The MOBA (or Multiplayer online battle arena) genre has always been a strange one to me. I’ve been aware of DOTA2 and the crazy amounts of money it makes but never really felt the urge to spend a large amount of time playing any of the big hits. MOBA games can be defined as any online multiplayer battle game but the term is more synonymous with being a cross between Action, Strategy and RPG where you’ll fight Ai minions, level up and attack other players to eventually reach a goal (typically destroying towers along the way) Each game tends to take a while and there’s a lot of teamwork involved so pairing with random people is a mixed bag of great fun and pure toxicity. I’ve enjoyed the occasional dip into Heroes of the Storm on PC. This was Blizzard’s half-assed attempt at the genre but it was a light way of enjoying a MOBA without too many currencies and microtransactions. Shockingly enough I lost interest when they fired 800 employees working on it while Bobby devil-horns Kotick boasted record profits at the same time. Still this isn’t the first time a potential PC MOBA money maker has slipped through that companies greedy fingers.
Obviously Acti-Blizz are a always going to be a little angry about losing out on all the DOTA2 money the game regularly rakes in yearly. DOTA 2 (as the name implies) is a standalone sequel to the original mod for Warcraft 3 (which technically makes it DOTA 1) and the game most people think of when it comes to the MOBA genre. You can see the early makings of the MOBA in Warcraft 3 and back in the day when it was a big hit I remember playing games often using a mod to make all the heroes X-Men characters. There is something to be had with playing a game that feels like an MMORPG raid but with faster pacing and little less grind. The grind is still there it’s just no longer for levels and experience it’s now for currency to unlock more cosmetics and heroes. The MOBA is strong on PC at the moment with League of Legends even getting coverage on the BBC but with this little refresher out of the way, let’s have a look at the state of MOBA games on the 3 main consoles.
The Switch was always quite limited in MOBA games which isn’t a surprise given its online abilities. Your choice was always a port of SMITE (which is almost on everything) or a port of Arena of Valor which is a localisation of the Chinese mobile hit Honor of Kings. Smite has better versions elsewhere but Arena of Valor is only on Mobile devices and Switch. It runs at a lower resolution than you’d expect but everything is smooth, matchmaking is ridiculously quiet and there’s a chat room that’s clearly unmoderated and left to become a mess of one liners and swearing rants. The gameplay is solid and the currency system is the typical one for a free to play MOBA. You’ll try a hero, buy a hero and then grind the free currency for 100 wins for the next. The player base is quiet at the moment so expect long queues but what really surprises me is how a game designed for mobile first is somehow less predatory than Pokémon Unite.
Originally my plan had been to play Pokémon Unite on day one, get as much gameplay as possible and write up a review ASAP. The idea of a Pokémon themed MOBA sounded brilliant to me from day one and the preview trailers all looked super fun. Even the gameplay upon first impressions was amazing. It’s responsive, the Pokémon have unique skills and abilities and everything has that polish you’d expect from a Pokémon title. It runs a lot better than most Switch multiplayer games and I was looking forward to it becoming my go to quick game for playing daily. Then I saw the monetisation systems. It seemed like there was little point in writing how disappointed I was when it became apparently that barely anyone seemed to mind quite how incredibly bad the manipulation was because the core gameplay was fun.
Pokémon Unite has multiple currencies but not only the usual MOBA trade off ones where you play to unlock more. There’s a battle pass which shows what you could have had if you paid for it with every other level a free item to hook you into purchasing. A loot crate system that’s locked to one free spin after a few games per day but the worst of all this is a hard daily cap on the free currency. Once you’ve hit that limit you can’t grind for anything. It changed instantly from a game I wouldn’t mind paying some money to have some fun on to one I would never pay a penny for. It boggles the mind they’d limit it but given you can buy item boosters and literally pay to win the design for greed over all else is clear. I’m not surprised just disappointed. Pokémon Unite sadly continues the trend of Pokémon fee to play games that are ruined by greed (Just like Pokémon Café, Go, Picross and Masters)
As is typically the case with the Xbox1 there’s not a lot to choose from (at the moment, given the way Microsoft is buying studios this could change in future) Your choice for MOBAs are Smite or well that’s it really. There are a lot of other games that pop up in a search for the genre such as Paladins and Battleborn but these are clearly hero shooters. Paladins is very much a MOBA in its monetisation and free to play model but at it’s core the game is an Overwatch clone. As for Battleborn? Well that seems like a cruel joke as the game has been dead for years now and it feels very strange to see it on any search result.
SMITE (the actual title is all caps all day) does run incredibly nicely on the Xbox and on the Series X it feels like running DOS Box on a beast gaming PC. Smite plays like your classic MOBA but the camera is lower and follows your character. Everything feels a lot more action focused and it’s fun for the most part. It reminds me a lot more of playing an MMORPG during a busy raid as the screen is plastered with insane amounts of stats and data. Good luck enjoying a game for long mind, unless it’s in ranked you’ll have players dropping out as soon as the score falls away even slightly. There’s also a very bizarre Stranger Things cross over event happening at the moment so enjoy seeing literal gods fighting Sherriff man with a gun.
It’s quite surprising how lacking in MOBA titles the PS4 is. There are so many free to play games on the PSN store you could spend years learning each MMORPG or shooter before even picking up a regular game. It has SMITE and the usual not quite MOBA offerings (Awesomenauts is not this kind of moba but it is great fun) What’s most surprising is in 2019 there was a release of the PC game Genesis by Rampage games for the PS4. There’s very little coverage for the game but it’s the closest thing the PS4 has to a classic MOBA so after a quick installation I gave it a shot!
Then just as quickly as I dived in, I quit and uninstalled it. Genesis is interesting, it plays like a League Of Legends clone (albeit slower) but my oh my is it poorly optimised. The PS4 sounded like it was trying to run Microsoft Flight Simulator at one point during the tutorial and the menu for the heroes drops in resolution so low it could have been on the Switch. There were multiple moments when playing I was looking around the screen trying to figure out just what was pushing it so hard. The frustration was quite high with Genesis where you’re locked to the tutorial character from the go and even the first bot fight being incredibly difficult as the Ai is insufferably stupid. There’s the usual mobile trappings of daily login bonuses, multiple currencies and prominent artwork of T&A everywhere. It was a massive disappointment to find there were various items completely locked behind high amounts of quest currency or premium paid money. With some optimisation or a PS5 version this could be big but as it stands you’re best of just sticking with Smite if you’re desperate.
Console MOBA gaming?
It’s strange that a genre that makes such an insane amount of money can be so completely lost on the console market. The AAA market always copies the games making the most money so maybe the status quo could change with the amount of money Pokémon Pay is going to make. Perhaps trying to take on DOTA2 and LOL seemed too daunting? Who knows, for now you’re essentially stuck with the PC. It’s still the go to for all the MOBA games that are just fun to play and not desperately manipulative trying to hook money from you. Just remember to have fun and probably stay off mic.