In 2015 the MOBA is more than a game genre. It’s a phenomenon.
A success in every way that you could possibly measure the word, the MOBA started as a mod to the popular Warcraft franchise and since that time has evolved into the poster child of the competitive gaming world.
Conceptually, the MOBA is pretty simple. Combining elements of RPG’s and Real Time Strategy games, you and your team engage an opposing force across a multiple lane map, where you level up your characters with various items and abilities all in the pursuit of destroying the enemy encampments, and eventually their home base. Along the way you will find a variety of side-quests that often offer a high risk/high reward proposition, as well as plenty of opportunities to tangle with the player controlled enemy heroes that make up your most compelling competition.
The idea itself is a fairly simple one to grasp once you get into it, but the amount of elements it combine at a blazing gameplay pace have largely kept the MOBA limited to the PC where precision mouse controls and various key bindings allow these games the competitive potential that makes them so great. It’s why the three essential entrants of the genre (Dota 2, League of Legends and Heroes of The Storm) are all PC exclusive.
While Vainglory is not quite at the level of those giants, I can say without hesitation that it is the greatest MOBA not currently on the PC.
What makes Vainglory so great is that it understands that there are limitations to converting the MOBA to mobile that simply cannot be avoided. The biggest victim of these limitations would be the game maps. There is only one map in the game, and it replaces the traditional three lane environments with a much simpler layout that combine a single lane between enemy bases, with a standard “jungle” environment below, were the various side-quests are. Admittedly this, combined with the drop to 3 v.s 3 matches as opposed to the more traditional 5 v.s 5, does take a pretty big strategic element out of the traditional MOBA experience.
But that’s the thing you need to understand. Vainglory isn’t a traditional MOBA experience, and it isn’t trying to be. Instead, it take the essence of what makes the MOBA so great (the sense of progression, the feeling of strategic superiority, the thrill of learning a new hero) and translates it through the unique capabilities of the Android platform.
The results are simply exhilarating. A typical game of Vainglory lasts about 20 minutes, and brings with it all the thrills you would get from a standard match of, say, League of Legends. No it doesn’t quite have the same depth as that game, but it does do a tremendous job of integrating the player quickly into the experience (largely through some really well done tutorials) and then becomes remarkably consistent in giving you a streamlined version of the standard MOBA, every time you log-in.
That isn’t to say that Vainglory doesn’t do some things well in its own right. First off, the graphics and animation are superb. With apologies to the hardcore MOBA fanbase, I’d rank the look of this game with any other in the genre. It’s more limited character hero selection screen and map space don’t afford it the same level of creativity as those other games, but everything that is here is simply flawless from a visual standpoint.
Oddly enough, I also kind of like having less heroes to choose between compared to other MOBA games. It allows the developers to put a little more love into each hero and, more importantly, make sure that each is perfectly balanced. The sheer number of characters isn’t nearly as high as you get in other games, but the quality is well above par and you would have a hard time not finding one that fits your style.
Actually, where Vainglory falls short is in the developer’s decisions to not adapt enough to the mobile platform. This is especially true of the items system, which doesn’t really need to be here. It’s nice having the ability to purchase these different items and upgrades, but it adds to to the clutter of the interface, and frankly doesn’t feel especially well developed. I wish the developers had taken a cue from Heroes of The Storm and removed the item system in favor of a larger skill tree, as the skills in this game are sadly underutilized from an upgrade standpoint.
There are also a few wrinkles in the mobile interface that don’t really get ironed out. It took me quite a while to really understand what every button did, and to perform simple things like seeing what my abilities do mid-match. Even when I did get a grasp of what was happening, I never felt like accessing this information was done in the best way possible. The game’s minimap takes a similar hit, as it requires you to use a sort of dual touch mechanic to properly navigate, and doesn’t afford you the same ability to cleanly navigate to the action as a PC MOBA might.
Honestly, though, some of these criticisms are nitpicks and preferences. The elephant in the room concerning your enjoyment of Vainglory is its technological requirements. You’re going to need a fairly modern phone or tablet to run this game, and even then you are honestly not getting the full experience on a phone. It’s perfectly playable, but things get cramped pretty quickly. You run your own risk playing this game on anything less than a modern tablet with a strong internet connection. Thankfully that’s the closest this game gets to pay to win, as the in-app purchases are tastefully done and do nothing to hinder the experience.
If it is within your technological ability to download Vainglory, though, then you must. It is in many respects as good as a MOBA game can be at this point in Android technology, and can only get better as the development team builds upon this stunning foundation they have crafted.
An ingenious realization of the capabilities of the MOBA on Android, this is an essential download for fans of the genre or competitive gaming in general.