By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
A new MOBA game is upon us, and this time Bandai Namco is throwing down the gauntlet that they’ll be the ones to break the mold in one of the hardest online gaming genres to break into these days. The major wave of MOBAs has risen and already begun to crumble, so Supernova is going to have to be something special to ride the wave of collapsing competition to the top. Luckily while most failing MOBAs are from unheard of indie groups, Bandai Namco has a bit of a reputation for either publishing major successes, or nailing a core demographic to ensure a rabid niche fanbase. I’ve been sitting on alpha access for a few weeks now, but as a larger wave of alpha invites finally went out this past weekend, my time to finally test out Supernova was at hand.
Since the game is still very early in development and the first alpha stage has only finished, the game is in flux as much as it can be. With that said, I can say that from what I have seen so far, the core concept of Supernova has the potential to be Bandai Namco’s next diamond in the rough. Though it may not appeal to the core MOBA audience like you’d expect. Let me describe it briefly so you get a better understanding of what we’re dealing with. Think of a Starcraft meets any MOBA game as we know it, and they have a baby. Supernova comes forth, and in my eyes it could potentially be a wonderful game in the vein of MOBAs, but with more focus on tactical strategy and timing rather than twitch combat. Supernova puts a major emphasis on what it calls commanders, reducing the overall impact of the usual hero vs hero duels most MOBAs consist of. Each player controls a commander who is able to summon units into the battle with him, because what good is a commander who can’t command an army? In essence your hero customization goes beyond just personal tweaks, but also involves a more involved minion system to further set yourself apart on the battlefield.
I hope you’re a bit puzzled by now grasping how this concept would work as a MOBA, because it only gets crazier from there. That’s not a bad thing, as enough MOBAs have proven by now that copying the juggernauts head to head just doesn’t work. Supernova isn’t a MOBA game as we know it, even though all the elements are in there, such as the towers, three lanes and a jungle in-between all of this. However that’s the end of the similarities, as RTS style resources dominate where your typical gold flow would. Each commander passively gains resources, and can speed up collection by killing enemy units or jungle mobs. Rather than using this for itemization, you can summon new units of various types depending on what the match requires at the time. As you’d expect from an RTS, but may be unfamiliar with in a MOBA, some units specialize at wasting ground enemies, while others are anti-air. There’s plenty of well rounded units that can handle both less effectively of course should your foes be bringing a balanced bag of tricks. But I can attest that you’ve never had to focus so hard to react to enemy minions as you will in Supernova.
If you don’t understand how revolutionary this is to the genre, then shame on you because the rock you’ve been living under must have been massive! Since most of us aren’t living under said boulder, I’ll jump ahead and point out the key differences or close but not one for one similarities in the formula Supernova brings. As Supernova matches progress, your Commander will still level up and make ability strengthening choices that vary from match to match. Yet most of these choices revolve around upgrading your units rather than your commander, again forcing you into thinking like an RTS player rather than a MOBA player. Rather than teleporting back to base for heals, you have to call a drop ship to swoop in to carry you back to base. This differs from normal teleporting, as the drop ship can also bring you out of base and onto the battlefield. The types of abilities brought by the minions also feel foreign to your usual hero skills in MOBAs, making gameplay quite unpredictable, especially when you have to be on the lookout for special attacks from individual minions in addition to their commanders.
The theme is also more science fiction than the usual fantasy tropes used in popular MOBAs. This lets the developers sneak some new skins onto overused game mechanics to give Supernova some at least superficial new life to veterans of the genre. You just can’t ignore the influence Starcraft had on the art stylization of the whole thing. Both the units, and commanders make me think they will fit right in with Jim Raynor and his fight with the zerg.
Although this weekend was officially labeled as an alpha test, the gameplay is clearly polished to at least a beta state. I doubt Bandai Namco will leave players hanging much longer before an open beta test begins. Honestly the only element holding Supernova back from competing with the big dogs right now is its very small selection of Commanders. Which considering the variety of ways each Commander can be played through unit deployment, isn’t as much of a weakness as having a small hero pool in most MOBAs. I do fear that balancing is going to be a bit of a nightmare though, and think the game needs a much larger playerbase of testers providing feedback even at this early stage to help prep Supernova for a massive balanced launch. Cause as it stands right now, you need some serious patience to get a match going in the alpha state.
As I’ve said the game in its current state is well polished and really promising. Bandai Namco has the skeleton of another masterpiece on their hands. Having tested this game, it makes me sick thinking of all the copy cat MOBAs out there that didn’t have the common sense or willingness to take risks to make this basic but powerful evolution to the genre until now. If you get the chance to try it out in one of the next alpha stages, or when it goes into beta, be sure to check it out because Supernova might be the next big hit you’ve been hoping could breath life back into the MOBA genre.