A few weeks ago (before my unexpected two week departure) I wrote a piece highlighting mobile MOBAs. In it, I discussed a few noteworthy mobile battle arenas and delivered brief overviews of each.
Although I mentioned it, I suspended my judgment on Vainglory. Since I had not yet played it, I did not feel comfortable writing a review of it. Now, having clocked nearly twenty hours with it, I can authoritatively recommend it as one of my favorite mobile MOBAs on the market. No. It’s more than that. It’s one of my favorite MOBAs on the market. I agree with Mitch Dyer at IGN when he says Vainglory “hits the highest highs of a great MOBA.” He’s right. Vainglory succeeds where a lot of mobile games fall short–it scales down the gameplay without scaling down the action. It is not merely a mobile DotA clone. It is a full game that speaks for itself.
Given the game’s approaching release on Android, I find it appropriate to revisit the game in this column. I do not have an Android device, but I imagine the game plays much the same. That said, Super Evil Megacorp have truly outdone themselves. Here are my thoughts on Vainglory.
Unlike its computer counterparts, Vainglory features only one lane, with a large jungle to the south. Killing jungle camps grants experience and gold; killing miners strengthens minions. Killing the Gold Camp miner yields a large sum of gold–especially at the end of mining cycles–and the Gold Camp miner is replaced by the Kraken after fifteen minutes. The Kraken is a large monster that, when defeated, helps push lanes.
The map is perfect for mobile devices. The single lane is perfect for a solo AD Carry. Pushing towers and managing minions is fun, and the tall grass surrounding the lane sets up ganks and team fights perfectly. When coordinated correctly, tower diving in Vainglory is incredibly satisfying.
As a traditional support player on computer MOBAs, I really enjoy laning. I like managing zones of influence, and I love coordinating ganks. Due to Vainglory’s fast-paced nature, in-lane ganks and team fights happen fairly often. As a result, the slow early game grind that accompanies most MOBAs has been minimalized. Laning is fun, not just something necessary to win.
The game’s biggest strength, map-wise, is its Jungle. Vainglory’s Jungle is one of the biggest on mobile, and the map structure encourages everyone–even laners–to push camps. Since they grant minion strength, miners are pivotal contest points. They directly influence the tide of the battle, and they can be soloed at level three, if left uncontested. As a result, almost all the game’s action happens around the miners. The Gold Mine, likewise, is an incredibly powerful point. It appears at 4:00, and it may be contested at any point after its first spawn. Unlike other games, where gold boosting camps must be cleared at the end of timers, the Gold Mine is a looming presence that haunts players throughout the game. At 15:00, the Kraken appears in the Gold Mine. Given its strength and massive health bar, the Kraken is (almost) necessary to win a game. Due to this, the Gold Mine fight at 15:00 is one of the most intense team battles I have played in recent memory. Think the Baron Nasher with more at stake.
I have never been a big fan of jungling. On most MOBAs, the Jungler role is one of the most complicated and crucial positions in the arena. Camps, typically, must be farmed a certain way in a certain order. Vainglory reworks this paradigm. The Jungle is much less concrete, replacing buffs with gold, experience, and lane advantages. From the mining camps to the mid-field shop, the Jungle is less a contest of specific points and more a battle for territory.
As a whole, the map works for me. It works extremely well. As I said earlier, Vainglory does a good job scaling gameplay without scaling action. Although the map is much smaller than its computer counterparts, it does not feel pared-down. In fact, I prefer it in a lot of ways. It forces action to happen, from ganks and tower dives to jungle fights and objective skirmishes.
The Shop, aside from the Jungle, is my favorite feature of Vainglory. Like the map, Vainglory’s Shop is a scaled-down version of a traditional MOBA shop. There are much fewer items, but the items present are diverse, complex, and incredibly useful.
But items and builds are not what impress me the most about Vainglory’s Shop. The Shop’s set-up has been optimized for mobile, and, frankly, I prefer it. Like SMITE’s Shop on Xbox One, the Shop menu is very different from ones found in traditional MOBAs. It is a tiered system that starts small and branches out to fill specific roles. Players choose the general item type (weapon, ability, defense, utility, or consumable) and build from there to fit characters and in-game scenarios. I thoroughly enjoy it, and I hope other games take cues from it.
There is not much to say on the controls. Tap to move; tap to attack. All things considered, Vainglory’s touch screen system feels great. Last hitting opponents and minions is particularly satisfying. And, despite my beefy fingers, taps work correctly nearly every time. The recall and shop buttons in the bottom right-hand corner are quick and intuitive, and the ping system is convenient. Since my last mobile article, I have been playing a lot of mobile MOBAs. Vainglory’s sensitivity feels the best to me. I thoroughly enjoy the controls.
Communication is the only area lacking in this game. Currently, players communicate via three self-explanatory ‘pings:’ “AVOID,” “GO,” and “OMW.” These ‘pings’ are fairly useful, but there is no way to further communicate. There is no voice chat (yet), aside from Skyping, and there is no way of congratulating comrades for good work.
In this regard, Fates Forever has a better system, I think. Fates Forever offers voice chat for players in parties and offers a series of scripted post-game dialogs. I would like to see some sort of improved communication in future updates. As of now, it is hard to really coordinate movements and attacks unless players are sitting in the same room. Such an addition would make Vainglory a viable alternative for hardcore MOBA players. When implemented, I would not be surprised to see a spike in competitive play.
Vainglory is my favorite MOBA on mobile, and it might be one of my favorite MOBAs. From its map and Shop to its fluid controls,really isn’t much to complain about. It definitely gets my seal of approval. If you have not yet played it, I highly recommend it. You are missing out.Related: Column, MOBA, MOBA Monday, Mobile, Vainglory