Arena of Heroes does little to really shake up the MOBA genre.
No matter how well you know your way around your favorite MOBA, one thing can still hold you back when the action heats up: not being fast enough on the mouse and keyboard. Or as Futurama‘s Robot Devil succinctly put it, “stupid fingers.” Arena of Heroes by Sneaky Games and Zattikka solves that problem with an ingenious turn-based solution, but several other aspects keep it from really shaking up its genre.
At its core, Arena of Heroes sticks pretty close to the standard MOBA playbook. It’s got two teams of heroes facing off in battle, each trying to destroy a structure deep behind enemy lines. Automatically spawning minions help and hinder both sides, and each lane on the map is protected by a tower that dishes out damage and has to be dealt with or bypassed.
Since this is a cross-platform game on iOS, PC and Mac, some concessions are made to the mobile crowd. The battles are 4v4, for one, and the map’s three lanes are fairly close together. But perhaps the biggest thing to get used to for those familiar with the genre is that you have no teammates, instead controlling all four heroes on your team. Now if your healer isn’t staying in range of your tank, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.
When you think about it, that’s really the only way the turn-based gameplay would work out, as coordinating actions between multiple players on a team would be a logistical nightmare. As it stands, the game’s system works wonderfully, with each turn consisting of a minion phase, a player phase, another minion phase, and the opposing player’s phase. Each hero can perform a combination of three movement or ability actions during its phase, and the UI does an excellent job showing you (with colored circles) exactly how far you can move or who you can reach with an attack or buff.
Standard battles give you two minutes to complete all of your heroes’ actions, which in practice turns out to be plenty of time. There’s also an asynchronous mode that gives you two whole days to complete a turn and hearkens back to play-by-mail strategy games of the past. It’s something that obviously would only be possible in a turn-based game, and it’s a very welcome inclusion.
Other facets of Arena of Heroes don’t have quite as much character. The game’s sci-fi setting is as generic as it gets, and there’s only a half-hearted attempt to explain why these characters are clashing in the arena in the first place. It’s probably true that most people don’t play a MOBA for its story (and the hero profiles do have lore buttons, so there’s that), but it would be nice to have something more tying it all together.
Heroes level up during play to increase their abilities, but there’s no gear to purchase or any ongoing system of progression for either players or heroes. Add in the single map and the fact that ranked play isn’t available yet and the end result is a game that feels pretty shallow. It’s that, and not the turn-based play, that is most likely to make rabid MOBA fans turn up their noses.
If nothing else, Arena of Heroes is an interesting experiment that succeeds in changing something that seemed intrinsic about a specific type of game and showing how it could be done differently. It’s also free-to-play, so if your “stupid fingers” are standing in the way of your MOBA enjoyment, you can probably look past the game’s limitations and get into the high concept here.