MOBA Madness: Five new games on the horizon, and how they measure up

T.J. Hafer

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The MOBA/ARPG genre is exploding. From indie devs to mid-sized studios in international markets, the subgenre that began as a WarCraft III custom map is gaining traction and diversity. Over the last few weeks, we've taken a look at a fair few upcoming challengers in the arena. From a modern military MOBA/top-down shooter hybrid to a licensed effort with steampunk Batman, we've broken down where each one fits in, and what makes it different from what's already out there.

Infinite Crisis

Made by: Turbine, best known for Lord of the Rings Online

Releasing: 2013

Hands-on: Yes

What's different about it?

The most notable element in Infinite Crisis' corner is the DC Comics license. While much of the gameplay remains about what you'd expect from the likes of League of Legends or Dota, recognizable characters (12 of which have been announced ) take the place of the unknown-outside-their game casts most MOBA players are accustomed to. Other interesting additions are comic book tropes such as destructible terrain, and the ability for super strong characters to pick up objects from the world to use as weapons.

How does it play?

The mode I played was similar to League of Legends dominion mode, with capturable points scattered radially around the map. The moment-to-moment also feels much closer to League than Dota, in terms of hero life pools and ability power. Long-time ARPG players should have no trouble adapting to the controls.

Can I play it?

Not yet. But you can sign-up for beta access on the official site.

Dragons and Titans

Made by: Wyrmbyte

Releasing: Q2 2013

Hands-on: Yes

What's different about it?

It's browser-based, for one. The controls, for another—but I'll get into that below. Dragons and Titans places you in a familiar 5v5 set-up, where each player is a dragon rider. The game layers its 17 playable dragons with 16 weapons, which are chosen separately before the match. This creates some interesting hybrids (such as a DPS dragon with a support-focused weapon), and is actually a pretty clever way to give you a couple hundred character combinations without having to memorize that many different heroes.

How does it play?

The control scheme takes a little getting used to. Constantly in flight, your dragon controls using forward and reverse keys, while the mouse aims and rotates you. It doesn't initially feel as intuitive as click-to-move for this sort of game, but once you get the hang of it, you can pull off some pretty cool moves (such as high-tailing it in reverse while still hurling dragonfire at your pursuers). The constant motion can also lead to getting stuck or hung up on obstacles in the environment, though generally gives matches a constant action feel.

Can I play it?

There are some beta codes floating around. If you don't have one, you can sign up on the official site for a chance to change that.

Merc Elite

Made by: Bigpoint, a browser games developer responsible for, notably, Battlestar Galactica Online

Releasing: Summer 2013

Hands-on: No

What's different about it?

It's a hybrid shooter, grounded a bit more in reality than your average MOBA. We're not talking Red Orchestra: Top Down Operations or anything, but there aren't giant, magic walruses running around punching mutant spiders. It also uses what the devs call a "direct fire aiming system," which basically means that all of the guns work like what MOBA players refer to as skill shots. Line of sight, cover, and high/low ground all matter when it comes to spotting targets and aiming. It's also class-based, rather than character-based. You'll be able to customize and level up a handful of kits such as sniper and heavy gunner.

Can I play it?

You're probably getting used to this answer by now... nope! But there is a page for closed beta sign-ups .

Prime World

Made by: Nival, a Russian studio best known for Heroes of Might and Magic V

Releasing: Spring 2013 (North American version—the Russian client has been running in open beta since last year.)

Hands-on: No

What's different about it?

A lot of what makes Prime World different takes place outside the match. You'll have a persistent city along the lines of Age of Empires 3 and Age of Empires Online, featuring buildings that generate resources which can be used to buy things. The skill system is also very different—for each hero, you'll create a build out of a few set, character-specific skills, and an open-ended pool of dozens and dozens of common skills that you'll accumulate through game currency and real money transactions, much like a collectible card game.

Prime World has also gained attention for the fact that it uses Facebook integration to determine whether you are male or female, and flags your account accordingly. You'll have a discount on characters of the same gender you listed, and there are mechanics in matches that make it beneficial for two opposite-gender heroes to fight together. The developers say these features are popular in the Russian market, but may be removed if the English-speaking community objects to them strongly.

Can I play it?

The English/North American version is currently in closed beta, which you can sign up for here .

Sins of a Dark Age

Made by: Ironclad Games, best known for Sins of a Solar Empire

Releasing: 2013

Hands-on: Yes

What's different about it?

Sins of a Dark Age focuses on trying to make the map feel like a living world, rather than a static stage. The day/night cycle grandfathered into the genre from the original Warcraft III engine has a more significant effect on gameplay than games like Dota 2, changing the behavior of creeps in the jungle, what kinds of minions spawn, where concealing brush pops up, and even the stats of certain items with the "Night" tag. Sins will also prompt each team with a series of randomized quests throughout the match, such as killing a particularly strong hostile creep and bringing its head back to their base, which give significant benefits upon completion.

How does it play?

Like most of the new wave of MOBAs, it seems to lean more toward the League of Legends side of the design spectrum than the Dota 2 side. Heroes are relatively durable (though less so than in Inifinte Crisis), concealing brush is present, and mechanics like denying are nowhere to be found. The quests really seem to make each match more interesting, and prevent any two matches from ever really flowing the same. I'll be interested to see how these sorts of randomized modifiers affect competitive play.

Can I play it?

Opting in to the Founders program (the lowest level is $25) gets you immediate closed beta access.

And so there you have it: five up-and-comers in one of PC gaming's biggest emergent genres. We'll continue to keep their lanes warded, and let you know which ones can hard carry like a boss, and which are more likely to AFK at the fountain and waste your time.

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