"To me it felt as much like an action RPG as it did a MOBA."
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games (or MOBAs) typically fall outside our coverage here at RPGFan. But like several other genres, it was only a matter of time until somebody had the bright idea to integrate classic RPG elements to it and make something new.
Ashton and I got to visit Russian studio Nival (at E3 in LA, not in Russia) and try out the game already backed by best-selling Russian authors who have written a series of books set in the universe.
The fiction revolves around a conflict between the machine loving Dokht Imperiam and the nature loving Kingdom of Adornia. The two factions are battling over a substance called "Prime," which apparently grants energy and powers and control over the world. I know, completely unrealistic that such conflict would befall a land over a limited resource, but hey, it's a game, let your imagination run wild.
Anyway, what I expected to see going in to the meeting with Nival was a MOBA game with RPG elements ratcheted on. That was not the case at all. The RPG elements are an absolutely key part of the game, and to me it felt as much like an action RPG as it did a MOBA. The game has the short progression elements of a MOBA, such as trying to capture portions of a given map and battling through waves of monsters, but also has an extremely deep and long progression element based around leveling the skills of your character, selecting abilities and powers, and generally speccing out your hero. Add in to that the factor of town/castle management, and all 3 elements blend together in a really interesting package.
Here's how it all works. You select a hero you are developing and a game mode you wish to participate in. There are 8 game modes, all of which are variations on a general PvP or PvE theme with groups of anywhere between 3 and 5. You are matched in PvP groups based on your rating, which is like an ELO system — it goes up or down in accordance with the strength or weakness of your opponent and/or team.
Once the battle begins, you have a classic quickbar of abilities or "talents" at your disposal. This is where the game turns into something more like an action RPG with MOBA elements than a MOBA with RPG elements. The graphic style and the clicking had me thinking something like Torchlight (THE MAGIC WORD) than Defense of the Ancients. Don't be mistaken, there are definitely MOBA things to do here — you'll be capturing flags, facing waves of enemies, repairing towers, etc. But with every kill you are gathering resources that you will be spending on powering up your hero and/or your kingdom. Win or lose, you'll get something out of the session, giving everything that sense of "long progression" I mentioned earlier.
The kingdom building aspect is the piece we had the least amount of time to experiment with, but essentially the buildings you have in your kingdom produce resources and bonuses for you that you can use in battle. Nival also revealed that the kingdom also has a mobile gaming element to it — they'll be releasing an iOS and Android app that allows you to interact with your kingdom via your mobile device.
It seemed too much fun and too good to be true to cost nothing, but when asked about the financial model, Nival was quite insistent that the game is not "pay to win." Nival is relying on sales of cosmetic upgrades, particularly "skins" for characters, to pay the bills. We'll see if this holds true over time, as currently the game is in a closed beta in the US, with plans to move to an open beta within the next couple of months.
As for an official release date, Nival was not prepared to announce one yet. But for the time being, anybody interested can sign up for the closed beta at playpw.com. I know I intend to do so once I put the final period on this review.