116 Arena Of Valor

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An­droid, iOS

De­vel­oper Timi Stu­dio Group Pub­lisher Ten­cent For­mat An­droid, iOS (tested) Re­lease Out now

Arena Of Valor suc­ceeds at what it sets out to do, which is to make League Of Leg­ends playable on your phone and tablet. Pub­lisher Ten­cent has suc­ceeded so com­pletely, in fact, that it’s only the mo­bile-friendly user in­ter­face that re­veals which game is which. From its map to its set of modes to its en­vi­ron­ment art and even the spe­cific garb of its end­less waves of min­ions, Arena Of Valor is an egre­giously close match for Riot’s genre-defin­ing free-to-play MOBA. The only rea­son this isn’t a mat­ter for the courts is that Ten­cent has wholly owned Riot since 2015, and is very un­likely to take le­gal ac­tion against it­self.

Known as Kings Of Glory in China, this is al­ready one of the most pop­u­lar mo­bile games in the world. Ten­cent took the in­ter­net-cafe pop­u­lar­ity of League Of Leg­ends and re­con­fig­ured it for the most im­por­tant gam­ing plat­form in Asia – mo­bile phones – which is about as sure­fire a bet as it is pos­si­ble to make in to­day’s game in­dus­try. It now ar­rives in the west as Arena Of Valor, an ac­ces­si­ble free-to-play MOBA with strik­ing pro­duc­tion val­ues.

This is a game that wears its busi­ness aims on its sleeve, but you do feel the ben­e­fit of the tremen­dous amount of money and plat­form ex­per­tise in­vested in its cre­ation. When you first run the game you are taken through a step-by-step in­tro­duc­tion to MOBA me­chan­ics that is both faster and more thor­ough than many of its desk­top coun­ter­parts. You’re eased into your first com­pet­i­tive match quickly, and test­ing across mul­ti­ple new ac­counts re­veals this to be a breezy and re­ward­ing in­tro­duc­tion to the genre – so con­sis­tently breezy, in fact, that it’s not out of the ques­tion that care­fully-dis­guised bots are used in place of play­ers for those vi­tal, first-im­pres­sion-form­ing games. This is clas­sic player-re­ten­tion de­sign, and cer­tainly cyn­i­cal, but it has the de­sired ef­fect: Arena Of Valor is im­me­di­ately playable and ap­peal­ing. The wellde­signed UI suc­cess­fully adapts a tra­di­tional mouse­and-key­board con­trol set for a touch­screen, and the game is en­joy­able as an iso­met­ric brawler even with­out the strate­gic top layer of a MOBA. Your left thumb con­trols the move­ment of your char­ac­ter with an on-screen thumb­stick, while your right trig­gers your char­ac­ters’ spe­cial abil­i­ties. Where most PC MOBA char­ac­ters have four abil­i­ties, here you have three – two reg­u­lar pow­ers and an ul­ti­mate – and a larger but­ton for reg­u­lar at­tacks. Each of these uses au­to­tar­get­ing to re­duce the need for twitchy ac­cu­racy, but when your con­fi­dence grows you can also use an el­e­gant drag-tar­get­ing sys­tem to set up more ef­fec­tive shots.

The need to re­turn to base to buy stat-boost­ing items – a genre hall­mark – has been re­moved, with a shop­ping list of ap­pro­pri­ate choices au­to­mat­i­cally ap­pear­ing when you col­lect enough gold. Cooldowns are much shorter than in a desk­top MOBA, too, as are matches: a tra­di­tional five-on-five on a three-lane map will take be­tween ten and 20 min­utes, around half the time it takes to play a game of League Of Leg­ends. It’s pos­si­ble to play en­tire rounds of some of the shorter modes in the time it can take to queue for a game of Dota 2. Even so, Arena Of Valor ses­sions are long by the stan­dards of com­pet­i­tive mo­bile games; al­though in­con­ve­nient from time to time due to the penal­ties for quit­ting early, this also has the ef­fect of mak­ing matches feel rel­a­tively sub­stan­tial.

That this is a suc­cess­ful en­cap­su­la­tion of the MOBA experience is proven by the mo­ments when you for­get that you’re play­ing a mo­bile game. De­spite the trun­cated for­mat, Arena Of Valor is still ca­pa­ble of dra­matic team fights, cun­ning mo­ments of map strat­egy and tense one-on-one du­els that come down to pixel-per­fect po­si­tion­ing and the ef­fec­tive tim­ing of cooldown abil­i­ties. Com­ing out on top of these en­coun­ters feels great – and the re­verse, when you’re be­ing wiped out by a vastly su­pe­rior team in the game’s un­for­giv­ing ranked mode, at least proves that there’s a le­git­i­mate com­pet­i­tive lad­der to climb.

Arena Of Valor is as gen­er­ous as free-to-play games get, too. Af­ter un­lock­ing your first two char­ac­ters in the tu­to­rial, new he­roes are earned by play­ing three games in a given day for your first week or so with the game, un­til you have a col­lec­tion of more than a dozen char­ac­ters. There’s also a ro­tat­ing set of free he­roes, and a con­stant stream of cur­rency and un­lock­ables earned through re­peated lo­gins and achieve­ments. Mean­while, an ac­count-wide up­grade sys­tem called Ar­cana al­lows you to cus­tomise a load­out of collectable stat boosts. These are al­most cer­tainly detri­men­tal to Arena Of Valor’s over­all bal­ance, but the boosts are so in­cre­men­tal that you wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily no­tice in the course of ca­sual play. There’s no doubt about the mind­set that the game is try­ing to en­cour­age here, and it’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble to spend a lot if you’re im­pa­tient for power – a con­cern if you plan to take com­pe­ti­tion se­ri­ously. With a more re­laxed ap­proach, though, it’s fully pos­si­ble to play with­out spend­ing.

The game’s char­ac­ter de­signs, how­ever, are hugely for­get­table. Fe­male char­ac­ters are ei­ther su­per­mod­els in Hal­loween cos­tumes or chil­dren with pointy ears, and its men are flavour­less tributes to Bliz­zard’s fan­tasy art (and given that Bliz­zard’s work is it­self a flavour­less trib­ute to 1980s Games Work­shop, it’s a mir­a­cle there’s more here than a tennis ball with ‘Tolkien’ writ­ten on it). It’s tech­ni­cally strik­ing, sure – and looks and feels ex­pen­sive – but it’s cre­atively desti­tute. Case in point: Ten­cent shelled out for a sound­track by Hans Zim­mer, but you’d never be able to tell. That’s the im­pres­sion Arena Of Valor leaves on you. It’s an easy game to play, and even en­joy, but a tough one to love.

It’s pos­si­ble to spend a lot if you’re im­pa­tient for power – a con­cern if you plan to take com­pe­ti­tion se­ri­ously

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