Back during the iPhone 6 press event, there was a game used to showcase the new phone’s power and resolution called Vainglory. It inspired both some “oohs” and some eye-rolling, because while it was indeed beautiful, it was also another MOBA, a genre that’s yet to take off on mobile. Now that the awesomely named Super Evil Megacorp has delivered the game, some of those doubters should change their tune, because it’s not only the best-looking mobile MOBA, it might be the best to play as well.
Are there some concessions made for the platform? Of course. Vainglory is 3v3, and it currently has only one map. However the developers managed to pack quite a bit into that single map, allowing for the inclusion of most of the features seasoned MOBA players would expect.
A single lane is contested by both teams’ minions, with turrets protecting both sides. Below it is the Jungle, where neutral monsters can be farmed for gold and experience. Four minutes into a match, two minion miners appear; defeating one makes your side’s minions stronger, while controlling both of them turns them into the Super-Soldiers of minions. Peak of minion potential and all that.
The Jungle also has a gold mining monster to defeat and control for extra gold on a periodic basis. And after 15 minutes, the Kraken appears. With a concerted effort, players can deal enough damage to the Kraken that it will rampage down the enemy lane, wrecking turrets and heading for the opposing Vain, a crystal whose destruction is the ultimate goal. Plus, it’s just fun to yell, “Release the Kraken!” while you’re playing.
It’s a good mix of strategic elements, and the map is just large enough that you need to pay attention to what’s going on in other parts of it to avoid getting snookered by the other team. There are both visual and audio cues when something particularly good or bad has happened, and there are quick emotes you can use to draw your teammates’ attention to different areas. The most notable aspect of gameplay is that the devs didn’t rush it. Matches can last 20-30 minutes, and the pace isn’t sped up just because the game is on mobile.
Vainglory also has a nice mix of heroes available at launch, with 10 spread over four archetypes (Assassin, Protector, Sniper and Warrior) and a fifth on the way. Along with an explanation of a hero’s abilities — each has two regular ones plus an Ultimate that can be unlocked as you level from 1 to 12 during a match — the game provides a basic idea of where he or she can be put to the best use in the early stages of a match.
That’s vital for a title like this, because along with experienced players, it’s bound to pique the curiosity of folks who have never dipped their toes into the MOBA water before. Getting past the intimidation factor inherent in the genre is so important, and there are plenty of tools to help with that, including a series of very clear tutorial videos. Training modes allow newcomers to practice to get a feel for a hero’s capabilities, but the only way to earn Glory to permanently unlock heroes is to actually participate in matches.
The matchmaking system is fairly opaque, though it relies at least in part on a mechanic called Karma that penalizes people who go AFK too often. So while you may stink (like this writer), at least with a high Karma score people know you’re going to see things through to the end. A friend and party system allows you to team up with players you already have grown to trust so you can queue together.
Thanks to the Apple event, everyone already knows the graphics are top notch. If Vainglory is missing anything, it’s probably some kind of overall system of progression, one that rewards the truly dedicated by allowng them to customize their builds a little more. Then again, that might venture into an area of game balance that’s too tricky to tackle. For now, just unlocking all of the heroes and getting better at playing have to suffice.
There’s a temptation to say that Vainglory and other mobile MOBAs are trying to be the League of Legends of their platforms, but in truth, that’s probably an impossible goal. What they should be after is just becoming the biggest fish in this relatively new pond, and with gameplay almost equal to its looks, this game can accomplish that.