I've been playing multiplayer online battle arena games -- better known as MOBAs -- for the best part of two decades. First it was Dota, back when the game was still a custom Warcraft III map. Steam tells me I've sunk over 2000 hours into Valve's Dota 2, and I must've spent at least another few hundred hours dipping into both League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm. MOBAs are a genre I could never see working on consoles -- controllers just don't have enough buttons, nor do thumbsticks have the precision of a mouse. And yet I just spent a significant slice of my weekend completely glued to Arena of Valor, a port of a mobile MOBA that was released on the Nintendo Switch last week.
I tend to show similar symptoms of PC snobbery from time to time. I'm still skeptical about console shooters, for instance, but I'd be lying if I said I felt restricted playing Halo on a pad. I'm also a big fan of PUGB Mobile, the battle royale title that completely flipped my preconceptions of mobile shooters. Turns out when you have a blank slate that is a touchscreen, a few thoughtful UI choices can turn it into a versatile controller. And now I've been proven wrong about Arena of Valor, one of the most if not the most popular game in the world, with over 200 millions players.
MOBAs are complex games by design, and as such, required complicated controls. Granted, I've never played the mobile version Arena of Valor -- or Honor of Kings, as it's called in China -- but the control scheme on the Switch feels more than adequate. The left stick controls your character; the right, the direction of targeted abilities.
There are plenty of buttons for all your spells and whatnot, and prewritten messages, the item shop and scoreboard are tucked away in menus. Thankfully, these are overlays so you can continue to move your hero around while doing other things. Even the minimap is handily located on the touchscreen for looking at different parts of the field with a quick flick of the thumb.
The controls are intuitive enough that I was dialed in within a few minutes, and there are ways to simplify certain elements before you even jump into a game. You can prepare item builds for specific heroes and the game will prompt you to quick-buy gear using simple button combinations whenever you have the money. Or you just set it to automatically snag items and level up abilities using your idle gold and experience, if you happen to be neglecting such things. Naturally, full manual is an option if you really know what you're doing.
I'm still a novice, but thanks to tight controls, the game's already feeling like my next unhealthy timedump. It helps I'm intimately familiar with the MOBA basics. When to take fights or avoid them, where the windows are to take strategic objectives, and when to sit back, farm gold and collect powerups as I work towards an important item. I understand the roles: Some heroes are glass cannons, others are build to soak damage, and so on.