Way back in the day when I was still playing some of the first-generation MOBAs, such as DOTA and Demigod, I never expected the genre would ever come to a console. First off, they were just mini-games at the time. Most were mods of existing games and League of Legends was just getting started. The control schemes were way off for a controller and trying to micro would be near impossible. Remember the days of StarCraft: 64 and Command & Conquer: Red Alert Retaliation for the PlayStation? Those were clunky while just trying to beat the terrible AI, let alone attempting to land skill shots or last hit minions.
The bigger problem, however, was that I simply wasn’t thinking outside the box. A MOBA doesn’t have to be a condensed version of an RTS and farming minions/neutral creeps shouldn’t be a requirement either. Instead of trying to figure out a way to bring DOTA 2 to consoles, a new evolution of the genre needs to take place. Controllers on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One aren’t meant for clicking, but they’re great for action games, first-person shooters and third-person shooters. This is already paving the way for a few great MOBAs headed onto the console scene.
Although I mentioned that converting PC MOBAs to consoles might not be the best idea, one company has already succeeded with that initiative. Currently in its beta phase, Hi-Rez has adapted SMITE for Xbox One consoles. Despite the beta tag, the game’s already in a very good state and resembles the PC version in excellent fashion. This transition from PC to console wasn’t hard to imagine as many SMITE players have been known to already use the Xbox 360 controller.
Due to the third-person aspect of the game, the targeting and character control isn’t difficult at all. The only drawback is that the camera angle is fixed to a specific spot, but this does allow for more control over skill shot placement. Hotkeys for leveling up skills and using abilities were also designed with convenience for the player in mind, however, trying to use potions and active items is a little clunky at first as hitting left trigger and then a button takes more time than pressing a single key. The only real inconvenience is the item shop, which is much more time consuming to scroll through than the PC version.
Overall, I have been quite impressed with my time spent in the SMITE beta and how well it’s been adapted to the Xbox One. While the game does appear to be on the same content patch as the PC version, the two are on separate servers. This alleviates any balancing issues between keyboard and controller users, and it also reduces the advantage that PC gamers would have due to having older accounts. Furthermore, players can link their accounts together to receive an in-game skin and transfer perks from their PC account over to their Xbox One account. Currently, this transfers the player’s level, gods, skins, and favor, but doesn’t grant worshippers or god ranks. This provides a slight advantage for PC players transitioning to Xbox One, but it doesn’t include anything that can’t also be purchased by new players while not punishing those who have already spent money on the game.
BIGGER IS BETTER
While SMITE is in the middle of transitioning from PC to console, Gigantic is being developed for both simultaneously. In similar fashion to SMITE, Gigantic is ditching the point-and-click playstyle and is adopting a fast-paced, third-person combat system but it also includes a vertical axis. This means that cover, dashing and jumping play a huge part in Gigantic where the prior has a static playing field. Additionally, lanes have essentially been replaced with capture points that spawn single large creatures instead of waves of weak minions.
Having played Gigantic at PAX Prime last year, I can honestly say that the game is a lot of fun and feels like a nice blend of Team Fortress 2 and Bloodline Champions. There were still a lot of kinks that needed to be worked out the last time I played, but the combat was intense and the aesthetics were gorgeous. Players fight it out on a relatively large battleground in an attempt to slay the opponents Guardian. Once enough damage has been dealt to the enemy team your massive Guardian will charge through the battlefield and attack, which leaves the enemy guardian vulnerable for a short time. This isn’t your typical MOBA, but it is an interesting take on the genre that should find a nice spot on both consoles and PCs.
INNOVATION VS REPLICATION
Even though it’s possible to translate specific games from PC to console, that doesn’t need to be the final answer. It works for games like SMITE and Gigantic because they’re already hybrid games and happen to be controller friendly. Traditional MOBAs can still work but they need to be modified slightly. Instead of using a click function they could operate more closely to top-down adventure games like Forced or Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. Typical MOBA devices like lanes, minion waves, turrets, and the jungle could all be easily implemented but instead of requiring click-to-attack, a different style of combat could be adapted. Utilizing the right stick, players could aim both normal attacks and skill shots. This would inherently make normal attacks also skill shots, but that could be an asset and not a hindrance.
Console controllers also have a few advantages over the keyboard and mouse such as more easily accessible buttons. With one hand on the keyboard and one on the mouse there are usually 5 buttons that can be pressed without moving your hand, but a current generation controller has double that. Obviously there are less button combination options overall but that shouldn’t be a limiting factor for most games.
The next generation of MOBA games need to come out for consoles. This isn’t only because the market is pretty much devoid of any MOBA content, but also because it will push developers to become more creative with their designs. There are too many carbon-copy MOBA games available on the PC market because developers have gotten lazy and found an easy way to make money. By creating new types of MOBAs on consoles the genre becomes forward-thinking instead of a stagnant mess, and developers can make a lot of money by doing so.Related: Column, Console, MOBA, MOBA Monday