Faction and Class Distinction and Customization in Soul Master
One of the things that has interested me most while working on Soul Master is getting a chance to see how the emerging MMORTS genre is progressing in the industry, and how the variation and customization available to character classes, buildings and units, and stat modification choices for each of the factions affects the depth of overall strategy, and subsequently game play balance.
As in many classic Real Time Strategy games there are 3 factions, or "races", in Soul Master that determine the basic types of units and buildings you have available to create and control. As there are currently two character classes per faction, with additional factions and classes to come, this means that there are very distinct ways to play with each of the "races" that completely alters the strategy involved in a normal Player versus Player match depending on which of the various classes for each faction you're playing with or against.
More so than the "Hero" or "General" units found in a number of RTS games, the player's main character in Soul Master, a "Soul Linker", is directly controlled like the character avatar in an action RPG. Instead of being simply ordered around the field as the most powerful unit under your command, you're manually directing the character's every movement via WASD, using class skills or abilities via non-targeted directional attacks, and all while at the same time controlling your RTS units and creating production or defensive structures around the map. Despite drawing from the same pool of available units and structures, the two different classes within the same faction have wildly different play styles that can be further adjusted by adding various stat modifications that can affect not only your character and their abilities, but also those of their units and buildings as well.
Soul Master Bearcat
Each faction's structures and units are balanced against one another in the tried and true "Rock-Paper-Scissors" fashion, with specific units being more effective against certain targets. Take for example the Holy Empire faction in Soul Master, where their long range siege unit known as the Odin is far more capable of destroying a defensive tower than say the same Holy Empire's crowd control, melee fighting unit known as the Medusa; which is better served in anti-character combat.
While both units are able to be created by either of the classes that currently make up the Holy Empire faction, the Chrisnian and the Priest, each class is more inclined to use the selection of units available to them with a far different emphasis to shore up their own character's weaknesses and focus on their strengths.
Soul Master priest with units
The Priest is a long ranged casting class with little defense, and therefore may be more inclined to choose to focus on the powerful but slow siege units; keeping her opponents at range and able to bombard them from afar. The Chrisnian however, as a faster melee fighter, may prefer to have offensive units like the Medusa that can keep up with his character in order to take advantage of the class' greater mobility around the battlefield. The different methods in which the various character classes of each faction change their tactical strategies while using the same units is compounded by the diverse stat bonuses that can be added to suit a player's style.
That same Chrisnian could increase his character speed even further by upgrading his armor with a specific bonus, as well as the speed of his units with an additional armor upgrade. At that point player's Holy Empire army no longer behaves anything like the aforementioned Priest's; who may have chosen to increase the damage of her own abilities and skills, or the range that her units could fire even further with separate stat bonuses upgraded onto her own armor.
Soul Master Knight
The most exciting part about seeing a more comprehensive degree of customization for both characters and factions in the MMORTS genre recently is that the standardized units or classes shared across a large number of players then evolves into a far more personalized experience, where each individual is able to mold the feel of the characters and units under their control to suit their own playing style as closely as possible. The intention being of course to allow character progression and unit customization to the point where each players' personal characters and armies are completely unlike any other, and operate in an entirely different fashion than someone that might have chose to play the exact same class or faction to start with.
I feel that the next step in the RTS genre will be towards a more RPG-like experience, where players are able to learn and progress alongside their characters and units with a feeling of having earned them. Which in my opinion is a step in the right direction towards providing players with a uniquely personalized, individual experience both in our games and the genre itself in the years to come.