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Hands-on with Arena of Heroes' turn-based gameplay

Gavin Townsley

During the last week, I've witnessed two excellent unions: My good friend married his college sweetheart, and a MOBA reached out to the ranks of turn-based gaming. Sure, the former had an open bar, but no amount of free booze can quench my desire for something new within the MOBA genre. Enter Arena of Heroes, a new turn-based free-to-play MOBA that can be played on PC, Mac, iPad, and eventually, on Ouya, iOS, and Android.

I spent the morning with Sneaky Games CEO David Godwin and Zattikka Director of Product Alexandra Tinsman to find out why this game will make me bring my iPad everywhere I go.

The first thing Godwin showed me was the team's plans for the community. "We're really taking the community seriously. With our previous games, we learned how important it is to foster a strong community and to engage players on multiple levels. If you look at our forums, we're really active with engagement and discussion," he told me.

But they haven't stopped at the forums. Sneaky Games will be developing lots of video content for players to enjoy, including tactics videos that highlight strategies, skill usage, and team compositions. They're also planning on a community-based web series that focuses on upcoming new features, balance tweaks, and community spotlights.

Handson with Arena of Heroes' turnbased gameplay

At launch, AoH will have 11 to 12 heroes available to players, with plans to release a new hero every two weeks, much as League of Legends does. Every account will start with two unlocked heroes in addition to rotating free heroes. These two unlocked champions are Max (a mini-gun wielding bunny) and Tempest (a typical white-knight paladin). Max was my favorite during my first match. His fluffy little ears served as a great visual contrast to the mini-gun fire he spat out with each of his skills.

If you get tired of a character's look, you'll be able to purchase skins to help you define your heroes on the battlefield. On my account, there was a cyborg version of Max. I'm still not sure whether I'm comfortable with the bunny flesh hanging between his glowing red eyes.


For those of us who have played MOBAs, Arena of Heroes' concept and interface are easy to learn. Clicking a play button opens up a match selection type. Currently, I have one option called Classic Turns. Classic Turns allows three minutes for each player to finish his movement and ability choices with all his heroes. The alternative option, coming sometime in April, is the Asynchronous Turns mode. This mode gives players up to three days to finish all their hero commands. I couldn't help but tell Godwin how awesome this was. It's like Words with Friends, only it's a MOBA. Each player uses his turn to select and make his movements and then passes the turn to the next player. Asynchronous mode makes it possible to play multiple matches at the same time while approaching the game with a more casual pace. If only I'd had this between toasts at my friend's wedding!

Handson with Arena of Heroes' turnbased gameplay
After you've selected a game type, you'll quickly be matched against fellow players. Currently the game allows only a 1v1 competition, but Godwin says the devs are working on a 2v2 and 4v4 system. The hero selection screen allows me to pick four heroes that I'll control against my component. In the 2v2 and 4v4 modes, players will control one or two heroes instead of all four. I picked my characters and wait for the game to load against my opponent.

The match began with each players selecting where to deploy their heroes. The map has three lanes connected by a center lane similar to Summoner's Rift in League of Legends. This arena is substantially smaller to work with the turn-based gameplay, but that doesn't mean the game is any less complex.

During the course of my 20-minute match, I had to kill minions for XP while taking care not to place my hero too close to enemy turrets or heroes. Most heroes have three action points that can be spent to move or use an ability. If I spent all three points rushing an enemy hero, I might overextend myself and be stuck taking a shot from the opponent's tower on the following turn.

It should be noted that this isn't your father's grid-based tactical system. Tinsman said it best: "If you like MOBAs, you'll recognize elements of the game's strategy and design, but you'll also see some refreshing new gameplay. It's like X-COM and LoL had a baby." And what a baby!

Handson with Arena of Heroes' turnbased gameplay
All the nuances of MOBA depth can be found in AoH, albeit in occasionally simplified versions. Movement and skills are limited within graphical "tells" placed on the ground. For instance, Max could move anywhere within a small blue circle that appeared when I selected him. When I chose to use his AoE, Deadly Rain, a new red circle showed where the skill would hit.

I had to zone enemies, aim for minion kills for XP and gold, and time team fights appropriately. Losing a hero in battle meant two turns without them until respawn. In a nutshell, everything I thought about while playing LoL I also pondered in AoH.

In a moment of pure luck, I managed to use my Tempest to pull the clumped enemy team toward my other heroes. A few clicks later, I'd killed all my opponent's heroes. Within the next two turns, I was able to fight through the waves of minions to his base. GG, random guy.

Tournaments, mobility, and founders perks

The turn-based movement adds new elements of tactical thinking to an old game of strategy. This is what makes it perfect for tournament play. Godwin says that the developers plan to hold regular tournaments for their community sometime after the game has launched.

And why not? The seamless cross-platform design allows players to play against each other no matter what system they prefer, opening up competition between a girl on her coffee break and someone waiting for his AFK teammates in Dota 2.

For those interested, Sneaky Games is offering founders packages that will reward early adopters with more heroes, skins, and in-game currency. You'll also get immediate closed-beta access to the game.

AoH isn't the best MOBA I've ever played, but it is the most flexible and the least demanding of my time. For a gamer who has lots of other games and responsibilities in his life, it's hard to say no to such a fun little package, especially in long lines to the open bar.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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