Dawngate Preview: Can it Break the Meta?

Let’s be completely honest for a moment here, there are a ton of MOBAs on the market right now and it seems like there are still more on the horizon. Since 2009 there has been a rush from developers to capitalize on this genre, which really only existed as a mod for Warcraft 3 (DOTA) and technically originated from the StarCraft custom map: Aeon of Strife. Now we have all kinds of variants such as: League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, SMITE and even Blizzard is making their own separate title: Heroes of the Storm.

Dawngate is a free to play MOBA

Dawngate is a free to play MOBA

Now there aren’t nearly as many MOBAs as there are first-person shooters or role-playing games, but due to the nature of the gameplay it’s a bit harder to break the typical mold. That’s where Dawngate comes in with their motto “Break the Meta.” Waystone Games is working with publisher Electronic Arts to bring a new type of MOBA to the playing field, one that doesn’t rely on a strict meta.

Customizable Roles

Just like in most traditional MOBAs, the Shapers (player characters) in Dawngate are categorized into basic archetypes: Tank, Support, Bruiser, Assassin, Mage, etc. However, just because a certain shaper is cast into a certain role doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be played. Before a match is even started, players have access to customizable grid systems called “Loadouts.” Here players can fit blocks, called Spiritstones, which have certain passives that can be unlocked by placing Sparks into the sockets of the Spiritstone.

Selecting the right loadout can have a huge impact early game

Selecting the right loadout can have a huge impact early game

This is similar to the Rune system in League of Legends, but it’s not nearly as limiting. It’s possible to stack an entire loadout with health or damage and not suffer any penalties for it. This can turn a mage into a glass cannon, a tank into a bruiser, or a support into a tank. This creates a bit of leniency for the way a shaper can be played, but a ranged carry is still not going to be a frontline fighter. In addition to standard stat bonuses, there are also special Spiritstones that grant passive abilities. The Rogue spiritstone grants players a bonus to their first attack after not being seen by an enemy for five seconds; this could give the jungler just enough extra damage to secure a kill when ganking.

Once the game begins, there are also four roles to pick from: Gladiator, Tactician, Hunter, Predator. The Gladiator rewards lane minion farming, Tacticians receive a bonus for harassing enemy shapers, the Hunter gains bonus damage and gold for killing jungle minions, and Predators gain increased gold for killing enemy shapers and spirit well workers. This essentially grants almost any character the option to jungle or harass enemies if they’re not proficient at last hitting minions.

All Too Familiar Faces

The biggest fault this far into Dawngate is the uninspired characters. Many of the shapers feel generic or very similar to those from other games. Varion, a ranged carry, for example feels very much like Graves from League of Legends. Then there’s Kindra who plays almost exactly like Katarina, except she has the ultimate of Fiora instead. It’s nice to have a certain degree of familiarity when first starting a new game, but playing a carbon copy of a character I’ve already used feels a bit stale.

Another issue with the shapers is that a lot of them lack synergizing skills and there is a problem with balance. Certain shapers, such as the melee bruiser Cerulean, can literally be avoided almost the entire game. While he does have a melee slow, can flip enemies behind him, and a leap attack for an ultimate, it’s possible to either harass him down or simply walk away from him 90% of the time. Moya, on the other hand, fills a similar role but has a short cooldown dash, a stun, a slow and a disabling ultimate. She isn’t quite as tanky as Cerulean, but she’s much more difficult to avoid.

The appearance and effect of abilities could also use some re-looking at. A large majority of the abilities look very dismal and have a tiny effect radius. This makes it very hard to tell if a shaper has used a buff and sometimes ultimate attacks are hard to distinguish from regular ones. The power of many abilities also feels incredibly weak until they hit rank four or five. This appears to cause a slight imbalance between shapers that rely on autoattack damage versus those that utilize spells. Even from the start, physical attackers seem to have an advantage that lasts throughout the game.

Viyana is as deadly as she looks

Viyana is as deadly as she looks

Now this doesn’t mean that every character feels out of place, boring, or awkward. Viyana is an example of a character that appears to have been well thought out from beginning to end. She’s a ranged support caster that uses her own health to cast abilities. All of her abilities both damage enemies and heal or shield allies. Her ultimate has a huge disable attached to it and overall she has solid sustained damage and healing. Every game has a few characters that aren’t very popular, but with the already limited supply in the Dawngate beta it’s more difficult to be forgiving.

Finally A Real Boss Fight

While the character design might not be something to be overly excited about, the map layout and objective designs are. Instead of the typical three lanes and a medium sized jungle, there are only two lanes in Dawngate and the jungle is quite large. This means that there are more buffs for the jungler to pickup, leading to better ganks, and because the lanes are closer together there should also be more frequent ganks. Additionally there are four spirit wells, each team starts out with two, that periodically grants players gold. The spirit well workers can be farmed for experience and gold or the wells can be captured by enemy teams. This creates for more dynamic gameplay as teams have to be concerned with more than just defending or assaulting towers.

By far the most impressive aspects of Dawngate are the two boss fights. In the middle of the map is the Parasite, which essentially acts as a mini-boss. He has an array of abilities that are telegraphed onto the area he’s about to cast them on, in addition to his basic attacks. Even late game the Parasite is incredibly tough and an enemy counterattack at the right time could swing the game. Upon killing the Parasite players are rewarded with a gold bonus and stronger minions called “striders” that will spawn for the slaying team.

Killing the Parasite can shift the battle

Killing the Parasite can shift the battle

The last line of defense in Dawngate is The Guardian, a massive stationary giant and final objective in the map. The Guardian has a number of telegraphed attacks, similar to the parasite, that do substantial amounts of damage and can stun or slow enemy shapers. Initially The Guardian is invincible and has five cores that grant it abilities. When a core is destroyed he loses that respective ability and when all cores have been destroyed The Guardian becomes vulnerable. If too much time is taken the cores can respawn. This constitutes a much more exciting final boss fight than simply killing an inanimate building.

Concluding Thoughts

Dawngate honestly has the potential to separate itself from the rest of the competition, but it still needs a lot of work. The Guardian and parasite fights are incredibly fun and I personally enjoy the change in map layout, as three lanes has been done to death. The loadout customization could still use a little tweaking and additions, but the concept is still ahead of any other game in the genre. Right now it feels like stacking health is more rewarding than a few extra points of power at the beginning and it’s possible to create holes that can’t be filled by any current Spiritstones shapes.

The Guardian fight is intense

The Guardian fight is intense

Unfortunately the shapers are the biggest drawback in Dawngate right now, both in number and design. There are only a handful of characters that feel well thought out or are exciting to play. Hopefully this is just a flaw of the game still being in beta and that some of the shapers were rushed. If a much larger, and more interesting, character pool was established there would be a much higher replay value in the game. Furthermore, the currency to buy new characters is accumulated at a fairly slow rate and all shapers are set at the same, relatively high price of 1800 Destiny (an average of 50 is acquired per game).

Finally, the current game modes are a little bit limiting. There’s only ranked solo queue, non-ranked group play and custom games. This forces new players who want a quick couple of matches to potentially have their stats negatively affected and it prevents groups of friends from playing together competitively. Dawngate would greatly benefit from both non-ranked single play and ranked group matches. Of course, we still have to wait for the full release of the game before I reach a final verdict. For now, it is still in its open beta testing phase, anything could happen before the game is released.

Pros:

  1. Engaging endgame.
  2. Intriguing Loadout system.
  3. Varying character roles.

Cons:

  1. Lackluster character designs.
  2. Balancing issues.
  3. Slow in-game currency accumulation.

Check out their trailer down here and click here to go straight into the action!

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About Nick Shively

Nick is an eSports and RPG enthusiast. He can normally be found in the deepest parts of a dungeon or in the arena slaying opponents. Nick has been a gamer since an early age and involved in the industry since 2011. He obtained a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2015.