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The MOBA Genre's Entry Point to Mobile

Neilie Johnson Posted:
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Actually, to Superevil, it's more than a plan: it's a mission. On its website, the company states its intentions thusly: “We're here to help build a future where every tablet is perceived by players as a portable next-gen console.” Curious to see whether the team is achieving that goal, this week I visited their San Mateo office. After two hours of enthusiastic conversation and some intense hands-on time with the game, I'll admit that when it comes to bridging the gap between PC and mobile, Vainglory might actually be the missing link.

Like other games in the genre, Vainglory offers a range of heroes with different abilities. I of course was drawn immediately to Saw, a masked hulk of a man who wouldn't be out of place in a Borderlands game. Saw's thing is offense, and no wonder considering his absurdly huge gun. After testing the waters in a non-competitive tutorial game, I and a few Superevil peeps faced off for real against another team of Superevilers. The point, as in other MOBAs, is to gather as much gold as quickly as possible and use it to level up, buy gear, and grind your opponents into the digital dirt. On top of that, winning ultimately depends on getting past your enemies' turrets and taking out the “Vain crystal” at the center of their base.   The best way to play Vainglory is to set your tablet on a flat surface and control the game with both hands. On paper, this method sounds a little strange, but during our pre-game talks, co-founder and CCO Stephan Sherman assured me the two finger method was a winner. He was right. Aside from strategy, one of the hardest things to grasp when learning to play a MOBA is how to quickly execute sequential moves. Even with the fastest mouse, it's easy to hose your chances of winning with one or two misplaced clicks. The possibility of this is greatly minimized with the two  finger technique. Even better, it basically doubles the actions you can perform.

Despite the success of Vainglory's unique control scheme, the team admits they didn't exactly see it coming. Stephan Sherman said in reference to players being skeptical of it: “We absolutely had doubts too. Boy did we ever. We’re hardcore gamers by blood; we live and breathe these kinds of games, and we looked deeply at what a real core MOBA experience requires and saw that the ingredients were there on touch devices. Super Evil Megacorp is made of veterans from companies like Blizzard and Riot and we have a high quality standard. Vainglory is a legitimate and authentic MOBA. We invite you to try it, and we totally understand if you start out skeptical.” Superevil CPO Q Wang added: “We love MOBAs, and we love playing games together in real life. We think coordinating the perfect gank over voice chat is awesome, but high-fiving your buddy who is sitting right next to you is even awesomer, and there is no better genre to bring out that experience than a MOBA.We began with the gut feeling that MOBAs could actually be better on touch screens because of the speed and agility of touch. We then spent countless engineering hours polishing the controls until you can orb-walk like a pro using two fingers and play at a highly competitive level.”

For a beginning Vainglory player, Saw was a pretty good choice. It's pretty easy to get into the rhythm of advancing steadily, taking advantage of his “spin up” by repeatedly attacking. The more he attacks, the faster and more effective he is; this, along with his special “Suppressing Fire” ability makes him a particularly destructive hero. The downside is, the faster he attacks, the slower he moves. Fortunately, if things take an unexpected turn for the worse, you can use Saw's “Roadie Run” ability to get away. When Roadie Run is activated, Saw whips out a knife, sprints away from danger, and if he encounters any enemies along the way, he'll shank 'em but good. I enjoyed a clean victory playing Saw. Things got a bit stickier when I traded him in for a cute and cuddly hero called Petal. Petal is a sweet little bunny-like creature who bounces around on a big flower. Aww! How deadly could she be? The answer is—very. Petal is a more complex character than Saw, and requires a bit more multi-tasking, but once you get her routine down, you become the bane of the enemy team's existence. The reason for this is that Petal plants seeds. These seeds serve a dual purpose: as seeds and when they sprout, as minions. As seeds they heal her, making it possible for her to stand her ground and attack. As minions (actually, they're “Munions” because look like creepy, fanged onions) they protect her. Best of all, when you use Petal's “Spontaneous Combustion” skill, they run forward amongst enemies and detonate like little oniony bombs.

As I mentioned, all this makes Petal a formidable enemy, but playing her takes a good amount of timing and finesse: more than you can accumulate in one game. Long story short, the second game didn't go as well and my team ultimately lost. It wasn't Petal's fault though. It was the Kraken. Fifteen minutes in, this huge monster spawned, the enemy took control of it and used him to obliterate our Vain crystal. Alas. Win or lose, once our games were done, we were all granted “Karma,” which, as you might expect, is something Superevil hopes will reward good behavior. Karma points are earned for every game you complete. When you've collected enough, (there are four Karma tiers) you get Glory boosts which can be used to unlock new heroes. The process is designed to reward players who complete matches and penalize players who flake out mid-match. Everyone gets one “free” AFK to account for unexpected happenings, but after that, players who routinely quit mid-match will earn a 5% Karma penalty and are likely to be matched against other quitters. That's right, ya whiny babies—how do you like them apples?

At this point, Vainglory looks like the MOBA-lover's mobile dream. It looks fantastic, runs smoothly, and its two-finger touch controls are unbelievably efficient. Yay! Now that you're all excited to play, I have to break it to you that it isn't available in the 'States yet. It's being rolled out in stages, and right now it's only available in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia. There's already a substantial Vainglory community though, and with any luck, Apple will approve its American release someday soon. Until then, you should check out the game's website where there's a wealth of tutorial info and lore or if you're so inclined, sign up for early access.  


Neilie Johnson

Neilie Johnson / Neilie Johnson is a freelance contributor to MMORPG.com. She's been writing about games since 2005, developing games since 2002, and playing them since the dawn of time. OK not really, but she's pretty sure she's got controllers older than you. Witness her game-related OCD on Twitter @bmunchausen.