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PAX 2013: Hands-on with Smashmuck Champions


MOBAs are all the rage these days, with dozens of the things cropping up like weeds in my neglected back yard. As a result, it can be hard for me to pay attention to all of them, and with new ones being announced on what seems like a monthly basis, it's hard to figure out which ones are worth keeping an eye on and which ones can be safely relegated to the realm of ignorance, so as a result I tend to just shrug and say, "Oh, another MOBA," and carry on with my life.

But then came Smashmuck Champions. The bizarrely named game was probably my surprise hit of this year's PAX East convention, largely because I had absolutely no expectations when I walked up to the booth. "Another MOBA," I figured, "that's going to play the exact same as every other one (and that I'm going to suck at, also just like every other one)." Yawn. Man, was I wrong (about the first bit, anyway). Kiz Studios, the studio behind this new entry into the multiplayer online battle arena... well, arena, has taken the tower-attacking, top-mid-bottom-ganking, minion-farming genre made famous by games such as DotA and League of Legends and turned it on its head. Sure, the general MOBA feel is still there, but it's definitely not like any MOBA I've seen before. But as we all know, "different" doesn't necessarily equate to "good," so why don't you click past the cut and find out whether Smashmuck Champions is worth your time?

It is, in case you were wondering. I'll save you the trouble of reading this entire impressions piece if you don't really want to and instead simply tell you that yes, Smashmuck Champions is most certainly worth your time. But if you want details, then here they are.

We're all familiar with the MOBA formula: three lanes, some jungles, some creeps, some towers, and of course some champions, all working at the objective of destroying the enemy team's base. Let's also add in incomprehensibly numerous combinations of item builds that require more study to memorize than most college exams I've taken, and add a pinch of games that can last over an hour despite the fact that there's often a clear winner long before that, and the rest is just delaying the inevitable.

Smashmuck Champions still has a some of that, but the Kiz Studios team has also decided to nix and drastically alter a great deal of it as well. The traditional three-lanes-with-towers-and-creeps gametype is extant in the form of the Siege gametype, but that's only a small fraction (one quarter, to be precise) of what Smashmuck Champions brings to the table. Also included in the game are gametypes such as Conquest, which is a capture-and-hold variant; Plunder Ball, which is essentially capture-the-flag, only with balls (actual balls -- minds out of the gutter, people); and perhaps most interestingly, Destroyer, in which a giant mechanized monster fights for each team, and it's the team's job to keep its war-machine fueled and fighting while denying valuable resources to the enemy team, thereby essentially reversing the roles and having the players fill the role of the creeps. I don't know about y'all, but I think it's super refreshing to see some variation in a MOBA because I'm sick and tired of playing the same map and the same gametype ad nauseam.

Screenshot -- Smashmuck Champions
On top of that, gone from the game are the concepts of item builds and leveling up. No longer can you be guaranteed a loss because that one guy on your team just won't stop feeding the enemy kills. Of course, that guy still won't be particularly useful, but at least he won't be putting nails in your team's coffin with each successive death. And many may cry out at the removal of item builds, but frankly, I say good riddance. In lieu of those systems, however, Smashmuck Champions introduces a different kind of progression system, one that's considerably more long-term. Whereas in, say, League of Legends, you begin the game as a clean slate as far as items are concerned, Smashmuck Champions has players improve champion equipment between each game. And it's persistent, allowing players to create a variety of loadouts with each champion to alter said champion's playstyle.

Smashmuck Champion's OozeloNow for the important bit: the gameplay. The controls of Smashmuck Champions should be familiar to anyone who's ever played a MOBA, MMO, or shooter in the past five years. WASD moves your champion, left-clicking performs his basic attack, and right-clicking executes the currently selected ability, with abilities being chosen with the 1, 2, and 3 keys. The vast majority of the abilities are skillshots, so anyone who may be crying foul about the dumbing-down of MOBAs can kindly shut his trap. But frankly, the game doesn't play exactly like a MOBA; it plays better. It's really more like a brawler-style action game. The devs have also implemented the ability to jump,which brings a new level of strategy when it comes to positioning and terrain advantage. Some characters can teleport/jump to high ground, while others will be unable to do so, making it essential that you plan your move so as not to get sniped by that nasty ranged DPS standing just out of reach.

Another advantage that Smashmuck has over traditional MOBAs such as LoL is the fact that games generally take only about 15-20 minutes, and the gametype I played (Plunder Ball) actually had a time-limit on it, so you don't have to worry about the same match dragging on forever. Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who prefer more extended matches, but you won't be finding those here. Instead, Smashmuck focuses on making games quick, hectic, and fun, so if the game's not going your way, you can at least find some consolation in the fact that it'll be over quickly and painlessly so you can move on to the next one.

Smashmuck Champions' Zert The final element I want to talk about is the game's roster.
Smashmuck Champions eschews the stereotypical array of MOBA character archetypes ("I think there are enough frost archers as it is," one developer told me). Instead, Smashmuck's champions are varied, eclectic, and incredibly eccentric. A living statue, a shark doctor (yes, a doctor that is a shark), and a keyboard-playing robot are just some of the bizarre characters that players can bring into the Smashmuck Champions arena. In a MOBA scene full of knights, wizards, archers, and the like, these off-the-wall character concepts definitely help to set the game apart from its competition.

As I said at the beginning, I feel that Smashmuck Champions is certainly worth a look whether you're a MOBA veteran or a newbie looking to explore the genre. I don't think it's going to fill quite the same niche as League of Legends or DotA 2, which tend to be geared toward more hardcore players, but I'm fairly confident that most players can find something they enjoy. Of course, the game is still in closed beta, so it's entirely possible that many things will change before final release (though the way betas tend to go these days, it's probably more likely that they won't). But from the few matches I played at PAX, I think Smashmuck Champions is a fresh, clever, and perhaps most importantly, accessible spin on the MOBA genre, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys fast-paced, teamwork-based PvP action.

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of March 22nd to 24th, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2013. Whether you're dying to know more about WildStar, DUST 514, or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!

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