Yesterday, EA announced that Dawngate, its first foray into the MOBA genre, would be shutting down in 90 days. I sometimes find myself surprised at how cynical I’ve become in my years writing about videogames, but this news honestly came as a surprise to me. Was I naïve to think that Dawngate had a snowball’s chance in hell at survival? Perhaps, but I felt EA was in it for the long haul with Dawngate and that with a slow build of the game’s community, Dawngate would perhaps find itself in a position similar to Hi-Rez Studios’ Smite. Smite isn’t going to topple League of Legends, but, over time, it’s carved itself out a piece of what is a very hotly contested pie in the MOBA space.
If given only a passing glance, it can be easy to see why EA and Waystone Games couldn’t find the footing they were looking for in Dawngate. The game looks like League of Legends. It’s a vibrant, colorful MOBA, with exaggerated characters and a top down perspective that every other ‘me too’ on the market features. Indeed, I’ve witnessed many people unfairly pass Dawngate off as just another of the many League of Legends clones, and I feel that had to have made a huge impact in the resistance the game was getting. The problem with Dawngate was that in order to really ‘get’ what Waystone was doing with the game, you had to actually sit down and experience its more granular twists on the basic formula. These differences aren’t as readily apparent as the third person camera was in a game like Smite.
Dawngate isn’t another ‘me too’ that rightfully deserves to be put out to pasture; it’s a MOBA with an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, take on the tried-and-true formula that spices things up without trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s for the reasons I’ll outline below (and more) that it’s truly a shame to lose a game like Dawngate.
In Dawngate, no one fights for gold economy. Players decide how they earn gold in game irrespective of their Shaper (character) choice through the selection of roles in character select. There are no item starved 0 CS supports in Dawngate. Want to earn your gold by killing jungle monsters? Go for it. Are you a mage with poor last hitting capability? Choose the Tactician role and harass your opponent for gold. Want to roam and earn your gold through kills and assists? You can do that, too. This is all part of the game’s admittedly more idealistic than realistic mantra of “Break the Meta”. There’s certainly a whole lot of freedom on offer in Dawngate, but I’d be lying if I said players don't gravitate towards specific roles for Shapers. Still, most shapers thrive in at least two roles, and this role system allows for significant diversity in team compositions.
Waystone also makes controlling the economy of each game extend out further than what is going on in the lanes or the slaying of a single monster objective. Dawngate offers a nod to the MOBA’s RTS roots with its Spirit Wells feature. In your traditional RTS, your base often consists of a number of buildings and resource nodes being worked by little worker characters. Dawngate replicates this by giving each team two Spirit Wells in the corners of their respective sides of the map. Spirit Wells passively grant vim (gold) to the team that owns them via the workers that mine them. Each well’s workers can be killed to stunt the flow of gold generated for the enemy team or outright captured to add even more passive gold to your own.
The game is a whole lot faster in general, too. One of the first things you’ll notice playing Dawngate is that the vast majority of Shapers are resourceless. This means you aren’t sitting around at low mana unable to participate or initiate fights. Players are always free to make plays and protracted fights can easily turn around, making for a much more frenetic experience.
Killing the enemy base also plays out like a type of boss fight. It’s reminiscent of the minotaur fight at the end of a Smite match, but dialed up to 11. In order to win the game, you’ll have to destroy the enemy’s base guardian and he isn’t just sitting there taking it. Instead, the guardian will fight back, but he’ll do so with more than just simple auto attacks. The guardian fires off a number of skill shots and each of these abilities are governed by a core that can be destroyed to disable them. It’s a small twist on killing the enemy nexus or minotaur, but it dovetails well with the game’s emphasis on action. Even the base has bite.
Finally, and one of my favorite aspects of Dawngate, is Waystone’s emphasis on creating a rich universe filled with interesting characters. I did mention earlier that Dawngate does look similar to League of Legends, but that’s not the whole story. There’s a similar style and use of color, sure, but the map, creatures, and Shapers all ooze personality. Often, announcer packs are released that allow you to inject a taste of your favorite Shaper into each game. Each character’s biography page in the client is a fully voiced story and they are often a delight to listen and read along too. Some have even been told in song.
Another novel way Waystone incorporates lore into the game is through the Dawngate Chronicles, an online web comic featuring the game’s cast of characters. With a couple of pages released each week, players invested in the world of Dawngate get to learn a bit more about it and their favorite characters on a regular basis. Additionally, these stories often hit a fork in the road that gives the player community a chance to vote on where they want the story to go next by selecting their choice in game and playing games (each game casts a vote towards that choice). These choices don’t just affect where the story goes next in the comic, but can also impact content coming into the game. For example, the outcomes of these choices have led to new skins and even Shapers that reflect what has transpired in the Dawngate Chronicles.
Despite all the things going for Dawngate, it just didn’t resonate with enough players for EA to keep it going and that’s often a hard thing to admit. I do have to commend EA on going through with refunding players on transactions made throughout the beta program, but I sure wish they didn’t have to. As a fan of MOBAs, Dawngate always stood out to me and I was eager to see where it would go next.
Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB