Vainglory is touted by developer Super Evil Megacorp, as “the MOBA perfected for touch.” It’s not the first MOBA to come out on touch platforms, but it certainly made a splash when it was demoed at the release of the iPhone 6. After getting to know Vainglory, it’s safe to say that the beauty in this game is more than skin deep.
That said, the first thing you’ll notice about Vainglory is how gorgeous it is. The art style is polished and unique, and the graphics are some of the best we’ve seen on mobile deivces. Apple hyped how Vainglory used Metal, their new graphics technology to leverage the most out of the iPhone, and Vainglory certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The game runs pretty well too. There were a few moments when the frame-rate suddenly plunged, but overall the experience was pleasantly stutter free, and generally runs at above 30fps. You’ll need a device that’s fairly new to meet the requirements however, Vainglory requires iPhone 5S and up and iPad 2 and up for tablets.
Vainglory changes the traditional MOBA formula slightly by making the matches 3v3 rather than 5v5, with only one lane and a corresponding jungle area. These changes make it more comfortable on a smaller screen, while keeping the action close and intelligible. There are changes to the map objectives too, which are easier to understand for someone new to the genre.
Much of what you’d expect from a MOBA game is here in most other aspects, however. Characters are leveled up by getting clearing minions and eliminating opponents, and gold for purchasable items is gained by getting last-hits on minions and downing the other teams towers. There is a series of videos included that should catch anyone up to speed with the basic mechanics and strategies you’ll need to understand.
Vainglory’s interface is fantastic. Every MOBA game relies on reflexes and using abilities just at the right time, and not once did the touch interface feel clunky or counter-intuitive. It produces some of the best action I’ve ever experienced on a mobile device, and is a testament to the possibility of fantastic controls on a touchscreen. Vainglory pares down the amount of skillshots that are the standard for the genre, and each hero has three abilities as opposed to five. There are still many abilities and combos that are challenging to pull off, which will reward skilled players.
Games of this nature also rely on interesting and flavorful characters, which Vainglory is able to deliver. It would be great to see a bigger cast of characters—something the developers have promised. As of now there are only 11, with a weekly free-to-play rotation of six.
Characters are unlocked with either ICE, the in-game currency, or with real money. The prices vary based on how long a character has been out for. It’s standard fare for games of this type, but it would be great to see cheaper heroes and cosmetic customization added for purchase to make the matches more unique and diverse. Still, with over half the characters playable for free, it’s a fairly generous system.
There are two pitfalls, and a few minor issues, that hold Vainglory back from being a grand-slam. One is avoidable, and one will require constant attention by the developers. The first is the lack of in-game communication. The current system only allows three types of pings, “Go,” “Avoid,” and “On My Way,” on the mini-map for coordinating with teammates, which often makes matches feel a little lonesome and disorganized.
The second big issue is the existence of players going AFK or leaving mid-match. Super Evil has responded by using a system called Karma, which attempts to match people together who stay until the end of a match, something that seems even less likely on an iPad or phone than it does on a PC. In my time with the game, once you have a decent Karma rating the likelihood of getting an AFK or leaver in a match goes down significantly, but matchmaking early on isn’t the best experience.
What Vainglory offers is an experience incredibly similar to that of League of Legends, Dota 2, and the like—and not in a bad way. It’s fantastic to be able to play a quick 15 minute match on a break, or curl up on a couch for an hour or two teamed up with friends. It can’t avoid some problems that are frustrating in nearly all online multiplayer games, but Super Evil is making strides in the right direction on that front with the Karma system. The game could benefit greatly from better in-game communication, but as it stands, Vainglory shows it is not only possible to make a MOBA game perfected for touch screens, but that it can be astoundingly fun to play.