The first thing I thought of when I saw Moonrise, Undead Labs collaboration with Kabam to make an MMO for mobile devices was the usual, “Oh, it's a mobile game? For casuals, then. Not a real MMO.” As I sat in the Undead Labs booth at PAX South, the developers were quick to try and dispel that notion. Moonrise may not quite be World of Warcraft, but it's not Puzzles & Dragons: The MMO either.
Moonrise certainly channels a strong Pokémon vibe with your human character, known as a Warden, who travels throughout the world collecting a wide variety of cute little monsters, called Solari. They, and you, will do battle with villainous Lunari, which you'll be able to capture after you battle and defeat them and add to your collection. As you progress, you'll increase your Warden's and your Solaris' stats and abilities so you can take on greater challenges. There's group functionality (not implemented yet in the version I saw), dungeons, PvP, loot, and so on. On these basic levels, it was admitted, Undead Labs isn't “breaking new ground.”
What I found interesting and challenging about the combat was its real-time aspect. Most games of this nature would rely on turn-based combat, but – after a few early battles to let you get your footing – Moonrise's battles are in real time, where you have to select your Solari's ability, target the foe, and then move on to your next command, all while your opponent is doing the same.
You can have several Solari standing by, with two participating in each battle. Your avatar, your Warden, can also do battle, hitting the other characters directly in the face. With fire, in my case. Combat follows most of the usual elemental-type attacks you'd expect – water beats fire, and so on.
In my time with the game, I fought my way through a few storyline-based and random battles before taking on a dungeon. Each dungeon has a number of set encounters, and you'll need to find a key to unlock the door to the boss room. Also, for each encounter you defeat, you'll increase the boss chest, giving you more loot when you defeat him. Being that this was the first dungeon, it wasn't terribly challenging, especially with someone giving me advice on how to proceed, but there's certainly potential for difficult battles against multiple foes.
When talking about a free-to-play mobile game – especially one with Kabam's fingerprints on it, a company that doesn't have the greatest of reputations – monetization will always be a question. Dungeons will be limited for free players to a certain number per day, but you'll be able to buy tokens that let you play more. The random battles and questing was unlimited, however, so the question of how good the system is will depend on the right balance of how much you can play one kind of content versus another and still feel rewarded. I'd imagine that the best loot will be found in dungeons, but if you can at least feel some sense of progress from the “open-world” content, that will help.
Moonrise will come later this year to iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Its stated goal of Moonrise is to deliver a full-fledged MMO, “a AAA gaming experience on mobile.” It looks like it's got a pretty solid foundation to work with and could be ideal for someone looking for a little more depth in their mobile gaming than what's generally available now. The MMO-style story and progression will draw people in, and the relatively deep mechanics should do well to keep them.
And the cute critters won't hurt, either.