PAX East 2014: Hands-on with Infinite Crisis
Of course, soon thereafter I fell victim to the eternal nemesis of Green Lantern -- enormous red-hued turrets surrounded by support drones. But I did all right.
MOBAs are not really my cup of tea, but superheroes are in a big way. I hadn't gotten a chance to play Infinite Crisis before now, but on the show floor at PAX East this year, I was given the chance to sit down and get a coaching session from one of the more experienced members of the team while I smashed heads. So I picked up Atomic Green Lantern and walked in fully expecting to fail left and right. To my pleasant surprise, the whole thing played out much better than I had expected, making excellent use of the license and providing a fun match all around.
Full disclosure: I know about as much about MOBAs as I do about electron scanning microscopes. I understand that they exist and have a knowledge of the general concept, but anything more technical than that eludes me. I do not play League of Legends and could not explain to you what a jungler is supposed to be, even if threatened with imminent harm. (I believe it may have something to do with planting flowers.) It's a good thing that Turbine's Leo Tan guided me toward something before I decided to pick the most robot-looking option on the screen, and I wound up with a hero suited to my playstyle: Atomic Green Lantern.
AGL, as he's affectionately called by no one, specializes in getting into the paint and then hitting things until they die. He irradiates people as he hits them, grabs targets and pulls them back, uses a ground pulse attack, and erects a shield. Along with a big scything area attack, he's there to mix it up with enemy characters and destroy them as quickly as possible. In this particular match, that mostly meant tangling with Doomsday over and over.
We were playing on a three-lane map, with a goal and structure that's familiar enough even to me that it's not hard to figure out the general thrust: Just push along the lanes, destroying the big turrets along the way and driving toward the enemy base. As you kill things, you level up and get access to better versions of your abilities. You also get money, which buys various stat sticks and improve your performance passively. It's all standard stuff that's been in place since the original Defense of the Ancients map was refined for Warcraft III, which is about where my experience in the genre starts and stops.
It's also all stuff that should be quite familiar to anyone who does play League of Legends on a regular basis, which means that perhaps what I found particularly fun is just the nature of the genre. However, I am fairly certain that League of Legends does not allow you to pick up and throw cars at enemies, which to my mind makes it far weaker on a whole. Points to Infinite Crisis.
Yes, I threw cars. You have access to two "stolen" powers, which is why Green Lantern was able to throw cars despite not generally being known for the throwing of vehicles. Each stolen power is also available in some more hero-specific variants, which aren't necessarily better but do have some additional enhancements. I mostly used Wonder Woman's variant on super-strength, allowing me to heft cars and toss them at anyone in my way.
The cars are fun, for the record, allowing you to get a little AoE damage effect with a quick toss. They're a little reminder that this is a superhero game.
For most of my playtime, I was focusing on pushing the uppermost lane, hence my running grudge match with Doomsday. The whole thing had a nice feel of give-and-take, emphasizing a sort of rhythm that I appreciated. Pushing forward too hard would get me killed, so it was a series of incremental pushes. Move forward with a group of drones, work up to the turret, fall back. (Turrets automatically target drones if they're there but will murder you if you're in range.) Assault the turret with a fresh group of drones, damage it, see an enemy hero coming, fall back again. Engage Doomsday, kill him, return to base, buy new stuff. Move back up to the damaged turret, kill it, fall back. Gameplay is a series of incremental motions toward the goal rather than a single overwhelming push.
A lot of it is standard to the genre. As primarily an MMORPG player, I cannot say with confidence that Turbine has delivered a MOBA unlike any other, and I in fact feel rather confident in saying that it's largely the standard setup with only a few wrinkles. It may even be that the most standout feature on display is just its use of DC characters.
Still, if you're going to pick a MOBA mostly based on visual appeal, you could do a lot worse. The game animates smoothly and looks appropriately weathered without falling down the abyss into the dreaded pit of grimdark. The whole thing feels intensely polished, clean, and fun.
You could write it off as just a lack of familiarity with the genre, but I had a lot of fun stomping around with my hero and punching things. Would I have been having as much fun even if I has been losing? I think so. I can't speak for where the game falls on the overall genre spectrum, but I can say it was a heck of a lot of fun to play and felt satisfying right up to the point that we smashed the enemy team's base into dust.
Is it the best MOBA ever? Who cares -- I had fun. Especially when Doomsday started running away and I pulled him back into an exploding burst of radiation. Good times.
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