Games Like League of Legends
The MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) is pretty much a staple to the online multiplayer genre these days and such games as League of Legends (LoL), which is arguably one of the most played games in the world, have really brought this style of game into the spotlight.
In these games players typically take control of a character (hero, champion, etc.) from a large list each with their own set of special attacks and compete against other players in team based with a base defence/attack objective. The game maps are generally broken down into three “lanes”, direct paths that link the two opposing bases that are lined with defensive sentry towers and will attack the enemy. Travelling these lanes are waves of minions, AI controlled attackers that will continuously spawn and journey up their lane attacking whatever opposition they come across (enemy minions, enemy towers or enemy players). The purpose of the game is to use a team cooperative strategy to try and push into the enemy base whilst at the same time stopping the enemy from pushing into yours, the game ends when one enemy base is destroyed sealing victory for the successful attackers.
Though much of the success of the MOBA is often attributed to League of Legends (released in Oct 2009) the roots of the genre can be traced back to over a decade ago, highlighting how long these types of games have been around.
The first MOBA, and the birth of this style of game, is often attributed back to Blizzard Entertainments’ popular RTS game StarCraft, whilst not a MOBA game in itself the game did allow players to use game modding tools to create their own maps for the community. One such map gained a considerable amount of popularity, the map was called Aeon of Strife (AoS) where the creator (a player named “Aeon64”) created a three lane based map where players could only control a single unit on the battlefield, far different from the normal StarCraft game.
When Blizzard released Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos in 2002 the accompanying map editor enabled players to piggyback on Aeson of Strife’s success and started to shape the MOBA sub-genre with a modification of the original StarCraft map being converted into a Warcraft III map. The map was called Defense of the Ancients (DotA) and greatly improved on the complexity of the map and the gameplay and the community expanded the playable heroes. Defense of the Ancients evolved further in the release of the expansion Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, which in time became the dominating map of the genre and the most popular that pass through a number of modders hands to keep developing the game and finished its life as DotA: Allstars.
In 2008 League of Legends made its debut and officially coined the “multiplayer online battle arena” (MOBA) acronym, heavily inspired by DotA: Allstars it capitalised on the growing interest for these types of games. The game launched with great success and was received well amongst the gaming community, the wide selection of available “champions” to choose from, more casual and easy to pick up gameplay and the constant development and updates is what has made the game the biggest of its type with everyone else fighting for second place. The game launched as a free to play game with a digital copy that can also be purchased that give access to the first champions, some limited-edition skins and some extra goodies. Developers Riot chose to limit access to their heroes somewhat, making only a handful of them free to play each week and then rotating them so that players get to sample the 100+ champions, although players can permanently unlock or purchase champions so that they always have access to them.
The main developer of DotA: Allstars “IceFrog”, the modder who continued to keep the game running, was picked up and hired by Valve in 2009 with the purpose of developing a sequel as a standalone title. Dota 2 was announced a year later after Valve were able to secure the intellectual property rights to the DotA trademark and announced their “action real-time strategy” game (definitely NOT a “MOBA”…)
2010 marked the initial release of S2 Games Heroes of Newerth (HoN), a game that had been reportedly been in development since the beginning of 2007 but a yearlong initial development of their own engine and then nearly 2 years to develop the other maps, heroes, artwork assets and more meant the game was released later. Whilst hot on the tails of League of Legends it would seem that HoN was equally a derivative of DotA: Allstars as LoL was and at its release had done little to change the shape of the genre, but was still a large success and extremely popular. Initially the Heroes of Newerth released with the need of a one off payment to purchase the game, which many saw being an extra gateway gateway for players when choosing between the title or the Free to Play League of Legends as well as the steeper learning curve. In Dec 2010 the game re-launched with a new interface and more casual mode to no doubt try and draw more players away from League, in July 2011 the game finally went free to play, offering a 15 free to play heroes each week on rotation and once more mirroring LoL that was rapidly growing in popularity. Finally in July 2012 HoN removed any restricted access from the game and players were free to use all heroes in their games.
Dota 2 released in July 2013 as a free to play game, sticking to the pure classic form of the game it is composed of a single map with a variety of game options that can be altered to offer up different “game modes”, which revolve around the type and order of the hero selection. This single map mode is one of the bigger contrasts against League of Legends, that at this point had multiple maps and game modes, but following Heroes of Newerth Valve chose not to restrict access to the heroes and made everything available and focusing their microtransactions on cosmetics (something that had already been hugely successful with the likes of one of their other games Team Fortress 2). Dota 2 retained the more difficult learning curve, making combat and battles in general more complex and differentiating itself from League of Legends, a key factor that often divides opinion between the two titles.
If you ask most players what are the three biggest MOBAs then the three we have mentioned above would no doubt be the top of the list: League of Legends, DOTA2 and Heroes of Newerth, but MOBA games are constantly developing where studios try to take their titles in a slightly different direction to offer something new in a genre that is completely dominated by these three giants. It’s fair to say that some games use the MOBA terminology loosely to try and attract a fan base, taking a step little too far away from the three lane classic model which is almost synonymous with the MOBA genre. However, in doing so some developing studios have managed to put a nice twist on the games and there are a few worthy of note.
Prime World, released in October 2013, took a huge step away from tradition and primarily operates as a kingdom/Castle building strategy game with combat taking a MOBA style. Players must construct buildings, grow their population to build up more buildings, which uses up resources and takes anything from minutes to hours to complete depending on the building or the players level. The feature is almost definitely a background feature and not the core gameplay and it offers an interesting twist on hero construction. Some of the microtransaction options have come under fire from critics as well as trying to be too many things and lacking focus and somehow getting lost between genres.
Infinite Crisis is soon to be released and takes the cast of the DC multiverse (not Universe, the game takes different variations of the same heroes and villains from different parallel universes) in all star action packed MOBA. Infinite Crisis takes a leaf out of League of Legends book focusing more on providing multiple game modes each with their own tailor made map, of which there are currently three ready for the release; Gothan Divided which is a classic three lane map, Coast City which offers a 2 lane map and Gotham Heights which is a control point capturing game. As well as this each map has unique sub-objectives that result in battle changing events such as launching the Doomsday device or battling the opposition to try and fire off an Orbital Cannon.
Most MOBAs focus on building up a nice variety of heroes to keep the game fresh and give the community something new to try, each playable character having their own powers, stats and, most importantly, roles. Roles have been around from the first MOBAs, characters that are built to serve a specific purpose such as tanking minions, fighting players or “jungling” (going into the jungle areas between lanes to kill AI creatures for bonuses). When it is finally released Dawngate proposes to change that altogether with their “role less” characters, each of which is able to fill any of the traditional MOBA roles and when players join a game they get to choose which role they wish to fill and gain bonuses for doing so.
Of all the MOBAs in development it’s probably fair to say that none have been so anticipated since the announcement of Heroes of the Storm from Blizzard Entertainment. The main selling feature of the game, apart from it being a Blizzard MOBA title is that it will lend from all the various Blizzard IP to create its heroes where characters from Warcraft, Diablo and StarCraft all come together in one title. The game is marketed as a “Hero Brawler”, steering clear of the LoL MOBA and Dota2 “action real-time strategy” titles. No word on an official release date for the game already promises multiple game modes, in-depth character customisation and dynamic battleground maps that offer up in game sub-objectives, looking to take the best of all the previous MOBAs that have come before it with the full backing of Blizzard.
Finally, and almost standing alone from the other MOBA/MOBA-esq titles we’ve mentioned is the third person war of the gods from Hi-Rez Studios; SMITE. Smite undoubtedly offers much of what those that came before it have already, but at least it doesn’t pretend to be something completely unique and fully accepts that it is a MOBA plain and simple. Multiple game modes, over 50 gods to play as, unique features and most importantly the only MOBA to currently play in third person mode (traditionally every MOBA uses the isometric top-down viewpoint). Released in March 2014 the game has had favourable reviews due to its simplistic yet fun gameplay the third person viewpoint completely changes strategy and tactics and feels like a completely different type of game.
The MOBA genre really does seem to be entering a new era, those games coming out faced with the real facts that League of Legends truly dominates the market and so prospective up and comers must decide whether they wish to try and redefine the genre and find their own niche or ride LoLs coattails and mimic it (similar to how many MMORPGs tried to follow the World of Warcraft formula after its undeniable success). With the rise of eSports and the ever growing popularity of official tournaments MOBA games developers can’t help but see dollar signs in their eyes in this ever-growing market’s and with LoL in its sixth year it’s possible that many players are waiting for something new that other MOBAs just haven’t yet been able to provide. If you like MOBAs and want to read something more about the 2 kings of the genre, take a look at our recent MatchUP article between LoL and Dota2!