With over several hundred hours of Vainglory played and some of it streamed, Dustin sits down to tell us his thoughts on the Mobile MOBA’s transition from mobile title to Nintendo’s latest console.
When it comes to Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’s (MOBA for short), I’m no stranger to the context of how they play, what they are capable of and what I expect from them. Let alone do I play titles such as Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends or Vainglory on a regular basis when I’m not reviewing games, I’ve also been super critical about their move into the console market.
My reservations and sentiments may be shared by other MOBA fans as well. MOBA’s simply just don’t work on consoles as we would hope. There are not enough buttons, a mouse response is quicker than a controller, and the accuracy is unparalleled when it comes to PC games. Vainglory, in many ways, has proven me wrong due to the intuitive designs that make it a simply fantastic experience on a mobile device.
I’ll still say to this day that Epic Games had been onto something when they were actively developing their MOBA meets third-person shooter by the name of Paragon which had sunset late last year due to the mindblowing success of Fortnite: Battle Royale. Now, here we are, another console MOBA with the release of Arena of Valor.
This past weekend I spent a good chunk of it glued to the game in handheld mode, tapping at the various face buttons on the JoyCon’s while pinging on the map to my team whether I needed help or not as enemy teams assaulted our towers. But as one would expect, I let my PC-elitist snobbiness come out to play from time to time. I would, in a semi-often fashion, ping furiously on the map when I needed help with river objectives.
But what does this have to even do with anything related to Arena of Valor, a game designed specifically for the Nintendo Switch with controls and hotkeys for ease of access? Nothing really, but let’s take a look at what I expected versus what I became witness to.
Control Designs are intuitive and the hotkeys are rather useful
When you go into developing a game that was designed for mobile devices instead of consoles, there are a few things you have to take into consideration. First, your initial design will not work on a console. Sure there are touchscreen capabilities and a tablet mode available on the Switch, but it’s big, it’s a clunky piece of hardware, and eventually, you’ll have to charge the device with that oddly placed cable, so it doesn’t exactly work out in the fashion you have in mind.
Secondly, you have to keep in mind that you have to look at the device you are developing for as a blank canvas, one that can be designed with a sleek new UI that will still deliver the experience your mobile fans enjoy. After all, Arena of Valor is possibly, if not already, the most popular game in the world since its launch. It already boasts over 200 million active players worldwide and is looking to up that ante with the Nintendo Switch version’s launch.
Much to my expectations, Arena of Valor’s developers Garena and Timi Studio Group approached the Nintendo Switch version as just how I mentioned. They gave it a sleek and somewhat new UI, maximized the game for use with a controller by binding actions to the trigger buttons while ensuring that Shop, Teleport to Base, and leveling up your abilities were done with ease of access in mind.
Just as you imagine, MOBA games are complex, they require a lot of thought in their design process. Games such as Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends use keyboard buttons in order for you to access your abilities while you use your mouse to the place where you want your spells or abilities to land. The same goes for games like Vainglory which offers both an onscreen joystick mode and even touchscreen modes for players to use, which fits well with how their games were designed.
Paragon from Epic Games was also a testament to strong UI and game design element that made it stand out among its peers. With Arena of Valor, that’s going to be the same case. It’s a game that proves you can take a mobile or PC style MOBA and put it on a console so as long as you think of how your design works best for the game of your choosing.
But how does it handle even with that very concept in mind?
Now, this is where things get tricky. Game control designs are always up to the player. Some of us like complex designs, some of us want intuitive designs that allow for ease of access and allow for a joyful experience. That’s where things really begin to shine for Arena of Valor. The controller layouts are easy to learn, they are well thought out and I, as a mobile and PC MOBA veteran, was able to lock-in on their designs within a matter of minutes.
Item building is easy, just as it is in SMITE for consoles from Hi-Rez Studios. You have the option to use pre-constructed item builds, or you can dive deeper into the item shop and build your character to your desire. Personally, I found that the pre-constructed builds weren’t actually all that bad. I had matches where I found myself cashing out with games where I went 20-1 or higher depending on who I choose and what lane I was given.
Playing the game is just like any other MOBA. You’ll go down your lane or into the jungle (depending on if you are support, jungle, assassin, etc), beat on some minions, earn your XP and gold, and then using simple combinations in order to level up and purchase the items you need.
For me, this was easy to do and it wasn’t long before I figured out what builds worked best for my character of choice, the rabbit-like marksman by the name of Slimz. I simply built him for attack speed, attack damage and life steal in order to beat clear my lane and poke at my foes until I could burn them with my ultimate ability.
After my first few games, I started to experiment even more, ditching the auto-buy for items of my very own choosing with casters I’d never played. I gave Veera, a long-range mage a chance, and before I knew it, I decided auto-buy the next game wasn’t the best of choices and went on my very own buying spree, purchasing items to increase her spell damage and a couple for her defenses to ensure she could take an enemies beating.
After a few games, I’ve begun to realize that the controls aren’t actually as bad as I would have liked to have thought. Would I have liked to use my Switch in tablet mode? Sure. Would I have liked to have just had a touch screen option? Why of course. But did I actually need it thanks to the tight control designs and the low learning curve of the game? Not at all.
I was able to take the fights to my enemies or avoid them if need be. I was able to make the callouts needed to my team in order to take out river and jungle objectives. I was able even to try out every character and slowly feel my PC-elitist mindset melt away due to how well designed Arena of Valor actually is on the Nintendo Switch. Do I wish I could link a mobile account to the Switch version to carry my progress and purchases over? Sure, but that doesn’t affect the experience I’ve had.
I absolutely loved what I saw and have found this game to be my next unhealthy time dump next to Ring of Elysium. But the praises don’t end there by any means. Let’s keep on trekking and find out why.
It’s a full-fledged MOBA scaled for a console and handheld hybrid and it performs very well.
The first thing that comes into mind after design choices is performance. Sure, Arena of Valor is as cartoony as League of Legends and even DOTA 2, but the key difference here exists. This is a full-on MOBA. This isn’t some game that was designed as a quick cash grab where the developers are going to bail out once the game begins to sink. This is a full-fledged pledge to the fans of both Arena of Valor and the Nintendo Switch.
This is a game that performs as you would expect. It doesn’t lag, its framerates never dip, its character models and textures are absolutely gorgeous in both of the Switch’s modes (handheld and on the dock). Most matches don’t even hit that 20-minute mark; those that do often end between 20 and 25 minutes at most. But there’s also a bit of nuance with how simple the game actually is. Attacking lane minions or jungle minions requires the mashing of the A button instead of a single click like in other MOBA’s, however, if an enemy comes nearby, you’ll have to use the targeting system in order to switch your target and ensure you get your attack in the proper place.
There isn’t an option for manual targeting, but rather, by health percentage, amount of health remaining, or based on who is closest to you. Decision making, positioning, and map awareness are still at the forefront, requiring you to pay close attention to all the details around you; this is normal for MOBA’s though.
Arena of Valor isn’t even ashamed to show that it draws inspiration from League of Legends or DOTA 2. Characters, the map layout, the game modes, and even the potential for players to let their true-skill show is all there. I’ve had matches where I single-handedly led my team into victory before turning around and getting my crap kicked in by a player much more skilled than myself.
The same goes for the mobile version, which is lightyears ahead of its console sibling since the roster is bigger, it’s much larger, and characters seem a bit more fleshed out in their current state. But that doesn’t go without stating the obvious.
Arena of Valor on the Switch is a work in progress
While Arena of Valor is a work in progress, the team instantly tells you that the game is currently in development from the moment you start. Technically, it’s in Open Beta, which means the team is still fleshing out some of the bugs and bringing additional assets over from the mobile version.
There are still moments where I was able to take note of loading art, textures on the map loading as I ran downriver or some of the creatures occasionally just being black blobs on the screen. I’ve had moments where my game was hit with what would seem like over-exaggerated load times ranging between two and three minutes a piece while others were merely seconds.
Even now, the rewards you earn by playing are as simple as you can imagine. I’m sure this is due to the overreliance by major developers and their use of microtransactions and loot boxes. You can unlock characters, skins, and Arcana (Runes for you LoL veterans), etc, just by logging in and playing the game. While there are ways to speed it up with real-money transactions, it’s not being forced upon you, it’s not being shoved down your throat every waking minute.
There are still loot boxes and right now, they are maddening and should just be ignored
Just like League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and Vainglory; there are optional real-money transactions that you can make in order to purchase vouchers. These vouchers are often used to convert to vouchers in order to purchase loot boxes (damnit, I hate these things, can we get rid of them altogether?) that feature things such as Arcana and Skins to the premium content table.
The issue here is the Nintendo Switch vouchers and some Arcana are locked behind paywalls, meaning if you don’t pay real money, you can’t unlock the higher Arcana putting an inevitable pay-to-win red flag up in the air and making fans walk away to enjoy the mobile version.
The conclusion. You should still play it.
But even then, Arena of Valor tailors to the MOBA crowd rather well and it’s one that has multiple tiers of competitive play. Whether you are new, returning or a veteran player of games like such as this one; Arena of Valor is a suitable title and it will feed your MOBA needs whether you are in a car, a train, or even a plane, you will have something to keep you busy while on the go.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.