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MOBAs Review Extravaganza – Introduction
MOBAs have exploded in popularity, becoming one of the most popular genres in the world. Games like League of Legends and Dota 2 have grown to sport global player bases made up of millions of players. Naturally, this popularity has led several companies to throw their hats into the ring to try and get a piece of that three-lane pie.
When it comes to MOBAs, we at Samurai Gamers have been exclusively covering Arena of Valor. However, the game loses some context when compared to other members of the genre. We (and by that I mean I) am going to talk about these other games: what some of their strengths and weaknesses are. By doing so, I hope to give better insight into Arena of Valor’s systems and its qualities as a game. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so keep calm when I miss your favorite game, okay? I’m going to be taking three of the most popular titles from the PC gaming sphere and three from the mobile game sphere, comparing each within their own platform markets.
League of Legends
While not the first of its kind, League of Legends deserves first mention due to its instrumental role in popularizing the genre. I, like many others, was introduced to MOBA titles through this title. At the time of LoL’s creation, DotA was the biggest kid on campus and was a much less formal experience. The team at Riot took DotA’s formula, tweaked it to provide a unique flavor, repackaged it into a standalone application, and finally threw it into the world at a price no one could argue with: $0.
Now, there were other free games at the time, of course. However, many were riddled with ads, mean-spirited tag-along software, or heavy pay-to-win schemes. As such, a game with the build quality of League without these downsides was a huge turn on to a lot of people. In addition, the competitive, varied gameplay that MOBAs would become famous for hooked players as they joined. The cult hit quickly grew to an international success.
The core of League of Legends is the same as those of most other MOBAs. Two teams of five players control a single unit each, in this case a “Champion,” to push down a battlefield towards their opponent’s base before their own is destroyed. Each Champion has their own set of skills to help them along, flashy abilities they can use to slay their enemies or control the flow of the battlefield.
A big part of the game’s allure is the champions and how they interact with one another. As it is very rare for two games to have identical teams facing off, players get a different experience each match. In addition, champions had a rather limited amount of complexity. Rather than the large skill barriers of MMORPGs, Champions have a skill set made of three basic skills and a single ultimate ability. This gave the game an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master dynamic which allowed new players to dive in and kept veterans satisfied.
As mentioned before, one of the game’s more unique appeals was and is its payment structure. Rather than charging a subscription or upfront cost, the game allows users to pay for skins or champions to use within the game. Champions could be purchased with an in-game currency available from playing the game or directly with real money. The ability to purchase everything for free relieved players, they able to enjoy the game without feeling pressured into paying. This, in turn, led to many being much more free with their cash and the game succeeding.
“Wait!” I heard you yelling, “This isn’t a review at all! This is a history lesson!” Well, yes, this is true. I am not talking much about the qualities of the game yet, am I? While not directly related to the game itself, these business decisions are a large part of how one deals with these free-to-play games and will come up often in the reviews, so bear with me. Alright? Wonderful.
League of Legends has a number of game modes, having been the first to experiment with several. Beyond the five on five gameplay of DotA, there is a smaller scale three on three mode, and an all-random, all-middle mode where players use a random hero to fight down a single lane,
One of the features that set League of Legends apart from DotA originally was a number of customization options that players could use to tweak their character’s playstyle. This has changed several times over the years. The system available at the time of writing is a number of “runes” a player can use to customize their Champion’s in-game stats. Players are able to create a number of rune sets, each rune providing a specific buff or blessing. These provide bonuses that range from situational stat increases to rewards for killing enemy champions. These are free to players, simply adding an additional level of customization to the game.
As of present, there are two main currencies used within the game. The first is blue essence, which is acquired each time a player levels up. Players level up by gaining experience, earned each time they complete a match. Blue essence is exclusively used to purchase the game’s various champions. Next is Riot Points, the premium currency that are obtained by forking over real-world cash. These points can be used to access anything within the game: champions, skins, emotes, and other optional items. These items aren’t completely stuck behind a paywall, however. Another way of obtaining them involves a third, less versatile currency, in the form of the game’s loot system.
Players are able to purchase and earn loot boxes containing hero, skin, or item “shards.” These can be turned into permanent items through the use of orange essence. Orange essence is acquired by either destroying the items received from loot boxes like some kind of monster person or as a rare drop from said boxes. Patient players who make a proper offering to their chosen luck deity may find themselves able to net some rather rare rewards without much financial investment. This does take choice away from the player in what they are receiving, though, and more often than not will result in a bunch of common crap (excuse my French).
The game presents itself similarly to Warcraft, the inspiration very readily apparent. Exaggerated structures that rely on diagonal lines and sharp angles dominate the landscape. Blue and purple are found all over the palette, the art designers’ fall back choices. Heroes look as if they could have been plucked straight from World of Warcraft: beefy warriors standing alongside bikini models and tiny squirrel people. Theme-breaking cosmetic skins aside, the game looks fine. Everything keeps as much within theme as the source material, and champions have distinct, recognizable designs. At times it can be a bit overly silly in how it presents itself, but never so much as to be distracting. People looking for a hyper-serious game aren’t going to do well among MOBAs anyway.
Playing the game, it is easy to see why it has gotten so popular. Despite the occasional hiccup, the developmental team has improved the game continually since its release. The League of Legends of today is far and away better than the LoL I played back around its initial release.
Full disclosure: Dota 2 is my jam. I’m going to do my best to not let my own preference of the game unfairly color my review of what’s going on, but keep the preference in mind.
Dota 2 is the successor to MOBA daddy DotA, or Defense of the Ancients. Now this game has an interesting history as well, so let’s begin with- Don’t care? Alright, spoilsport…
The most obvious difference between Dota 2 and League of Legends is the availability of the roster. While League of Legends – and most other MOBAs as a result – starts you out without any permanent heroes, Dota 2 gives everyone all of the heroes in the game. Now, while this has the obvious advantage of removing a financial aspect of the game, it has some negative points as well. Specifically, it adds to Dota 2’s dramatic learning curve.
While one of the drawing factors to League of Legends was that it was easy to learn, yet hard to master, Dota 2 spent a long time as hard to learn, harder to master. This has since improved with a number of tutorials and assisting game modes. That said, it is still a much harder hill to climb than League of Legends ever was.
Having all of the heroes from the start can overwhelm new players, they not having any idea who to choose to learn how to play. Even after learning one, the player would run into the problem again when wanting to look into another role. The difficulty curve is furthered by some other features of the game. Dota 2’s controls are much more complex than those of League of Legends. Players are able to attack their own creeps to deny gold and experience to their foes, control units outside of their hero, and use a suite of active items for additional effects on the battlefield. All of this can be far too much for new players to wrap their heads around.
The game’s store is more generous than any other free game store that I have seen. As mentioned before, all heroes in the game are free. This includes any new hero that is added to the game, each immediately available to everyone when released. Instead, the store deals primarily in cosmetic and related items. The most prominent items for sale are hero skins. These differ from those of other MOBAs in that they are made of several parts. Players can mix pieces of various skins to give their hero a unique look. These can be either purchased directly or obtained through a number of treasures. Treasures are gacha-style capsules that contain one of a small group of skins. The treasures have a safeguard, however, in that players are guaranteed not to get a repeat item until they have obtained all of the non-rare skins available.
The game looks quite a bit different from LoL despite the similar themes. While League leaned into the cartoony side of its Warcraft roots, Dota 2 leaned away into a more straight fantasy. The bright and odd colors are still present but much more subdued. The game does not shy away from humor, but less in-your-face than the gags and jokes present in League of Legends. The graphics are focused upon much more heavily in Dota 2 as well. While this provides the potential for a more visually pleasing experience, it also causes the game to run sluggishly on weaker machines.
That’s a lot on technical points and content, but how does the game play?
Most of the differences will be noticed immediately. A few examples are: the ability to recall to base is missing (players instead rely on purchasable teleport scrolls), basic abilities have four ranks a piece rather than five, and there aren’t any systems that influence a hero’s stats outside of a match. Differences don’t stop here, however, some of the less obvious ones doing the most to separate Dota 2 from League of Legends-inspired games.
The stat systems between the two games are completely different. League of Legends has two aggressive stats, “attack damage” and “ability power”. Generally speaking, champions’ basic attacks and physical abilities grow stronger as they gain attack damage, and their magical abilities grow stronger as they gain ability power. Dota 2, on the other hand, has three basic attributes: strength, agility, and intelligence, as well as a “damage” stat. Strength provides the player with additional hit points and health regeneration, agility raises the hero’s attack speed and armor, and intelligence improves a hero’s mana pool, mana regeneration, and a bit of spell amplification. The damage attribute is a straight buff to a hero’s basic attack strength. Every hero in the game is attuned to one of the three attributes, gaining attack power and an additional effect with each point of that attribute that they gain.
Players can switch the unit under their control, several heroes relying on the control of multiple units. This doesn’t use any special controls either, players simply clicking on the unit they wish to control. This is seen most frequently with the courier, a special unit that carries items between players and their base.
Heroes have the ability to “deny” minions and towers. Whenever an allied minion or tower falls below 10% health, players have a chance to attack them themselves. An ally destroying their own structure will heavily cut the amount of gold and experience granted to the enemy team. Players will have to be mindful of both teams’ minions when learning to control the lane. Experienced players are more heavily rewarded as a result while the less experienced are punished.
In a similar vein, player death is much worse for the team than in other games. Not only does the killer receive a bounty of gold, the dying player loses gold as well. This heavy punishment of failure causes games to be much more strategic. Players need to be very careful in their actions and plan their movements well.
Compared to League of Legends, Dota 2’s abilities are expensive and slow to recharge. As a result, players need to be much more mindful as to when these are used. Using them to carelessly move around the map or quickly farm minion waves is frowned upon. Doing so will lead to them being unavailable or the hero being low on mana.
Many of these changes slow the pace of the game, forcing the player to make slower, more careful decisions. This is a large part of the game’s appeal to fans. This focus on strategy along with the high complexity mentioned earlier leads to an experience that many consider much deeper than rival games.
Dota 2 possesses a number of additional game modes as well. While generally minor in how they change the game, I have not seen anything similar in another MOBA as of yet. Single Draft mode forces the player to pick from a pool of three heroes. I have found this to be one of the best ways for new players to learn new heroes and avoid the overload the huge hero pool brings. Random Draft shrinks the hero pool at random when heroes pick their hero, and Limited Draft only allows the selection of heroes suited to new players. Beyond these is an Arcade, where players can play custom maps built by the community These can range from large multiplayer skirmishes, unique games with new rules, or single player campaigns.
Now, while I will likely find myself in several more drunken bar fights on Dota’s behalf, I can’t rightly say that I don’t understand people who prefer League. While I love the complexity and pace of Dota, many could find it convoluted and slow. I recommend MOBA fans to give both a try to see which playstyle is better suited to them. A disclaimer, however: moving directly from one MOBA to another can be more frustrating than starting new. The familiar game layout can lead one to think that they have a better handle on the game than they actually do. This will, in turn, lead to a lot of frustration when things don’t unfold as they expect. Try to treat the new game as if you were a complete beginner when investigating.
Heroes of the Storm
This one is an odd egg, seeming to have been made with the express intention of distancing itself from typical MOBAs like LoL and Dota 2. There is a bit of reason to this, as Blizzard had originally seemed to bank on DotA getting migrated to Starcraft 2’s arcade before Valve swept in and snatched up the game. A few legal battles later and we have Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s original take on the MOBA.
The whole game follows some of the original DotA’s spirit more closely than its competitors, in a way. Dota gathered many of the legendary figures from the Warcraft universe in one place. Heroes of the Storm takes this a step further, bringing together characters from many of Blizzard’s franchises. Now, this can be a bit…odd…in execution, allowing things like space marines from Starcraft shooting tribal witch doctors in the face. A bit of stylization has been done to the characters to help them mesh together, but it still feels odd for the different styles to intersect. But! I am a fan of Super Smash Brothers, so can’t in good faith criticise this too harshly. The maps are all based on Blizzard games and have numerous nods to their source material.
As mentioned previously, Heroes of the Storm does a lot to try and separate itself from its competitors. The core of the game is generally the same, teams of five players attacking an enemy base. However, how they go about doing this can change depending on the map.
Heroes of the Storm truly shines when it comes to its map selection. The Blizzard MOBA stands as one of the only to make map variety a focus. Rather than the corner-to-corner lanes birthed in DotA, players use one of a number of maps inspired by Blizzard’s catalog of games. The variety can keep the game fresh and varied, gameplay shifting in focus on each map. These changes include side objectives that provide swarms of alien spiders to your team to full changes to the core objective, having to escort a cart a-la Overwatch in order to damage the enemy’s core. Smaller, two-lane maps and larger maps exist as well. Heroes that are able to influence the entire battlefield scale in power relative to the maps size in an attempt to keep all maps balanced and fair.
Rather than any sort of jungle as found in other MOBAs, HotS has a number of mercenary camps scattered throughout the map. Instead of large bounties or buffs, these masochistic NPCs will join the team of whoever can hit them the hardest. These kinky allies can be a huge force in pushing down lanes.
The progression system in Heroes of the Storm is significantly different than other MOBAs. First and foremost, there are no items in the game. In fact, there is no gold at all. Hero progression is tied completely to experience, stats increasing with level and various upgrades available at certain intervals.
These upgrades create a unique dynamic to Heroes, a character’s build able to be molded to the match’s needs. Players choose from different bonuses, called Talents, every three levels (four from 16 to 20). These either provide the hero with a passive effect or augment one of their abilities. In addition, heroes choose an ultimate this way. Players are allowed to select from two available abilities once they reach the level 10. I was pleasantly surprised at the versatility this offered to a hero’s kit. That said, it doesn’t fully replace the options that items bring. In games like League of Legends and Arena of Valor, heroes can be built in rather unique and meta-defying ways by focusing on items different than their intended focus. Mages can become physical damage dealer, assassins can become tanks, etc. The system in Heroes of the Storm locks a unit into the role that was originally intended for them. While this makes the game easier to balance, some might not care for the more structured options.
Another large departure from other MOBAs is how experience is handled in general. Rather than a hero’s experience being reliant on the kills they execute or witness, the points are shared with the team evenly. The dynamic of leveling is much different as a result. Players are able to roam and gank other lanes without worry of missing out on experience as long as a teammate stays near each minion wave. This keeps the team at an even level, carries able to pull the weaker of their teammates to an acceptable level of power. On the other hand, someone who is playing rather poorly will be even more detrimental to their team. A death to one enemy is a death to all enemies, strengthening the entire enemy team. In addition, wandering away from minions when no one else is present will negatively impact all of your teammates. Communication and team play are very important as a result.
The shop is about the same as it is in League of Legends, three currencies present here. The standard currency is gold, players’ gateway to unlocking heroes. Gems are the premium currency, used to purchase item packs, heroes, or loot boxes. Finally, there are shards, used for buying skins, items, emotes, and voice lines. These are acquired whenever a loot box would give a duplicate item.
Overall the game is fine. I do, however, think the game feels more like fan service for Blizzard fans than a competitive MOBA. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the feeling will cause the game to appeal to a smaller audience than other large MOBAs. The appeal is so entrenched in Blizzard’s other properties that there isn’t much draw for people not already familiar with at least one.
Arena of Valor
Arena of Valor. Our focus here on Samurai Gamers. Our specialty. It’s…basically a port of League of Legends. That’s not a bad thing! Neither is it unjustified, as publisher Tencent owns Riot games. As owner, they can make a game as close to LoL as they very well please. There are a number of tweaks to better accommodate the mobile platform, but many of the gameplay features are the same as in League of Legends.
Given the platform, players don’t have access to the mouse and keyboard of counterpart PC games. As such, the game needs a different control style. Arena of Valor uses rather interesting controls more akin to a controller than a keyboard. Heroes are moved with a sliding control stick in one corner of the screen, abilities cast and aimed with a series of buttons opposite this. Having scoffed at the idea of a controller based MOBA before, I was rather surprised at how intuitively the game handles. The system isn’t without drawbacks, however. A common complaint is with the targeting system, heroes chasing their target without regard to the control stick. This can easily leave one stuck or wandering into dangerous situations.
Heroes in Arena of Valor are very similar to the Champions in League of Legends. The primary difference between the two is that AoV heroes have three total skills rather than four. Players still have access to their own skills as well. However, while League of Legends provides players two “Summoner Spells,” Arena of Valor gives a single “Talent.” As far as runes go, Arena of Valor borrows from an older League system for its Arcana system. Players are able to purchase a number of different items to improve their hero’s in-game stats. These are placed on pages in groups of thirty, divided into three sets based on their effect. Arcana can only be purchased using in-game currency to avoid any sort of pay-to-win setup, but players will still have to spend some time buying the items. I personally am not a huge fan of this system, as I don’t feel it adds much to the game. In theory, it adds a bit of depth to a hero’s build. In practice, however, it starts the game with players on uneven ground. Furthermore, the system punishes players for purchasing heroes, as the higher-level arcana is rather expensive. This is its intention in a way, pressuring players to buy heroes with real-world cash. The progression through the game becomes much less enjoyable. Buying Arcana doesn’t have the same gratification that buying a new hero brings.
Players purchase heroes the same as they do in League of Legends, able to either buy them with in-game currency or a premium currency. The in-game currency, gold, is earned after each match and as rewards from bonuses. A typical game will grant around 40 gold on a loss or 80-100 gold for a win. Heroes range in price, the most commonly seen prices being 13888 gold and 18888 gold. This generally takes about two or three weeks of regular play, assuming the player gets the daily and weekly bonuses along the way. Gold has a weekly cap as of writing, preventing players from grinding large quantities of gold over a short period of time. While I can see this being frustrating, I have not hit the weekly cap without the use of bonus cards. This is despite playing five or six matches a day on weekdays, so I think the cap will mostly be a problem for the most devoted players.
Arena of Valor has a third currency available to players as well: gems. Gems are earned as a reward for achievements, events, or at the end of a ranked season. This currency is primarily used to purchase temporary boosts or gacha spins, though some servers allow certain heroes to be purchased with gems as well.
The premium currency, vouchers, have different values depending on the server. On the Tencent hosted EU and NA servers, $1 USD will get you 100 vouchers, making conversion clean and easy. On Garena hosted servers, however, voucher values are a bit less straightforward. Here $1 USD will get you 40 vouchers. While prices have been adjusted accordingly, it can make things appear cheaper than they are in reality. Both providers have a tendency of pricing things at odd intervals as well, causing a few vouchers to sit unusable in your wallet after purchase. This is annoying but is a common tactic amongst games with premium currency.
Of the mobile games reviewed here, Arena of Valor was the loosest in giving away free stuff. When playing on the North American server, I was able to get fourteen heroes for free through the “Path to Glory” system. This is a program for new players that will unlock particular heroes every three matches that they play. Couple this with the two it unlocks through its (mandatory) tutorial and I had a decently sized pool of characters without having laid down much effort or any money. There are regular events where players can earn or win heroes as well, giving an alternative to constantly grinding to grab someone.
Much like in League of Legends, the most common game type is a five on five battle. Also like League, heroes are typically delegated to specific roles on the field. The primary difference between AoV and its PC-based counterpart is the pace of the matches. While a typical game of LoL can last between 20-30 minutes on average, AoV games are more often limited to the 12-15 minute range. Things happen much more quickly in AoV, players growing in power much more quickly. As a result, whether intentional or not, the game punishes bad plays much more heavily than League of Legends, especially in the later stages of the game.
The game has been simplified in order to better suit the hardware limitations of smartphones. The simpler gameplay is much more approachable to new players while still offering complexity to veterans. The bite-sized match length can also be a great option to players not wanting to commit to the possibility of drawn-out PC matches.
Compared to the other mobile MOBAs, AoV has the most variety in terms of game types. Aside from the standard five on five mode, a three on three mode, one on one mode, all-random all-mid mode, and Hook Wars mode are available to play. Shaking up the game mode is a good way to keep the game from getting too stale or unwind after frustrating matches. Getting thrust into odd situations can also help players learn a hero’s quirks. The players can then use this knowledge to bamboozle their foes on the battlefield when returning to standard matches.
The game has a ranked mode and player ladder as well. The system is a bit unique from the points-based ones of LoL or Dota 2. Players climb through ranks by gaining stars. Each win in ranked mode grants the player one star and some star points, while a loss removes one star. Star points fill up a meter that grants an additional star when filled. While this is much more straightforward than the ELO or MMR systems of the PC games, it can be much less forgiving of players who get the short end of the stick. No, I don’t mean how your excellence was dragged down by teammates who were too heavy to carry. I’m talking about poor teams who get stuck with someone AFK. At present, there’s no sort of forgiveness for such unfortunate players, which can be exceptionally frustrating.
Arena of Valor’s world is similar to that of grand daddy Warcraft, focusing on a swords and sorcery fantasy world. The occasional bit of technological flair has been included as well, though it is blended in well enough to avoid feeling too out of place. The cast of heroes is made up of similar meat-bound muscle men and supermodel women found in LoL, the occasional oddball monster thrown in for good measure. The most controversial part of the cast is the inclusion of collaboration characters. At the moment, DC characters Superman, Batman, The Joker, and Wonder Woman are available in game, The Flash to be included in the future. To many, these characters are a fun inclusion, while to others they stick out oddly in the otherwise fairly coherent world. I fall more into the latter category, a filthy purist when it comes to world building. It can be fun to watch Batman straight up murder the more annoying characters in the game though.
Speaking of annoying, the game’s voice acting. Oh my, did the game make some… interesting casting decisions. Most characters are fine enough, not having much more to talk about than how awesome they are. However, occasionally a hero will slip in with either very odd delivery or grating vocals.
The voice work was a low point of the game until the addition of the hero Ryoma. This samurai’s sultry vocals took my eardrums on a trip to the most luxurious of spas where they were tenderly bathed in a number of rich creams. Mmmmmmm. As a result, the game’s overall voice acting was brought up to an acceptable range.
While on the topic of voices: the game’s writing. Humor is a common theme amongst MOBAs, Valve and Riot having had a lot of fun scripting out each hero’s chatter. Arena of Valor tries to hit a similar chord but does this completely with tired memes. Several characters are much more guilty of this than others (you know who you are) and can be irritating to those not wanting internet lulz constantly thrown at them. This might have worked better if heroes’ scripts were larger or they spoke less frequently. Unfortunately, players will run through their entire script in a single game, hearing each line over and over again.
Visually, the game looks fine. The style has the same Warcraft-inspired cartoonish-ness that League of Legends favors. It uses the style a bit more lightly, however, the color palette more varied and objects’ angles less exaggerated. While not the most beautiful game, the graphics get their job done without distracting. Characters are very distinct in style, their silhouettes well-defined and distinct from other heroes. This makes it rather easy to tell any one hero apart from another at a glance, even when they are wearing a special skin.
All in all, Arena of Valor is rather capable portable MOBA. Comparing it side by side with the PC counterparts is a bit unfair as the game doesn’t try to replicate them completely. While the monetization system could be better, it isn’t unfair to the player and generous enough that I don’t feel dirty throwing them the odd simoleon.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang
So Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, or Mobile Legends so that I don’t go insane, is an interesting case. Now, I don’t want to go throwing around heavy words or make any accusations, but there was a point that I suspected that either AoV or ML had lifted some of the other’s code. I tested a few things, however, and this does not seem to be the case. The two are certainly very similar, though. Very, VERY similar. Similar enough to cause the ML developer to change the game a bit after allegations made by Riot. However, that’s more game history and I can hear you grumbling already.
There is nothing wrong with a game being derivative of another. Many great games are derivations of others. Heck, as mentioned earlier, League of Legends is a derivation of Dota, which in itself is a derivation of Warcraft 3. Mobile Legends is not identical to Arena of Valor and has some of its own merits as a game. To avoid repetition and save my fingers from an early grave, I am going to focus here more on comparing the two games rather than detail Mobile Legends from scratch.
So just how do Mobile Legends and Arena of Valor differ? Not so much, really. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not identical. The jungle’s monsters are different in each, ML lacks the health packs that AoV gives players, and players have a different suite of heroes, items, and abilities to choose from. None of this makes a huge effect on the game’s meta, however, the play within both remarkably similar to the other.
The jungle and its monsters are some of the biggest differences between the two games. AoV features a jungle nearly identical to that of LoL, simplified by having each camp control a single monster a piece. This includes the buffs within the jungle heavily mimicking those in LoL as well. Mobile Legends, on the other hand, broke the mold and made some more unique monsters and benefits in its jungle. Rather than red and blue buffs, there is a pair of monsters that provide “role buffs” on either side of the field. The role buffs change in effect based on the wielding character’s role. In addition, the smaller monsters provide a more substantial health boost than those in Arena of Valor.
In addition, the unique and epic creatures found along the river differ as well. Arena of Valor features three epic creatures on the river and a pair of ‘Seagles,’ all of which grant a different boon to the team when slain. These boons either take the effect of a large bounty, a special aura, or a scout that flies through the enemy’s jungle. Mobile Legends instead has a single evolving epic creature along with a unique creature at either extreme end of the river. The epic beast grants a gold and experience bounty in its lower form of a turtle and a large unit to attack your enemies when in its larger lord form. These are rather easy to kill in comparison to their AoV counterparts. As a result, players need to pay more careful attention to the jungle than in other games, players able to take them out solo without extreme difficulty.
Mobile Legends has systems similar to the Arcana system of AoV. Instead of buying sets of Arcana, though, players level up “emblems.” These emblems are attuned to different hero roles, each offering a number of different perks and bonuses as you level it up. This…I have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, it is more straightforward in the bonuses that it provides and thereby allows for more equal footing between players than the Arcana system in theory. That said, this just spotlights the problem presented by Arcana in AoV. By making it something that you have to buy, you unbalance the battlefield in favor of those who don’t buy heroes. To make things worse, there are packs that can be purchased with real money, albeit only once.
One of the worst things I saw when examining the game was how it handles skin bonuses. A skin bonus is how the game rewards you for purchasing a special skin, encouraging players to buy them. In AoV this takes the form of a gold bonus; in Mobile Legends it is more slimy, granting the hero a stat boost. Now, the boost is not game breaking or huge, but it still equates to a free low-level item at game start. Rewarding real-world money use tarnishes the game overall and, while minor in this case, sets precedent for further pay-to-win mechanics down the line.
As for other items one can purchase, players are of course expected to buy heroes individually for use in the game. Players can purchase the Servants with one of several currencies, battle points mirroring AoV’s gold, Tickets a parallel to gems, and diamonds the same as vouchers. Players gain all of these currencies at a similar rate as they do in AoV, though Servant costs are generally much higher than they are in AoV. Very little is offered south of 10,000 battle points, most up in either the 24,000 and 32,000 range. While the round-numbered prices are appreciated, the staggering work that each would require is a big mark against the game. The game does offer some new-player discounts on a few to get them in a more acceptable price range. This eases some of the burden on new players and is well appreciated. On the other hand, though, a number of the cheaper heroes are traps. They are available for purchase but are additionally available as a login event reward. Getting the duplicate will reward the player a number of Battle Points instead, but only about half of the Servant’s cost. This makes their presence in the shop little more than a place for new players to throw away their starting Battle Points.
The characters of ML, or ‘Servants,’ are surprisingly rather unique. I went in expecting to see direct copies of heroes from other games but found this not to be the case. The game has a very large cast of characters, all rather distinct in style and appearance. Whatever team was in charge of Servant creation did a good job. While not the most complex in the world, being original to the game they are in gets them some bonus points in my book. That said, some of the voices are a bit… eh…
Look, I know I said some mean things about AoV and its voice work. I still stand by those things. At first, I thought that things were going to be different here, fairly good even. The first few Servants I tried had decent voice work, even if the lines were few and therefore repetitive. The more I tried, though, the more I started to find some dudes who perhaps weren’t the best choices for a voice actor. Odd delivery, strange accents, and curious grammar can be distracting and annoying at times, hindering the overall experience.
Speaking of the game’s feel, the presentation is easily the biggest difference between Mobile Legends and Arena of Valor. Mobile Legends leans hard into the cartoony nature of the game, colors bright and heavily saturated. A graphical style similar to other mobile hits like Clash of Clans is adopted for models, leaving them more exaggerated than those in competing games. All of this together mixes to form a visual style that’s really kind of gross. In addition, the theme of the game is a bit confused in a manner similar to HotS. Primal barbarians stand alongside space-age soccer players, leading to a very odd aesthetic. They don’t even have the excuse of taking from other games to fall back onto. While overall minor and something that can be looked past in HotS, the other presentation problems the game has makes it much more glaring of a problem here.
Look, I don’t like harping on a game for graphics; some of my favorite games have odd to outright bad graphics. However, playing the game kept giving me the feeling of playing with a nursery toy—all bright colors and dull edges to make it safe for children. It goes beyond cartoony to playschool people in nerf armor. I believe the intention was either to mimic a comic book style or to mimic other mobile games — the ones with the icons of screaming men’s heads (and I’m aware AoV is one of those)— but it just doesn’t land here. The colors did not blend well and clashed on the screen, making the game seem generally unpleasant. If you like the way it looks, then more power to you. I however, was not a fan.
I am aware that my position at Samurai Gamers gives me a bias towards Arena of Valor. Not only do I have more experience with the game, but I have external incentive to see it succeed. That said, I want to say that I honestly feel that there is little reason to play Mobile Legends over Arena of Valor. The only thing that it has in its favor is a unique cast of Servants. If you have a favorite to use / draw fanart of among them, then by all means, stick with it. However, the gameplay does not change the formula enough to excuse the poor presentation and stingy shop scheme.
While Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends try to mimic the League of Legends experience on a mobile platform, Vainglory brings a completely new MOBA experience to mobile space. An odd duck in that it prioritized its three on three mode over five on five until recently, Vainglory was the first on the mobile MOBA scene. Developed by the lovely people at Super Evil Megacorp, Vainglory comes closest to bringing a PC MOBA experience to smart devices.
The game controls via touch command, players tapping on their target and where they want to go to either attack or move. While free of the quirks brought about by the controller-style swipe controls of its competitors, Vainglory’s control scheme has its own problems. At the very least, I often found myself fumbling a bit with accuracy when trying to manipulate the game with the sausage spiders that I call hands. The heels of my hands would occasionally bump the screen as well, throwing off my character’s movement. The safest way to play would be with fingerless gloves, making me look like some off-duty Pokemon trainer. I was able to easily reach all parts of the screen on my smartphone, but I feel the game would be better suited to the larger screen of a tablet. Unfortunately, I was restricted to use with my phone and so cannot say accurately.
The game starts out with a rather well-done tutorial, one of the best that I’ve in a MOBA. While not hitting every note of the game, it leads players through gameplay ideas at a natural pace. Players receive a pair of heroes after completing the tutorial, readying them for PVP matches. After completion, a number of additional videos are available to further educate players on gameplay basics.
Vainglory is a much slower-paced game than Arena of Valor or Mobile Legends. While far from a perfect comparison, I would compare the difference between the games to the difference between League of Legends and Dota 2. Vainglory is a slower game that relies more on team coordination and strategy than on flashy moves and individual play. Items with active effects are present to enhance a hero’s survivability along with the passive equipment one would normally expect. Players will need fleet thumbs in order to tap about the battlefield while also keeping up with their items.
Players are required to unlock heroes in Vainglory just as they are in competing titles. The game has a basic currency, Glory, a premium currency, Ice, and special, rather rare currencies, Opals and Essence. Vain is accumulated after every match or, uniquely, can be purchased with Ice as well. Vain is used either to purchase heroes or ‘Talents.’ Heroes, as you know by now, are the units used in game. Given that Vain is accumulated at a similar rate as Gold or Battle points in other games (~100 for a ~20 min game), the heroes seemed a bit cheap at 6000-8000 Glory a piece.
Talents are the closest the game comes to Arcana or pendant systems. Talents are tokens that, when a number are collected, strengthen a corresponding ability on a particular hero. Only a few of these are available for direct purchase with Glory every day. Additional, random talent coins can be obtained through gacha style chests, purchasable with Ice. “Woah, woah, woah!” I hear you shouting, preparing to hurl your beverage at the screen, “Buying power with the premium currency? What?!” Yes, that is a problem here. This does not affect the core game modes, as Talents are limited to “Brawl Modes” of Blitz and Battle Royale. However, it is still a skeevy pay-to-win mechanic for those modes.
In contrast to this less than shining behavior, Vainglory’s shop handles loot boxes rather well. Different keys are available either for purchase or won through chests. These can be used to unlock different loot boxes which contain a number of prizes, from glory and essence to full heroes and skins. What sets this apart is the clear and obvious branding of the boxes’ drop rates. Allowing players to know just how much of a risk they’re taking with their money allows them to make a calculated risk when tempting fate.
Now on to the game’s special currencies, opals and essence. Neither can be bought; they instead are obtained when receiving a duplicate skin or blueprint, or through quest rewards. Opals are solely used to purchase a number of exclusive skins. These exclusive skins are typically a bit sillier than those purchased with Ice or are one of several different variations on the same idea.
Essence, on the other hand, only barely fits the description of “currency.” It would be a bit better to call this a resource, but it can fit the description of a currency as well. Essence is gained through chests or by destroying blueprints and is used in the game’s crafting system. Players will occasionally stumble across skin blueprints. The blueprints can be turned into the represented skin by pumping in a set amount of essence. A lucky player might find themselves able to eventually save up for a rather rare and expensive skin either free or for a fraction of the cost, as a result.
Vainglory has four separate ways to play. There are the typical five on five and three on three modes seen in other MOBAs along with the previously mentioned “Brawl Modes.” Unlike its competitors, Vainglory was made with three on three matches as its focus. As such, all of the modes, aside from the five on five mode, feature teams of three.
Blitz is a three on three deathmatch, players competing more for points rather than solely on the objective. Killing an enemy, destroying a turret, or killing a large jungle monster all grant points. The first team to fifteen points wins. This game mode is limited to a five-minute timer, making it a good way to very quickly burn off some steam without committing to a longer normal game.
Despite its name, “Battle Royale” is not a true battle royale experience. The combat is still between two teams rather than each player going it alone. Players are given a random hero rather than being able to pick one for themselves. The objective here is the same as a typical match: siege the enemies’ base. Gold and experience rates are increased, and heroes start the game at level four. As a result, games are much faster in pace than typical three on three matches. The hero randomization forces players outside of their comfort zones and can be a good way to learn heroes one doesn’t typically pick.
While Mobile Legends suffers from a weak, scattered art style, Vainglory boasts a beautiful world with an interesting aesthetic. This game is visually stunning, easily blowing both of its competitors out of the water. The graphics are more than I previously thought my poor little phone could handle. Muted colors and well-placed lighting effects blend together to create a very calm and quiet atmosphere just perfect for complete disruption by means of bloody battle.
It furthers this advantage by foregoing the typical Warcraftian fantasy in favor of a more unique setting. More science fantasy than pure fantasy, the game sets itself apart with its futuristic theme. Magic throwing towers are replaced with machine guns, mech pilots and gunslingers walking freely on the field. This doesn’t completely replace fantasy, however, with dragons and treats populating the jungle, and a number of fantastical heroes made available. The elements of sci-fi and fantasy are blended well, leaving the game with a rather interesting feel.
The one area that the game falls a bit short of its competitors visually is in character models. This isn’t to say they are designed poorly. Rather, the characters can be harder to tell apart from one another on the battlefield. This is mostly due to the more realistic art style that the game takes. The exaggerated features of competing games allow for distinct profiles that a player can easily distinguish. Newer players to Vainglory, however, will need to spend some extra time familiarizing themselves with some characters’ appearance.
Vainglory’s ranked ladder foregoes the star system of AoV and ML in favor of a more variable MMR system. This is harder to understand and gauge than the star ladders but add a bit of weight to match ups. Losing due to an AFK layer or in spite of playing well will result in lower penalties than flubbing a match completely.
Overall, I was rather impressed with Vainglory. It offers a unique experience and doesn’t try to simply copy another game’s formula. That said, it can be hard to play after Arena of Valor. The slower pace seems even slower after AoVs quick gameplay.
Arena of Valor (AoV) Recommended Article List
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|Beginner's Guide||Hero Tier List||Hero Class Guide||Armory (Item List)|