With two of the most popular competitive games in the world, the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre dominates esports. The mash-up of RPG, real-time strategy and twitchy first-person shooter elements into a single in League of Legends and Dota 2 makes for an undeniably addictive combination. It’s no surprise, then, that plenty of developers are trying to emulate that success. There’s Smite, the first-person MOBA populated by mythological gods. There’s Vainglory, the “unapologetically core” MOBA that’s only available on mobile devices.
Over the past week I spent some time with another newcomer on the MOBA scene: Infinite Crisis, DC Comics’ answer to Dota and League of Legends, which was released in late March. It’s developed by Turbine, who’ve brought you the surprisingly solid The Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG.
This is the developer’s first crack at a MOBA, and it’s backed with Warner Bros. publishing power. If nothing else, Infinite Crisis wants to be a big deal, and seems confident enough that it can beat out a whole generation of forthcoming MOBA cash-ins. Here’s what I think so far.
League of Legends—undoubtedly the industry standard as far as successful MOBAs go—has always been stuck with a pasted-on theme. Riot has gone as far to destroy its lore entirely and start from the ground up. Did you know that League takes place in a world called Runeterra? Yeah, neither did I. And that’s okay. People aren’t really tuning into LCS to see Morgana’s character development, and when you’re busy balancing the biggest esport in the universe certain things get put on the backburner.
So maybe that’s why Infinite Crisis is trying to play with the big boys. It offers something that League, even with a considerable revamp, will never be able to offer. Superman will always be more exciting than Garen. I mean, he’s Superman.
Turbine actually does a fine job justifying the flimsy premises that hold up most MOBAs. In the tutorial of Heroes of the Storm, Uther basically says “yeah, don’t worry about the reason why you’re doing this, just go get last hits,” because it’s impossible to justify the game’s fiction. On the other hand, Infinite Crisis says that there’s an assault on… infinite Earths, and all superheroes must band together to stop the bleeding. It’s the exact same story thread that DC, or Marvel, or anyone uses to prop up whatever blockbuster crossover event coming down the pipeline. You can totally buy in. I’m all for anything that let’s us play as Vampire Batman, Steampunk Batman, and Regular-Ass Batman on the same time.
It also does this adorably self-serious thing that every DC outsourced property does (see: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe) where it’s forced to justify why a mundane boy-detective Robin can beat up a literal god like Shazam. In this case it’s because of the bleed between universes that’s weakening the heroes. Okay. Sure.
Bad: Carbon copy
Criticizing a MOBA for being derivative of League of Legends is a little bit unfair. We are talking about something that relies on a certain shared context to make sure people don’t feel completely isolated. But some are able to borrow in an artful way. Blizzard, for example, is incredible at co-opting good ideas. Between World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm, it’s managed to simplify and streamline four established formulas and make a ton of money without ever going too far outside the beaten path.
Infinite Crisis is a game featuring superheroes battling it out for team supremacy. It should feel bigger and stronger than your run-of-the-mill MOBA. Instead, there are patches of gridded texture layng conspicuously in the same area of League’s shrubbery. They’re called “stealth fields.” You stand in them and the other team can’t see you unless they too step inside the stealth field.
That’s absurd, right? Turbine is so eager to keep things safe that it’s decided “stealth fields” don’t sound completely cliche. It has a jungle except it’s called the “urban jungle” and you’re killing neutral robots instead of wolves. There are Q, W, E, R hotkeys, two summoner powers, the whole bit. It even call the superheroes you’re controlling “champions.”
Okay, so it’s not all the same. The default map, Coast City, is an asymmetric two-lane battleground that’s a little more wide open for ganking. There’s also the Doomsday Device in the center of the map. When you claim it, your team can fire a huge satellite blast onto any part of the map you wish, which admittedly is more dramatic than killing a dragon for a buff. But those are all surface level variables. Fundamentally Infinite Crisis is a League clone, and that’s kinda disappointing.
Here’s something League should genuinely adopt: Every time you purchase a new character in Infinite Crisis you’re gifted a set of default runes and masteries, already locked in for your pleasure. These aren’t necessarily perfect. And once you’ve gotten more experienced, you may want to change it around yourself. But for those of us who play MOBAs casually, eschewing the talent tree entirely in favor of some taste-tested basics is far more appealing.
It’s the same with item building. Once you run back to base (or turrets—in Crisis you can buy new stuff at each friendly turret) you can pop open the shop or simply look at the “recommended” tab and press the next button. Again, this is probably not the most efficient way of going about things, but if you’re new to the game or the genre and don’t want to be staring at a tiny font when you could be scoring kills, it’s a welcome addition.
Bad: One map for matchmaking
Technically Infinite Crisis has four maps, but currently there’s only one map open to matchmaking. That’s Coast City, the two-lane map mentioned above.
There’s also a Summoner’s Rift clone, a one-on-one brawl, and a five-on-five capture and hold. But those can only be played if you build a custom game. That doesn’t make sense. I’m sure there are legit design/server reasons why you’d hold back 75 percent of your archetypes, but it certainly seems like a misstep. Which leads me to my next point.
Good/Bad: There’s room for growth/it still feels like a beta
Here’s the thing: Infinite Crisis has only been out a month, but with the lack of map diversity and the promise of new content on the horizon, it really feels like it’s still a beta.
It’s always fun playing these early MOBAs because you get the feeling that, say, Mecha Catwoman might be a completely different thing in a year or so. There’s so much room for new characters and new ideas (the fiction constantly references an upcoming “war”) and if it gets the chance, Infinite Crisis could develop in some fascinating ways. Right now it’s just a decent League knock-off, which isn’t a bad place to start.
Should you play it?
Sure! It’s free. I’d suggest you play as Gaslight Joker. He’s this huge, horrible butcher who throws tainted meat at people. You’ve got nothing to lose.
But will the game ever catch fire and become a contender in the esports landscape? I’m leaning towards no.
Images via game.infinitecrisis.com | Remix by Jason Reed