Thursday Appdate: Solstice Arena

MOBA is an extremely popular genre right now, both as a cerebral, team-based eSport and as a major driver of hits within the games industry. Zynga is perhaps one of the best-known names in game development and publishing in the world. So, when Zynga releases a mobile MOBA, it’s the kind of thing you ought to pay attention to. Apple certainly has, featuring Solstice Arena in this week’s App Store update, and we had a quick look ourselves to see how it stacked up.

Zynga’s strengths have typically been in the casual space, and MOBA games are typically anything but, so it’s certainly an odd pairing at first glance, but the game’s design strikes a good balance between casual and hardcore — the latter in that there are still plenty of heroes to choose from, each with diverse skills, necessary resources and ideal gear that can cooperate in unique ways; the former in that the game starts fast, involves no grinding, and typically ends inside of ten minutes. Given that Solstice Arena is an exclusively mobile experience (currently available only for iPad and iPhone), this feels like a good fit, with very simple touch controls, big, easy-to-understand commands and feedback, and pick-up-and-play game length.

As with any MOBA, characters start out weak and gradually gain power, but unlike LoL or DotA, this is never accomplished through grinding. There are no ‘creeps’ to be killed; attribute boosts can be found just sitting on the ground, and gold (which buys gear leading to better attributes) is also just laying about — or collected by killing foes or harvesting a respawning chest in the center of the arena. Also, unlike the grand, sprawling maps of its forefathers, the Solstice Arena arena is about half the size of a football field, crossable in about 20 seconds. Early skirmishes around the valuable chest begin immediately, and get violent quickly — attacking a hero forces them to stop their current attempt to open the chest, so early action will generally decide who gets to collect first, and who runs home to lick their wounds. Once enough power has been gained, it’s on to destroy the enemy’s towers, and ultimately their ‘oracle’ — the obligatory MOBA McGuffin that decides the match.

The hallmark of the MOBA genre, of course, is the importance of teamwork, and Zynga has included a clever contextual communication system (in the absence of any voice or text chat which would be prohibitively slow in a game this quick). A single tap activates the team alert, and a second tap makes the announcement — tap an enemy tower or the chest to call your allies for an assist, or tap yourself to be healed or defended, or tap a foe to concentrate attacks, etc. It’s an intuitive system that keeps the team organized.

Like many free-to-play entries in the MOBA genre, Solstice Arena offers several heroes for free, and asks for a bit of money to make use of others. The game itself, of course, is free, and you can check it out here.

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