For better or worse, MOBAs have become the new “me too” genre for online gaming, kind of like the massive explosion of MMOs that followed the successful launch of World of Warcraft. Much like MMOs, there were certainly a few developers out there who were ahead of the curve, recognized the brilliance of DotA Allstars, and began building their own take on the battle arena formula.
However, once League of Legends appeared on the scene, what was once a handful of games based upon some basic, unifying gameplay concepts exploded into the fastest growing genre in online gaming.
We’ve known that Turbine Studios has been secretly working on a new title for quite some time now, and being one of the oldest MMO studios out there, a lot of people naturally assumed that their next game would be an MMO as well. The main speculation really boiled down to which Warner Bros. property seemed to make the best fit, barring the creation of an entirely new IP.
The proverbial cat came screeching out of its bag this weekend, as Turbine unveiled Infinite Crisis, a new MOBA set in the DC Multiverse. We were among the first to take the game for a test run this week during GDC, and discuss some of the ways Infinite Crisis attempts to forge a unique identity in an increasingly saturated MOBA market with the folks from Turbine.
Gotham by Gaslight
Back in the early 90’s I remember stumbling upon an awesome little comic called Gotham by Gaslight. What originally caught my attention was the artwork by Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame) but it didn’t take long before I found myself pulled into the rich story, and the alternative universe take on Batman. Conceptually it was the same character, only there were subtle difference in things like his costume and gadgetry based on being set in the time of Jack the Ripper.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see that Gaslight Batman was one of the playable options for my hands-on time with Infinite Crisis. In terms of MOBA character archetypes, he focused mainly on ranged DPS, but also had a couple of movement tricks up his sleeves.
For the sake of full disclosure, I tend to shy away from playing most MOBAs. I do enjoy the gameplay and am a huge fan of competitive PvP, but just like the RTS genre that birthed them, MOBAs typically have both a steep learning curve and time commitment. Unless you play regularly and have a good handle on what each character is capable of, you really aren’t going to see very much success for your time investment.
By utilizing well known characters from DC Comics, Turbine has managed to minimize at least that particular barrier for entry. For example, as soon as an enemy appeared on screen playing a variant of Green Lantern, I immediately thought it was a good idea to kite him away from the objective he was attempting to capture. Otherwise, he’d have likely started dropping constructs on my head which he immediately attempted to do.
So the character lineup makes certain aspects of Infinite Crisis feel somewhat intuitive straight out of the gates. Likewise, the maps are based on familiar DC settings which can also create a bit of a comfort zone for DC fans who otherwise might be reluctant to dive headfirst into a new MOBA.
Light the Match
In terms of match types, you can expect two familiar game modes that have become synonymous with the genre. There will be the classic three-lanes-with-towers-and-creeps variety, and then the capture-and-hold Dominion mode which is what we played for our hands-on match.
If you’re familiar with the mechanics of Dominion, many of the same rules and concepts apply in Infinite Crisis. However, there are a few key things that help keep the game feeling somewhat unique outside of the obvious DC roster and themes.
First off, Turbine has made it slightly easier to level up during a match by having creeps and defeated champions drop coins that you can run around and collect. Last hit will give you the standard automatic boost, but the coins help you stay with the curve based on contributing to defeats; you simply have to work a bit more to collect them.
Secondly, there are destructible aspects to the environment. While this doesn’t have a massive, direct impact on the flow of the match, it does help you feel like you’re on a map with bunch of badass superheroes capable of mass destruction. Some champions will even be able to do things like grab and throw cars at other players. In other words, parts of the environment can be weaponized to a certain degree.
In the case of the thrown cars, it should be noted that they will basically explode on impact once thrown. While there could be some pretty interesting emergent gameplay if the shell of the car remained intact (think creating temporary obstacles to change the flow of the map), Turbine also doesn’t want it to become a tool for griefing. Otherwise, you could guarantee that cars would get stacked up directly outside of enemy bases, creating a lame graveyard camping scenario.
The third and in my opinion, coolest major difference was the introduction of catastrophic events. In our match, a massive meteor came crashing down partway through the match. Towards the center of the map there were secondary capture points that you could claim for your team and help influence where the meteor would hit.
In terms of tactics, I was able to redirect the path of the meteor just before it came down so that it would land close to capture points currently being held by the enemy team. If they didn’t move out of its blast radius fast enough it would cause some dirt naps and allow my team to double back and claim those points.
Apparently each map will come bundled with a unique event like this based on the theme for that particular map. While it won’t necessarily reinvent the Dominion wheel outright, it’s enough to change things up a bit and make players remain conscious of a broader range of variables.
Infinity and Beyond
A third game mode is also in the works, but for now Turbine is keeping that one under wraps. Apparently it will be something highly unique to Infinite Crisis, so the game will offer a lot more than just a reskinned LoL with cooler champions and maps. And part of the beauty of the DC Multiverse is that Turbine has a massive pile of characters to work with, each with cosmetic variants.
For example, on my Gaslight Batman I had the option to unlock a Samurai Gaslight Batman skin before our match began. According to the devs I spoke to there will be a new virtual currency introduced that’s specific to Infinite Crisis, so unfortunately you won’t be able to use those Turbine Points you’ve been saving up for a rainy day. The split does make sense since the TP costs have been calculated based on MMO purchases, and might not translate very cleanly when it comes to the MOBA.
Overall I did really enjoy the match I was able to play. Mind you, it is definitely a MOBA through-and-through, so if you’re not already a fan of the genre Infinite Crisis might not be your cup of tea. The DC Comics angle does help quite a bit in that regard, however, so who knows; I may end up finding myself actively playing MOBAs on a regular basis once IC goes live.
You can learn more about Infinite Crisis on the official website, where you can also sign up for the beta. And for more coverage from PAX East and GDC 2013, don’t forget to check out our event pages!