Review

Frozen Hearth Review

  • Game release: November 27, 2012
  • Reviewed:
  • PC

Out cold.

The distinguishing feature of a desert isn't sand, or heat, but absence. It's one of those fussy middle school factoids that's only good for annoying others; nobody wants to hear your protestations about Antarctica's low annual precipitation at Pub Trivia Tuesday. But it comes to mind when roaming through Amorra, the setting of the real-time strategy game Frozen Hearth. Like the Antarctic, Amorra is an iced-over desert of absence. But where one lacks rainfall, the other is found wanting for other qualities. Like originality. Or creativity. Or technical competence. Or the artistic panache expected of a finished product. To play Frozen Hearth is to self-deprive, to go without the basic components of a healthy game ecosystem.

To be fair, desolation is central to Frozen Hearth's premise. The land of Amorra is besieged by the Shangur, a horde of demons not unlike Starcraft's Zerg race with an ice-themed makeover. The Shangur set about coating the realm in a deadly cold-creep, but an assemblage of feuding human clans set aside their differences to better oppose their shared foe. As one of the Avatars, tribal warriors who stand about twice as tall as an average person (eat your heart out, James Cameron), you lead the tattered remnants of humankind into desperate battle against the premature winter.

Shangur units have the advantage on ice, where other units are slowed.

Frozen Hearth is a direct fusion of a traditional real-time strategy game and a multiplayer online battle arena of Dota's ilk. Armies are raised and trained, and directed across the hills and plains of miniaturized battlefields from on high. The goal is to destroy the enemy's stronghold--the base occupying the opposite corner of the symmetrical field of play. Avatars, for their part, function as the hero characters of Frozen Hearth's MOBA half, imbued with greater strength than a run-of-the-mill unit and a host of spells and abilities that can turn the tide of a skirmish. Avatars can gain experience and level up, unlocking or improving their abilities to heal or buff their allies, or attack or stun their foes. Stripped-down versions of base building and resource gathering round out the tactical provisions. Bases are limited to a single structure, divided into partitions for specialized renovations. Nodes that dot the map provide a steady drip of materials for units and upgrades, and a strategic objective for you skirmish over.

Another bit of middle school pedantry is the difference between "simple" and "simplistic"--one agnostic, the other damning. Games have long struggled to land on the proper side of that dividing line; sadly, Frozen Hearth veers in the wrong direction. It begins with a low-grade simulacra of other medieval fantasy strategy games, and only removes elements from the formula. Take the paring-down of traditional base-building mechanics, for example. It certainly simplifies the RTS, but it's also simplistic. There are only a few rote renovations that can be made, to be slotted into the preordained spaces of the larger structure. Without any territorial expansion, there's little reason to divide forces, save to briefly distract enemy forces. Nothing upends the core gameplay loop of spamming units and pointing them toward the nearest contested resources.

Avatars, for their part, function as the hero characters of Frozen Hearth's MOBA half, imbued with greater strength than a run-of-the-mill unit and a host of spells and abilities that can turn the tide of a skirmish.

The stronghold serves as command center, garrison, and training ground for new units.

It's here that I'd hypothetically point to the hybridization of the RTS and the MOBA as Frozen Hearth's finest touch. As the game's closest thing to an original offering, it's burdened with the responsibility of shoring up the otherwise dull experience. And perhaps it might have, were it not undermined by Frozen Hearth's variety of technical woes. The game is unusually taxing on a fairly robust system, regularly experiencing frame rate dips, screen tears, and janky miscellanea on medium settings. Unusual, because the game isn't much of a looker even when the graphics are turned up to eleven. The rudimentary units become indistinguishable when the action heats up, and the Avatars run the gamut from garden-variety shirtless warrior to humdrum hooded priest.

Units move over the terrain in a preternatural, detached glide--that is, when they're not vibrating ineffectually against each other like electronic football pieces. Sic too many on one foe, and the rest mill about absentmindedly when they can't find room to attack. Unchaperoned units wander off into enemy formations, seemingly on a whim. Pathfinding is unreliable; two adjacent units with the same destination often take different routes. There's no attack-move command, so should your units come under attack in the midst of their travels, they'll plod along heedlessly until they're killed. Many a campaign match is lost because a hero or a unit gets tragically separated from the group during a few seconds that it's unattended, usually a long way into a tedious, multistage battle of attrition that needs to be repeated in full should you fail in the home stretch. The unreliable mechanics suppress your ability to play the mind games that run astride better strategy titles; any time you lift your head up to survey the field, something goes wrong.

Intermittently it feels as if Frozen Hearth were conceived as a challenge to see which side could better shepherd its particular herd of cats. Or click on a singular desired unit out of a shapeless mass of like bodies. Or trick the artificial intelligence into a lapse of logic while the other side is preoccupied fighting against the unergonomic user interface or the uncomfortably close camera angle. It's a challenge, to be sure, but so is crossing the Sahara. The desert might even give more back.

The Good
Mix of strategy and MOBA elements is an intriguing foundation
The Bad
Simplifications of the RTS formula remove what would be interesting strategic options
Interface and controls are unwieldy and missing basic inputs
Visuals are bare-bones, yet the game chugs even at lower settings
Derivative, throwaway plot and characters
3
Bad
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Nick Capozzoli is a capable—if unspectacular—RTS player. For the purposes of this review he played through the campaign, and against the AI in multiplayer (the servers were bereft of human players).

Discussion

14 comments
ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

It'd be nice if the new staff would introduce themselves.  I have no idea who this guy is. Thought he was another (of their many)  freelancers.

gamerno66666
gamerno66666

 US Release Date: November 2012 

umm why was the review so late?

pip3dream
pip3dream

Despite having little to no interest in any of the games you've reviewed Nick, I always love READING your reviews. :)  They are among some of the most informative and descriptive on the site.  Cheers.


faer666
faer666

"wasn't been done better elsewhere"

RobDev
RobDev

"But where one lacks rainfall, the other is found wanting for other qualities. Like originality. Or creativity. Or technical competence. Or the artistic panache expected of a finished product." Ouch!

hadlee73
hadlee73

I guess a frozen hearth is as useless as it sounds. :P

Ultra_Taco
Ultra_Taco

Yep, sounds like crap. Good review Nick.

nick_capozzoli
nick_capozzoli staff

@ChiefFreeman  Hi! I am actually one of those many freelancers, though I have had a fair number of reviews up lately. The "staff" title next to my name is a bit of a misnomer.

nick_capozzoli
nick_capozzoli staff

Frozen Hearth was a Greenlight game--it was more recently polished up and released on Steam.

nick_capozzoli
nick_capozzoli staff

Damn, that would have made a good strap line.

Frozen Hearth More Info

  • Released
    • PC
    Frozen Hearth has players guide the fate of an entire people, known as the Danaan, who face extinction as their homelands are ravaged and overrun by a bloodthirsty tide of supernatural ice monsters known as The Shangur.
    3.6
    Average User RatingOut of 6 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Frozen Hearth
    Developed by:
    Epiphany Games
    Published by:
    Immanitas Entertainment GmbH
    Genres:
    Real-Time, Strategy