If 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.
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.
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