Just as all good things come to those who wait, so all good genres come to mobile eventually. Right now it's the turn of MOBAs. First we had Vainglory, now we've got The Witcher Battle Arena.
Based on the popular PC role-playing franchise, Battle Arena sees you choosing one of the characters from those games and lining up in teams of three.
You and your team mates then assault the opposition over a cramped map, trying to keep possession of three pillars. The more you control, the faster the enemy score ticks down until one side hits zero and loses the match.
Games of this type tend toward complicated controls, big maps, and detailed upgrade trees. That doesn't work so well on mobile. Vainglory simplified the controls, slimmed the maps a bit but kept the confusing improvement system.
The result was a playable but inaccessible game. Battle Arena, by contrast, goes the whole hog in attempting to cram MOBA into mobile.Witchery
Moving around is as simple as tapping on a destination. Tap on an enemy and you'll follow them around, attacking until one of you is dead or you tap elsewhere.
Each character has three unique skills you'll need to utilise and upgrade during play to stay competetive. They also have slots for a potion and a bomb, which you can regenerate after use by running over special spots on the map.
The two maps currently on offer are tiny: you'll be at blows with the opposition within 30 seconds of starting a game. Matches are quick, too, at under ten minutes.
And while characters have individual skills to advance, and play quite differently from one another, they all purchase upgrades from the same tree. Even that only has three tabs with six options each. So it's easy to pick up and play.
What the game loses in terms of tactical depth, it gains in sheer excitement and playability. It might not be a MOBA as genre fans understand it, but it's a perfect fit for the platform, offering multiplayer battling in bite-sized pieces.Wizardry
Don't be mistaken into thinking that less depth means less skill. The game design rewards teams who make the best use of combining and overlapping skills and specialties, something that really comes through as you play.
It's not easy to coordinate without chat. But again, the teeny maps help a lot because you can see what your team-mates are doing, and follow their lead if they're not following yours.
Battle Arena also has unusual RPG elements, no doubt inspired by its parent franchise. Winning battles earns you items that you can equip to improve your favourite characters.
It also gains you experience points which you can spend to enhance their usage of items and skills. You can also customise those skills.
For a ranged skill that does damage and knock-back, for instance, you can adjust it so it does less damage but pushes harder.
Building up items and experience is the same fun and addictive Skinner box as in the best RPGs. It helps that you get the same rewards from practice games against the computer as in player versus player, and solid AI makes offline games challenging and fun.Warlock-y
Yet ultimately, those role-playing elements sometimes work against the game. After a while they can result in significant power differentials between players. But the matchmaking doesn't seem to take this into account. So it's possible to end up with some very one-sided games.
However, this is merely a minor exacerbation of a problem with all online games, which can't effectively determine the skill level of who you're matched with. If you want to play in this genre, it's just something you have to get used to.
Getting demanding games to work well on portable platforms is always a challenge, and Battle Arena might alienate hardcore MOBA players with its relative simplicity.
But for everyone else, the tweaks to the genre are pitch-perfect for mobile and the result is not just entertaining but a great introduction to the whole genre.