116 Arena Of Valor
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