By Jordan Hall (ApocaRUFF)
Shards of War is an up-and-coming “Next Generation MOBA” brought to us by BIGPOINT, currently in alpha. Instead of the usual fantasy-theme of most MOBAs, Shards of War will be going with a sci-fi theme. You will take control of a Sentinel, a warrior sent to Empire City from an alternate reality, to do battle. The game makes use of WASD controls, twitch-action combat, and relatively short match times compared to other games in the genre. The end goal of Shards of War is to redefine the MOBA, so let’s see if they’re on the right track.
So far, there have been ten revealed Sentinels. Like most MOBAs, Shards of War has a theme or back-story surrounding their “heroes.” Here, the Sentinels are warriors from alternate realities taken from their own realities and placed in Empire City to do battle. The archetypes are the same for the most part – you still have attackers, tanks, and supports. Sure, there are some things that make the archetypes stand apart from other games, but for the most part if you’re familiar with playing tanks from a game like League of Legends, you’ll get used to them in Shards of War fairly quick.
If you’re like me, you probably groaned when you learned about yet another MOBA project. After that, you probably asked, “Why should I care about yet another MOBA?” So, what makes this different from all the other games in this genre? Well, first would be the sci-fi dystopian future setting of the game – quite different than the fantasy theme that most go with. Next would be the way loadouts work, as it’s a bit different than the usual. The shorter matches are another difference. Most MOBAs go with thirty-to-forty minute matches, sometimes longer. However, Shards of War is aiming for an average of twenty minutes in game length.
There are some other differences, too. Such as missions that can be completed to receive currency or special chests that can be opened for stuff like crafting materials. Speaking of which, there appears to be the ability to craft items. Already they have the frameworks for this available for play. There’s also a tab for events, so I’m assuming that they’ll have special events that happen from time to time. This is a nice improvement to the usual “First Win of the Day” bonus that most MOBAs go with.
As I mentioned, there are craft items in the game. This is because you’ll need to craft gear before you can use it in a match. After crafting a piece of gear or an item, you can then apply it to your loadout. As your team progresses in levels, you can purchase these gears based on their gear level. For example, a Team Level D item becomes available when your team reaches level 10. Which brings up something else different – you don’t level up individually, your team levels up as a whole.
So far, the controls in Shards of War have proven to be quite intuitive. Except on rare occasions, the controls have been some of the most responsive and smooth I’ve ever experience in MOBA. And this was much to my surprise, as I was expecting something much more choppy and clunky from a game at this stage in development. If things continue like this, I can’t wait to see how well the controls are working at launch. The controls remind me a great deal of AirMech.
Personally, I much prefer the WASD movement – WASD movement is part of the reason that Smite is my favorite MOBA to date. I’ve never been a fan of the point-and-click movement that a majority of MOBAs make use of. In my opinion, it just doesn’t seem to mesh well with the action-oriented combat that most of these games feature. Once the small problems (mainly concerning the camera) are resolved as development continues, I know that this will be a top contender for my “favorite” MOBA, simply because of the controls.
For the most part, matches in Shards of War are very similar to traditional “conquest”-style matches in other MOBAs. I can’t comment on any other gamemodes that will be made available in the future, though. The main gamemode, however, has most of the same elements that other primary gamemodes in other MOBAs do. For example, you still have three lanes, jungle camps, towers, minions, and stealth locations in the jungle. Of course, it’s all given the signature dystopian theme that Shards of War will be known for. Things will more than likely change drastically as development continues, though, just as I’ve seen in other MOBAs (anyone remember the side-lanes in early versions of Smite?).
I look forward to seeing how the map continues to evolve as the game matures.
There are jungle mobs, still. In this case, jungle robots. They fulfil a similar function in Shards of War as they do in other MOBAs. However, some are a bit different such as the massive red “Dragon” tank. This is a four-legged tank-robot that can be fought. If you manage to destroy it, it will then spawn as a minion for your team and help you roll through your enemies’ forces. This is reminiscent of the “tank” from one of Smite’s 4v4 Game modes and Strife’s signature gorilla boss, in a way. However, this featured isn’t limited to just the tank, as all jungle robots seem to act in this way – defeating them brings them in to help your team and certain robots are proficient at achieving certain goals.
One of the major differences, at least in my opinion, is the way that items and loadouts work. As I mentioned, you need to craft gear before you can use it in your loadout. Then, before you get into a match, you create a loadout that is split into different tiers represented by levels. Each tier can have a maximum of three items in it. Then, once you are in the match, these items are made available to you as your team levels up and you are able to choose from the items in that tier level. There’s also a recommended loadout for each Sentinel that can be used if you have yet to customize your own.
Combat is a bit different than most MOBAs mostly because of the difference in controls, but also because the game has a sci-fi theme. Because of this, almost all of the current Sentinels carry ranged weapons. Some can make use of close-range attacks, but so far Cobra is the only one that I’ve seen that specializes in melee attacks. Combat reminds me an isometric or top-view Run n’ Gun game. Fights are filled with bullet fire and explosions, and movement is key.
Close-quarters combat can turn into a sort of dance, with opponents circling around each other. This gives the game a feeling of intense action that most MOBAs can’t pull off for me. It almost feels more like a shooter than MOBA, actually. Just with the additional strategy and tactics that comes with map control and awareness unique to the genre. Overall, I found the combat to be refreshing and fun.
Right away I fell in love with the looks of the game. That may be due to the fact that I’ve always enjoyed post-apocalyptic urban scenes. But, in general, the graphics look good so far. I imagine things will continue to be refined, which is something I think the game will really need. It looks as if the characters are low-definition when looking at them closely, which may or may not turn you away from the game. Personally, I had no issue with that and even felt it fit the game.
I found myself purposefully spending more time in the jungle than I probably should have during my first games. The beautifully crafted city-scape was interesting to explore. I’ve come to a point where all the new MOBAs coming out are nothing special, as they all have a fantasy theme. However, the sci-fi theme of this game has allowed for some new stuff past the usual things you find in the jungles. It was nice to experience a concrete jungle.
I’d like to end by stressing that Shards of War is in beta. Things will be changing often as the game continues to grow and mature. That being said, it’s already proven itself to be different from the usual MOBA formula. I had a blast playing the game, which is something that is exceedingly rare for me within the MOBA genre. It’s hard not to be jaded when every other game being released this year is another MOBA. In the end, the game still has a long way to go but is definitely worth keeping an eye on. I encourage you to hop into the game as soon as you get a chance!