A triple-threat of MOBA-infused shooters are fighting it out right now. Which one is right for you?
Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) are kind of a big deal. Usually PC gamers have all the choice, but now we’re weeks away from the playable betas of not one but three console MOBAs, each with interesting potential.
Blizzard, the master of cute multiplayer games, turn up with Overwatch. Epic, engine gurus and online gaming pioneers, return to the fray with Paragon. And Gearbox, famed for the potty-mouthed, online co-op brilliance of Borderlands, step to the big boys with Battleborn.
Everyone wants a piece of the MOBA action, then. And make no mistake, these games aim to get under your skin and nest there. Mastering one can be a serious commitment. So, maybe you want a headstart on deciding which to devote your soul to? Or maybe you just want to dabble in them, getting the most out in the minimum time? Let’s look at how they stack up and which might be best for you.
What are they?
Overwatch - is a team and objective based FPS with a large cast of heroes and roles (tank/support/assassin etc) to swap between in a given game. Cooperation is key, there’s a variety of maps, and it’s heavily skill based.
Battleborn - is a mashup of MOBA, FPS and tower defence, because you have to actually build them yourselves. There are heroes/roles, two variations on the competitive mode and a cooperative campaign, a bit like Borderlands. Also, your progress with a hero is persistent, meaning over time you can unlock skins, taunts, even skill modifiers.
Paragon - is the most traditional MOBA of the lot, heavily modelled on DOTA — but it’s in third-person. There are three lanes, 14 heroes with persistent progress, and there’s a deckbuilding aspect in how you unlock packs of cards that represent equipment you can buy in-game. It’s an Epic game so it looks by far the most realistic of the three.
A quick dip
What’s the time commitment needed for a game? How many obstacles are there to beginners?
Overwatch - Blizzard games usually tread the perfect line of 'easy to pick up, hard to master'. Overwatch is one of the easiest to pick up for a quick sesssion as it’s basically an FPS, but there’s a flipside. Whereas something like World of Warcraft rewards pure time investment, this is fast-paced and unforgiving. There are healer heroes though for the chilled-out team-players amongst you.
Battleborn - has three major modes, which offer flexibility in having a quick go and learning the ropes. The cooperative story mode is a lot of fun and a great training ground, but will take the best part of an hour even with a skilled team. Incursion and Meltdown modes will take about 45 minutes unless you/your hapless victims bite your bullet and concede. The Capture mode, similar to Overwatch’s, hasn’t been available in the beta but is reportedly the quickest of the lot.
Paragon - has just the one mode, and it’s not a light touch. The most hardcore of the bunch, it’s rare to see a forfeit, and so games will run on average for at least 40 mins. The game on consoles is only in alpha so it’s very unforgiving and difficult to read when you start. Getting the hang of building your equipment card deck is tricky and really needs a better tutorial. That said, with a few more tooltips, most of the heroes should be easy enough to pick up.
But what does it all mean?
Overwatch - has a story underpinning the action, an interesting lore idea about an Omnic (evil robot) uprising and the disparate, charismatic heroes who rose up to defend their peoples against it. Think sci-fi crossed with a penchant for social activism, with heroes who campaign for greater good through weaponised music.
Battleborn - is actually a sci-fi, pre-apocalyptic tragedy. The heroes are drawn from five factions, each with a distinct playstyle and aesthetic. The fiction is explained in the campaign mode, and it’s wildly imaginative.
Paragon - in a similar way to Unreal Tournament and Infinity Blade are subtle meditations love, loss and — ah. No, it’s not really about anything. It’s possible the heroes will have their backstories revealed down the line, but for now Paragon’s approach is best explained in the same way the official website describes hero Gadget: "Destruction, upgraded."
Overwatch - Blizzard’s gorgeous, semicartoon style was in evidence from Warcraft 3. From esports behemoth Starcraft II it learned how to interact with the community and balance the meta. From WoW it earned lots of money, and from all of them (including the Diablo series) Blizzard learned to create compelling heroes with incredibly satisfying abilities and viciously effective feedback loops.
Battleborn - Gearbox has a pretty incredible FPS pedigree. Brothers In Arms was a seminal WWII shooter series, followed by Duke Nukem: Forever. Clearly the biggest influence on Battleborn is its own Borderlands games - hypercolourful, pulp sci-fi and full of lewd jokes delivered in a funny accent. Gearbox also worked on the retail version of Counter Strike so it’s fair to say it knows about satisfying teambased gunplay.
Paragon - Epic games tend to be graphical marvels, almost clinical, yet still with a little soul. It usually focuses on one mechanic, iterated on until perfection. Look at the Metroidvania-esque Xbox 360 title Shadow Complex, the iPhone’s Infinity Blade series or Unreal Tournament. So it stands to reason that Paragon looks shiny and polished as hell and innovates around the MOBA/DOTA mechanics underpinning it all. Then there’s Gears of War, which had a brilliant heft, a great third-person camera and exploited elevation all of which you'll find in Paragon.
Return on investment
Overwatch - prepurchase the Collector's edition for £45 and get the initial 21 heroes plus 5 fancy skins, and a bunch of loot for other Blizzard games - a card for Hearthstone, an adorable baby gorilla pet for World of Warcraft, etc. Go vanilla for £35 to get one bonus skin and early access to the beta. In true Blizzard style the £100 physical edition has a huge box and a nifty statue of the hero Soldier:76. Skill sadly not included.
Battleborn - will set you back £40. The preorder incentive is weak: Overly bling golden skins for five of the 25 characters. There have been murmurs that future characters will be paid DLC too. It’ll take a while to unlock all the originals (there are two ways for each) though.
Paragon - in MOBA style, Paragon and its current/future heroes will be free, with cosmetic items and experience boosters as microtransactions. A public beta is coming up in summer but you can buy early access now at three different tiers. Most curious, sane folk will plump for the Founders Pack at $20, which unlocks three master challenges (persistent boosts for upgrading heroes) and a week long ‘rep’ boost. The next tier up is $60 and includes more of everything, a founders pack you can gift to a friend, and an exclusive skin for the hero Howitzer, a cat-thing in a mech frame.
Which is right for you?
Overwatch - looks set to be the easiest to dip into for a lunchtime stress bust but might also have the highest skill gate.
Battleborn - is a good middleground due to the variety of modes, especially the option of co-op, and will probably cater to the broadest range of players.
Paragon - is the most hardcore and the most MOBA. However, it’ll have the cheapest entry fee when it comes out of early access, and holds the promise of more polish and tutorials for new players.