They say that there's nothing new under the sun, and that certainly applies to games. All of the basic game genres were established long ago, and anything new is a hybrid of some of those archetypes.
One of the most successful of these new gene-spliced genres in recent times has been the MOBA. If you’re not a dedicated PC gamer, though, there's a chance you may not have heard of the genre.
Or you may have heard of it, not quite grasped it, and quickly dismissed it out of hand as something other people do. You grumpy old thing, you.
But we’ve got news for you: the MOBA revolution is coming to mobile. In fact, it’s already here.
What MOBA stands for
First, a definition. MOBA stands for multiplayer online battle arena.
What that means is a team-based online multiplayer game, with all of the PvP mayhem and territory-capturing ebb and flow of your average console action game’s multiplayer mode.
However, rather than a first or third-person shooter mechanic at its core, it adopts the semi-automated combat and character progression systems of a role-playing game, and the perspective and tactical considerations of a real time strategy game.
The MOBA genre started life in the PC mod scene. While there were a number of identifiable MOBA strains present in earlier effort, it was a Warcraft III mod called Defense of the Ancients - or DotA - that really defined it.
Here the ground rules for the MOBA were popularised and thus set in stone. Players took control of powerful fantasy heroes, and worked in small teams to destroy an opponent’s structures. They could also level up and earn funds for new equipment, just like in an MMORPG.
It was so popular, and the formula so rich with potential, that none other than Valve - home of Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress 2, and the Steam software distribution platform - picked up the rights for a stand-alone sequel.
Numerous other PC games have contributed to this new genre, but it’s the move to mobile that’s of interest to us here. While the genre has been here for a while, it feels like its just kicking into gear in 2014.
Let’s start with the newest mobile MOBA game, and the one that’s prompted this feature in the first place - Vainglory.
Super Evil Megacorp’s game is notable because it was the one game chosen by Apple to show off the power of its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus smartphones back at their September launch. Yep, it looks pretty swish.
It’s also notable because the developer counts among its number people who previously worked at Blizzard, Rockstar, and Riot - the developer of arguably the second most influential MOBA of them all, League of Legends.
This mobile-specific MOBA has got technical chops and gameplay pedigree in equal measure, then.
It's also got some quirky new features to it, like a huge Kraken that spawns in the middle of the map every now and then, ready to be turned to one team's advantage.
Vainglory’s biggest rival is this effort from Hammer & Chisel, which launched earlier in the year. Fates Forever has got a similar level of sheen and, to my eyes, a more attractive art style.
This one plays very well, too, with a well considered free to play structure and thoughtful touch controls that make it feel perfectly at home on an iPad.
And that’s really why we think the MOBA in general has a big future on mobile (or tablets at least) - because it can be made to feel native to a touch-only interface. In that way, the MOBA has the potential to be the new tower defence.Solstice Arena
Zynga. Isn’t that the developer that used to be really popular for making Words with Friends and FarmVille?
Yes, that’s right. Interestingly, it also made a very solid mobile MOBA back in 2013.
Solstice Arena is that game. It strips back the MOBA experience to its essentials - three on three action-strategy, with none of the prolonged rounds or AI grunt-farming antics of the more sophisticated games on this list.
As such, it can be viewed as something of a ‘My First MOBA,’ and is a great place to start for those a little daunted by Vainglory’s vaingloriousness.Heroes of Order & Chaos
We started with the newest big mobile MOBA, so it’s only fitting that we end with one of the oldest. It might shock you to discover that the mobile MOBA isn’t a new thing at all.
With its eye sharply attuned to wider gaming trends, and a handy knack for ‘borrowing’ such elements and wrapping them up for mobile, Gameloft launched this big mobile MOBA as long as two years ago.
Heroes of Order & Chaos is pretty good, too. It certainly looks like an older game than Fates Forever, but the generously sized maps and core tactical gameplay remain solid. Also, it has Twitch integration for all your exhibitionist needs.
The game is actually a spin-off of Gameloft’s popular MMORPG Order & Chaos Online, which itself lifts from World of Warcraft, but don’t let that put you off from giving this a try.One to watch: The Witcher Battle Arena
The Witcher series has hacked, slashed, and adult contented its way to somewhere near the top of the PC and console RPG pile in recent years.
That’s why this mobile MOBA spin-off is one to watch out for. The Witcher Battle Arena isn’t some hastily licensed throw-away - original developer CD Projekt is overseeing things personally, along with Fuero Games.
Many of the characters and locations from the first two Witcher games have been repurposed for this tactical multiplayer entry, and the graphics and lighting look to be up to the developers high standards too.
Also exciting is the prospect of cross-platform multiplayer, so Android players will be able to gang up on those snooty iOS users.
Expect to see The Witcher Battle Arena released some time before the end of the year.
Want more? Check out our growing collection of Vainglory features!