PAX Prime 2014: Hands-on with Undead Labs' Moonrise


One of the maxims of Undead Labs is that the team is composed of "gaming omnivores" who don't want to get stuck in a rut of doing the exact same game and genre over and over again. When this was explained to me, it helped ease the shock that was caused by the realization that a studio best known for its gory zombie survival bent is also making a colorful Pokémon-like title called Moonrise.

In Moonrise, you play as a Warden who is tasked with saving a wide variety of cute critters called Solari by -- of course -- enslaving them and making them fight other Wardens and their pets. Instead of striving to overcome its Pokémon heritage, the team admits that the game is specifically targeted at older teens and younger adults who grew up with those games and want to experience a slightly more mature and full-featured iteration.

I got to spend some quality time curled up on a couch with a lap full of Moonrise on the iPad at PAX Prime this week. Is this due to be the next "catch 'em all" fad or a strange blip in the company's portfolio? Read on, and I shall make my guess.

Simple, clean, and captivating (get it?)

I wasn't given any instructions prior to playing, so it was a good thing that Moonrise is intuitive and instructional from the get-go. You move around in the game world by simply pointing at different locales, giving it a very graphical menu feel. This may be a strong step in the direction of MMOs with its level of persistence and multiplayer, but the world is really just a lobby to set up your team between battles and choose your next destination.

Duking it out between two Wardens and their teams of pets is the true meat of Moonrise. Players can bring as many as six Solari to a fight, each one with its own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. In an interesting twist, the Warden also has his or her own abilities, and in fact players can win a fight by either killing the opposing Warden or all of the enemy pets. If it seems as though the Warden is the obvious target, you must factor in the character's increased durability and how some pets lack skills to attack the humans.

Battles take place in a semi-turn-based format. You can attack as long as your pet or Warden has a skill off a cooldown, but once you've used those up you must wait until they're ready once more. Additionally, you can only have two of your six pets out at a time, and swapping takes precious cooldown seconds that could be used elsewhere. Once you start to layer in gear, skill combos, and inherent creature weaknesses and strengths, the game becomes complex, fast. Figuring out what your opponent is wielding and then responding with an effective strategem of your own is key to winning.

Is it fun? I missed out on the Pokémon craze, so I have a nagging feeling that I'm not quite the target demographic. Still, it's very responsive and offers a mind-boggling array of options, with over a hundred potential pets at launch and scads of gear. This gameplay formula has been really popular in the past, so it might just be up to the team getting the word out and letting Moonrise build up a positive reputation based on the strengths of its gameplay.

I will say that as a new player, I had little idea what skills were effective against what creatures. Sure, water beats fire, but what about crazy Chinese dragon-dogs? What do they beat? Maybe there was an info screen I was missing.

All about the PvP

Players will congregate on regional servers (the team hasn't fixed these yet, although it was suggested that the US and Europe would be a single server) to engage in both PvE and PvP. In fact, it's the latter that's the primary focus of the game, with several PvP modes and an emerging metagame that's already forming among the development team.

One of the PvP modes is quite similar to Hearthstone's arena. In Moonrise's version, players will get a random assortment of pets and gear to battle others with, adding on additional options if they win. Other modes include ranked and unranked PvP bouts.

I asked if Moonrise was a contender for the e-sports circuit. The response was that the team is building a possible foundation for that, although it remains to be seen if this is something that will happen once it goes live.

Undead Labs says that Moonrise will be free-to-play with microtransactions, although it will be possible to earn everything in the game without paying a cent. It's currently slated for an early 2015 launch on the iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire platforms.

Massively's on the ground in Seattle during the weekend of August 29th to September 1st, bringing you all the best news from PAX Prime 2014. Whether you're dying to know more about Warlords of Draenor, The Elder Scrolls Online, Landmark, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!