests effectively.
Ironclad also wants to build upon the day/night cycle seen in other MOBA games. The time of day continues to affect the "fog of war" during matches as well as the abilties of certain heroes, but in SoDA it will also tie into the Realm Quests, i.e. some quests will only trigger at night. Map enemies will also be affected by the time of day, and even the map itself can change accordingly; grasses can become "moonbloom" which serve as handy ambush spots, for example.
So both the Realm Quests and the day/night cycle are expected to be major factors in SoDA's gameplay, which Frasier hopes will in turn introduce a new meta for the genre, a new "language" to describe the expected behaviour and strategy of MOBA titles so to speak.
The road wasn't an easy one, as you might have guessed. Frasier admits that Ironclad had to scrap quite a bit of development work along the way as his studio came to grips with what would actually work in a MOBA-style game. SoDA originally featured a "Commander mode" which was akin to letting you play a MOBA like a classic RTS, complete with the overhead vantage point. Unfortunately this didn't quite end up working out as an overall design due to some serious conflicts of interest between playing the game as an RTS versus a MOBA. From the ashes of Commander mode came the emergent gameplay seen in Realm Quests and the day/night cycle.
Frasier also promises community support from Ironclad, given how important a community is to the longevity of MOBA titles. To this end, Ironclad is making it so all of SoDA's in-game data can be exported to a web accessible API, allowing users to extract things like stats and icons automatically without need of mod tools for use with fansites and wikis. One community aspect Ironclad will not be entertaining as a core focus for SoDA is eSports aside from the spectator mode, at least as far as setting up tournaments with major prize packages.