MOBAs: Where to start?

Delve into a genre of strategy, skill and wit Connor Corkhill — November 3, 2016

MOBAs are generally portrayed as difficult and unforgiving to new players, with steep learning curves and a large array of items to equip your character with in-game. We’ll look at the major titles and see how they compare on learning curves, variety, and playstyles.

The ‘Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’ genre is one that began with the release of a Warcraft 3 mod titled Defense of the Ancients. Since then, many other games have been released that all follow the same, addictive formula as the original DotA, but with their own unique twists. Below I will briefly go through some of the most popular MOBAs, and explain their pros and cons so that you know which one is the right fit for you if you’re wanting to get your feet wet in the genre.

Dota 2

Some of the spells in DOTA 2 are truly captivating, such as Lina’s Laguna Blade.

DOTA 2 is the successor to the grandfather of all MOBAs, Defense of the Ancients, and as such retains the steep learning curve and tactical depth that made the game so popular. With a current roster of 112 heroes (with another one thought to be released this December) the game simply overflows with possibilities and potential team combinations. You’ll never have the same match twice.

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Each individual hero has a very distinct playstyle from any other hero, so you’ll always find the right one that suits you. This all sounds great, except I wasn’t just casually saying that this game had a steep learning curve for the sake of it. DOTA 2 takes hundreds of hours to learn the basics, and thousands of hours just to play to a decent level, as each character’s individual spell mechanics must be learnt just to stand a chance at being able to deal with them in a game. Everything has a counter, either by an item or hero ability, such as the Monkey King Bar allowing you to hit units with high evasion, or the Orchid Malevolence that allows you to temporarily prevent the spellcasting of slippery foes such as Storm Spirit.

DOTA 2’s community however, has a lot to be desired. A large amount of players do not tolerate mistakes, making learning to play a nightmare (trust me, I’ve been through it). There is also a large amount of toxicity, but that is to be expected with such a competitive game. This was never really an issue for me, as for the several years that I’ve played DOTA 2, it’s always been with friends. This is hands-down the most rewarding and satisfying MOBA out there, but a large time investment is required before you can play it to a decent level, and that should be known before you start playing. One particular moment that got me all giddy when I started playing was getting an ULTRA KILL as Anti-Mage with Mana Void, which can be seen below.

DOTA 2 is a very hard game to start with, but I started with DOTA 2, and I can say that it was worth it. There is also arcade mode which is crammed full of custom game modes made by the community.

LEAGUE OF LEGENDS

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League of Legends is somewhat similar to DotA, albeit much more simplified. There are also a few different game modes such as ARAM (all-random-all-mid) and URF (ultra-rapid-fire) to keep the gameplay varied. There is no creep denying and item builds are a lot more rigid. Unlike DOTA 2, League of Legends is a lot easier for players new to the genre to pick up and learn.

League contains more heroes than DOTA 2, currently sitting at a roster size of 133. The larger roster size means more diversity in characters, however, due to League’s exclusion of unfair mechanics and an emphasis on counterplay, the characters feel diluted and weak. Characters just don’t feel as powerful as they do in DOTA 2, which may be a turn off for some players. League can still have some very fun moments though, such as securing a Pentakill.

Sadly, the simplicity of this game heavily diminishes the feeling of accomplishment, making multi-kills feel considerably less satisfying than in the other games on this list. In addition, because of the reduced power of individual characters, ‘Pentas’ happen much less frequently than in DOTA 2. It’s just a lot more difficult for one player to really take over a game like you can in the other MOBA’s on this list.

On the other hand, League is very forgiving to new players. Inhibitors respawn after a delay and the recall feature allows you to return to the fountain quickly instead of walking back to it. You are also required to play against bots until your profile is a certain level, so that you learn the basics before playing PvP. This is a good starting point for learning the basics of MOBA’s as the skills you learn are transferrable. My biggest issue with League is that it hands-down has the most toxic, aggressive player base I have ever personally encountered in any MOBA so far, but don’t let that dissuade you, as there is a mute functionality and you can always play with friends. Another negative point is that you have to pay for new characters, or grind for them and buy them with the in-game currency. This limits possibilities and certain counterpicks, and is extremely frustrating.

HEROES OF NEWERTH

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Heroes of Newerth is a game that borrows heavily from the original DotA, but has carved a different path that gives it a unique identity. HoN is gritty and dark in its visual style, with more emphasis on gruesome creatures and gore than any other title on this list. It also has a strange nostalgic appeal to it, as it looks similar in graphical design to Warcraft 3. There are also several built in weather effects to choose from.

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This game is very similar to DotA, meaning it is also quite difficult to learn. Pace is also faster in HoN and it is easy to lose track of what is happening in teamfights, resulting in unnecessary deaths that can lead to large amounts of frustration. Heroes of Newerth has a current roster size of 132, but unlike League, they all have the same depth and impact as DotA characters, so they don’t feel as weak as the characters in League.

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I wouldn’t recommend this game as a starting point as it can be difficult to know what is happening due to the speed of the game, but if you have already played DOTA 2 or League of Legends then I’d say you should give it a try.

paragon

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Paragon is a beautiful, third-person MOBA created by Epic Games (creators of Gears of War and the Unreal series) and built using the Unreal Engine. The graphics are staggering, which most players will love, but the gameplay is also very addictive. Paragon is one of the easiest MOBA’s listed here to pick up, but it also has a large amount of depth due to unique ability interactions and an advanced deck-building system.

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The deck-building adds so many possibilities for customisation. You can build your character exactly how you want; be it a tank, damage dealer or a mixture of both. There is a basic tutorial in Paragon that teaches some basics such as last hitting and destroying towers. Much like in League of Legends, you are required to play against bots until you level up your profile, preventing new players from playing PvP instantly. Paragon also has a recall feature to return to the fountain quickly like in League.

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There is also individual character progression outside of matches that adds a greater goal than just winning, motivating you to play more to level up and earn the esteemed master skin at character rank 10.

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Paragon is a very good starting point for players new to the genre, while also being thoroughly enjoyable for MOBA veterans such as myself.

SMITE

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Smite, much like Paragon is a third-person MOBA that features Gods from various cultures as playable characters, which is a pretty cool thing in itself. Smite is a fairly simple game to pick up due to the tutorial and the option for the game to auto-level your abilities and auto-buy items, so you can focus more on your God and the map rather than having to sift through lines of item descriptions. Taking the time to learn what all items do however will give you a tactical advantage in the long-term.

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There is also a recall feature like in League of Legends and Paragon, making returning to heal at the fountain faster and less punishing. The game is free-to-play, but to unlock all of the Gods you must either buy them with in-game currency, or purchase the ‘Ultimate God Pack’ to unlock all present and future Gods.

Smite has several game modes to allow for greater replayability, such as the traditional DotA style conquest mode, a 5v5 deathmatch arena mode, an ARAM mode, a 3v3 one lane mode, a 4v4 two lane mode and a daily mode that changes every 24 hours.

Which one should i play?

If you have never played a MOBA before and want to see what it’s all about, League of Legends and Smite are very good starting points, with easy to pick up mechanics, tutorials and fountain recalling. Which one to play just depends on if you prefer a third-person or top-down view. Smite is also available on the PS4 and Xbox One if you don’t own a gaming PC.

If you want to try out a MOBA and also like card collecting games such as Hearthstone, then you should try Paragon, as the card system in place is very interesting and allows for in-depth customisation of your character via the deck-builder. You can also download Paragon on the PS4.

For those who want a long-term challenge and are willing to do a lot of learning outside of the game by watching pro replays and reading up on various things, DOTA 2 and Heroes of Newerth are the games for you, with the latter being for players who want a faster paced experience.

Or you could just play the one with the coolest looking characters.