The MOBA Experiment, Part I: Awesomenauts
I’m not a particular fan of MOBA games. I’ve tried at different points in time: League of Legends, Dota 2, and Guardians of Middle-Earth, neither have really grabbed me. So when about a year ago I got into Awesomenauts, which I have from a bundle, I did not expect to get grabbed by it as well. By the time of writing this post I have more than 250 hours in the game.
This made me wonder: is it just a game-specific thing, i.e. I happened to like Awesomenauts but not other MOBA games, or did Awesomenauts act as a better entrance point for the genre? So if I replay other MOBA titles, will I find more enjoyment in them? This has interested me also because I have never really experienced a situation where I didn’t really like any game I tried of a particular genre, and then a game made me appreciate those more. And yet we as developers tend to talk a lot about that – creating games that could act as entry points for titles of a similar kind.
Thus I decided to begin what I call ‘The MOBA Experiment’. Throughout the year (without any particular schedule) I’m going to try out different MOBA games, starting by replaying titles that I have played before, and then trying out new games, to find out – have I experienced an introduction to the genre, or I just experience what is a matter of taste? But before I do that, I want to talk about the things in Awesomenauts that I’m drawn towards.
1 – The Atmosphere
I think that one of the things that has really interested me in Awesomenauts is the overall atmosphere of the game. It’s very playful and tongue-in-cheek, you don’t really feel the pressure of competition. And, what I really liked, though the latest update changed the flow a bit so this doesn’t apply anymore, is that during matchmaking we’d see different fan-art, and one of the tips at the bottom would say, ‘Remember, it’s just a game!’
This, alongside a Saturday Morning Cartoon-like art style (and intro!), funky electronic music, makes it a pretty relaxing experience. Of course there’s intensity during gameplay matches, but when you open up the game to spend what could be a considerable amount of time in one match, you don’t feel like there’s a need to prove something hanging over your head, you just want to have some multiplayer fun. And it’s not like I dislike intensity, for example I play lots of Rainbow Six Siege and from the very start the atmosphere there is very tense, but each match there is also 5 minutes long – so it’s short bursts of intensity.
2 – Characters
A separate mention I feel should go to the characters. The Awesomenauts roster is just so… nuts and insane and memorable. The character I play the most as is Scoop of Justice, who’s a full of himself Gelati knight of some Ice Cream order in search of chocolate. And one of his taunts is ‘Prepare for 500 flavours of pain!!!’ I mean… come on, isn’t that awesome?
The heroes roster of Awesomenauts is just so memorable – a French assassin chameleon, a crazy scientist monkey, a space octopus admiral… and I believe this is very important because it allows you to remember the characters and what each one does more easily. By comparison, while games like League of Legends and Dota 2 also have creative characters, because they’re more grounded to fit into the game world, sometimes it’s just so easy to confuse them, at least to me personally. Obviously eventually you start remembering, oh this champion is this kind of character, and this one is this, but with Awesomenauts it’s much easier.
3 – Controls & Learning Curve
Unlike most MOBA games, Awesomenauts is a side-scrolling platformer. So what the developers did, is that they decided to give 4 abilities to each character, and movement/jumping (or flying/floating/whatever else your ability is) is always one of those abilities. And basic attack is an ability as well (it also differs between characters, but in essence it’s still basic attack). This means is that there’s only two special abilities to worry about for each hero.
That greatly helps with the learning curve. Now, it has to be also mentioned, that you don’t have any general items in the store at the base, or crafting, merging, or anything like that. Everything that you buy directly affects one of your abilities. Again, this makes the experience of experimenting with builds a lot smoother.
4 – Gameplay Pacing
Due to the nature of the game being a platformer, the pacing is much more active even in the beginning stages of a match. In other MOBA games I’ve played, the start of the match is always fairly slow, and then it starts building up. At least from my experience.
In Awesomenauts, even the start of the game, and each subsequent spawn, is more active, as you have to gather Solar (the in-game currency for upgrades) after you’re launched via a dropship. And while your character is not that strong at the start of a match and it still begins with mostly killing creeps and trying to push towards the towers, retreat, etc., the small skirmishes that happen between droids and characters feel much more active at least because you’re jumping around to not try to get hit too often.
5 – Session Length
An average MOBA match is usually around 45 minutes. An average Awesomenauts match is about 20 minutes. That’s a huge difference. Because the time commitment is not as big, not only can you be much more flexible with how and when you spend time in the game, but also if something happens, if somebody leaves the game (though absent players are replaced by bots, so at least you don’t have a missing spot), or you get disconnected, or something comes up, it’s not that disappointing. As opposed when you’ve spent almost an hour of your day and then shit happens.
So, yeah, these are the things that made me like Awesomenauts. One can argue that because most of these things are quite specific to Awesomenauts, this won’t make me enjoy League of Legends or Dota 2 more. Or will it? I don’t know, that’s why I begun this experiment in hopes to find out!
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