531679_largerIf you've ever played the likes of DOTA or League of Legends on your computer, then you've probably seen the appeal of games in the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre. Typically released as free-to-play games, MOBAs are fast, competitive, and have a strong following from all types of skill sets. So it's not surprise that Zynga is throwing its hat into the ring by releasing Solstice Arena [Free], an iOS MOBA looking to bring the genre experience on the go. They mostly succeed too, with Solstice Arena doing a decent job of compressing the experience into a manageable and fun ride.

If you've ever played a MOBA, Solstice Arena will look familiar. It's just... simpler. For example, there are no creeps (and thus, no farming) and matches are limited to 3 on 3. The single map used and game times are also appropriately compressed with matches usually taking no longer than ten minutes. Game modes are limited to bot matches, co-op versus bots and full-on PvP without nuanced modes such as draws or random picks. There are also fewer abilities (and relevant stats) per hero, items to purchase at the lone shop, and strategies to employ, with the lack of voice or text chat in-game.

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Still, Solstice Arena does a good job of preserving both the competitiveness and approachability of its big sibling MOBAs. The lack of creeps means that players focus exclusively on hero-on-hero combat, making battles fast and furious. In addition, the simplicity in abilities makes for a game that's easy to control on a touch interface while still having enough there that players need to plan out and time ability use. Randomly placed stat boosts, health items and a centrally placed chest that gives gold adds some extra competitive edge beyond battles. Added features such as auto-purchase  while at the shop also do a good job of streamlining the game for newbies, allowing novices to quickly upgrade their heroes and get back into the fray.

While I appreciate a lot of the simplicity that Zynga brings in order to make a mobile MOBA work, there are a few questionable decisions that I think go a little too far on the simple side. The lack of any communication in-game except for a few pre-generated signals really cuts down on the potential for team planning. The same goes for the inability to see what heroes your team (or enemies) pick prior to the game starting. This oversight in matchmaking makes it a real possibility that you can get stuck on a team without a tank or a support, for example. Sure, the vast majority of heroes can double-hat roles, but there's a something definitely lost not being able to pre-plan even with random allies.

As is the case with most MOBAs, Solstice Arena's F2P model is pretty fair. Following the likes of League of Legends, players can pick from a rotating cast of free heroes. Players can then earn valor (or purchase the premium crystal currency) to permanently unlock heroes regardless of whether they are in the rotation. It's a standard system that works well enough in balancing free play versus pay. My only complaint with the hero system is the fact that you can actually level up and increase the strength of individual heroes, meaning that matches may not be on a level playing field depending on how much your opponent has played. Still, leveling can't be bought, meaning that, at the very least, strength of a hero is indicative of playtime and not wealth.

Make no mistake, Solstice Arena isn't a full-blown MOBA. Still, I think there's enough here in the actual gameplay to overlook a some of the missing elements and quirky design decisions. In addition, Zynga's commitment to adding new heroes and tweaking the game's balance means that they're invested in making this as competitive a mobile MOBA as it can be. While I think experienced MOBA gamers will enjoy Solstice Arena, I actually recommend it even more for novices looking to get into the genre. Regardless, there's a lot going for it now, and I'm looking forward to the future.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • toxiccheese

    This game is actually pretty good. Tons of replay value.

    • dribblejam

      Never even got to play since there's not even iPod touch 5 support-.-

      • wildperson

        Odd, since I've been playing on my iPod touch 5g.

    • demonalcohol

      I've been playing this game nearly every day since it was released. Tons of fun

  • http://www.artificeguild.com/ Briony of Artifice

    Actually, you can buy levels.

    • Balthor5000

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but you can only 'buy' levels with Valor. While you can buy a temporary 2x booster, you can't buy Valor. So playtime is required to level up heroes.

      • Chaosprodigy

        You get Valor when you play games, and you can easily unlock permanently 1 hero every few hours of playtime. Once you get a hero to lvl 15 you also get a free "Big Head" version of that hero skin! You can spend Valor to buy EXP and it is easy to level up 1-3 heroes from lvl 1-15 in just 1 day of playtime (a few hours per hero)

      • wharfrat1979

        I do not see this. My profile is level 15. I have lucky at level eight right now. To level him up I need 2000 valor. I only have 5000 and I have not spent a dime of it. I have thirteen wins and about as many losses. Thats like 30 games and I am not even half way to buying lucky at 13000 valor. I lke the game a lot but I do not see how one can unlock a character a day. I can unlock lucky for 700 gems which is 4.99! Every battle is only giving me like 300 valor. What am I doing wrong.

      • Chaosprodigy

        You can win 460+ valor every 3.3 minutes on solo vs normal bots, if u do some of this every day and buy exp with valor u can quickly level up your heroes. No need to rush though, everyone maxes all heroes eventually!

    • Kirs

      He's correct...I cant recall what currency was used, but 'experience' for hero levelling can indeed be bought...

      • o0oJAKEo0o

        No, experience cannot be bought with real money, it can however be bought with Valor which is earned in game. Valor would normally be saved up to unlock a new hero permanently, but its also used to speed the leveling process of any hero (unlocked or not)

  • Lostpop21

    I like how they only list the things that make it primitive compared to PC mobas, and give it 4.

    Then they do limbo and give it 3 because it's too hard.

    • yaboyrasp

      1.get over it
      2.They never said it was too hard...they said that the puzzles require you to die to solve them which he didn't like
      3. Why would compare reviews of different genres

  • D-Vader

    Something that was left out in this article is the fact that players can go AFK or even leave the match fully, with no replacement. A match can turn into a frustrating 2v3 or even 1v3.

    • Chaosprodigy

      There is a ready check before game and a report function at end of match. Players who AFK often get a temporary ban on playing multiplayer and are limited to solo for a period of time. You can also report unskilled players too. As the ladderboards come out and ranked matches, you will see less of this.

    • o0oJAKEo0o

      Yes, this can be very VERY frustrating. I hope they can do something about this soon.

  • Chaosprodigy

    Perhaps the biggest thing missing from this review is that there is a new hero released every 2 weeks and a new hero skin released every 1 weeks promised for the rest of 2013! Would like to also add that the developers are VERY active in the community and actually play with us in game and listen to all our feedback on the forums. They also arranged multiple live streaming events and gave out special gifts. Furthermore they are releasing steady updates and balance in this game is amazing. Another thing missing from this review is that there is actually a Glicko hidden rating so that good players get teamed against better teams by the system and a ranked ladder-boards and guilds were promised at a later date as well.

  • brokenhalo

    Pretty accurate review. The game is a lot of fun, even more so once you start using your favorite character. The lack of a chat system is/was something that I agree with, as people who play this type of games tend to get really competitive. Names, insults, cursing, etc. when people don't do the "right thing".

  • SoyGreen

    So if I start playing and I suck... which I'm sure I will for a bit - I'll get tagged as unskilled?

    Will that effectively remove that player from multiplayer for a while and keep them confined to single play?

    • Chaosprodigy

      Players who are tagged as unskilled by many players will get matched with other weaker players of similar level. As you win more games your rating naturally improves regardless of how many players mark you as unskilled. It really isn't as black and white or simple as your above reply. If you are tagged as AFK alot then you can be banned a short while, unskilled can never be banned in any way.

      • SoyGreen

        Cool - thanks for the quick reply. If it's used to put me in with other players of my same "unskilled" level - that's cool by me! If it would penalize me for sucking while I learn - that's one thing - but to adjust who I am playing with - to help make it a more enjoyable experience (both for those playing with me and with whom I am playing) - then that's just fine!

      • Chaosprodigy

        add me on the LINE app, chaosprodigy - we have alot of good players on group chat there for Solstice.

  • Wizard_Mike

    So I gave this a try, and I have to say it's pretty fun so far! I'm only playing offline bot matches, though, while I learn everything. I'm playing as Roland, which was listed as "try free for a limited time" so hopefully I can earn enough valor to unlock him before that time period runs out, lol.

  • plsgivemetruth

    "and I'm looking forward to the future." is the most truthful part and best part of the review. There's too many problems with the gaming experience Solstice Arena currently gives. You'll often find yourself being thrown in matches with lvl 1's or people who constantly AFK or are simply clueless.

    There is no ranking system or matchmaking system whatsoever and because of that, the online pvp environment is an absolute worthless experience.

    That being said, the gameplay is solid and is the one thing that keeps this game going.. so yes, "looking forward to the future" is all it has right now.

    Because as it stands, the gaming experience due to lack of matchmaking/rankings/ladders/tournament mode/etc makes this game completely worthless

    • yaboyrasp

      The games only been out a short time....I honestly think they should focus more on adding more heroes etc before they worry too much about the competitive side like rankings and things like that. Focus more on just playing the game and building up a decent friends list and you shouldn't even notice the matchmaking as being faulty. Also even in games like LoL the match making can seem really retarded when its working as intended....sometimes people of equal rating can be leagues apart in skill. This is not a problem with solstice but any Moba and usually team games in general.

      • plsgivemetruth

        i disagree completely on working on other things right now having to be the top priority (such as adding more heroes). also think very carefully about what you just said. you basically said the game is worthless and not worth playing unless you're playing with friends. the one undeniable truth is that the GAMEPLAY is solid and untouachable. The Gaming Experience however leaves a lot to be desired. They need to introduce a tournament asap just to spice things up and then rankings/ladders if they can ever get that far. otherwise, even if you just begin, you have no friendslist so you have to play online but that only exposes the inherent downfall of SA.

      • yaboyrasp

        I never said anything about it being worthless....I said if You have a problem playing with newbie/people not as good as u feel u are...then by all means when you find someone u play with that's up to your obviously high standards add them for future matches. The main gripe you seem to have is that your playing with people who you think suck....which is a problem with any multiplayer game....load up CoD and see how much fun you have with a bunch of newbies. When your judged by the worth of your team and not just your individual skill it leaves a salty taste in people's mouth. That's just the way team games work in general.its why you have all star basketball players on teams with poor records. I'm merely suggesting of you have a problem with the type of people your playing with then you have to take active steps to remedy it.

      • yaboyrasp

        And I would like to add that rarely do I play with the people on my list

  • flashbackflip

    Played it the day it was released.. No fun for me

    I miss all those 'hard' parts of the game: mobs, huge maps, ability to watch the battlefield and not being glued with my camera to the hero etc..

    I returned to HOC

    • Chaosprodigy

      Solstice is an Action Moba, for 4-10 min games and more action packed!HoC has had server stability issues to this day and is a different game. IF you like to farm creeps 5-10+ min before getting a little action, this is not the game for you...

Solstice Arena - World's First Speed MOBA Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 4