It’s official: the world is MOBA mad. The 5v5 genre that was born as a mod for Warcraft III has transformed into a full-blown gaming revolution, with developers across the world seeking their slice of the battle arena pie. With so many out there it’s no wonder you’re asking the big question: which one is right for me?
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PCGamesN can help with that conundrum. Join us as we play a game of eenie, meenie, miney, MOBA…
Master X Master
The newest kid on the MOBA block is Master X Master. It’s NCSoft’s first plunge into this ever-deepening pool. Akin to HotS, Master X Master’s roster of characters comes together as a crossover of NCSoft's existing universes (expect to see heroes from Guild Wars and Wildstar in the mix), but the majority of the game’s ‘Masters’ have been created just for MXM.
It’s a game looking to really spice up the Dota formula; while towers, minions, and last-hits are present and correct, Masters are controlled with WASD and basic attacks are triggered like in an ARPG. And that’s not even the most radical mechanic – rather than controlling a single character, you can tag-team two Masters. Playing a ranged Master and suddenly stuck in a brawl? Just swap out to your melee Master and take the advantage.
Wait, no, the hero-swap feature is not MXM’s strangest new addition to MOBAs. That honor belongs to the PvE mode, where players can tackle dungeons either solo or cooperatively with pals, honing their Masters’ skills against AI monsters and bosses and unfolding the game’s story. Master X Master certainly seems the MOBA looking to shake the genre up, but will it cause the wildfire it’s hoping to?
Heroes of the Storm
Defense of the Ancients was originally a Warcraft III mod, so, of course, Blizzard couldn’t resist creating their own fully-fledged MOBA. Heroes of the Storm brings together characters from across the StarCraft, Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch universes in an ‘all star’ mash up. One of the youngest MOBAs on the scene, Blizzard is expanding the hero roster at a terrifying rate. It already sports 65 heroes and that line-up will continue to grow.
It’s also recently been revamped as Heroes 2.0, with a brand new progression system that takes the loot box idea of Overwatch and further improves it. You’re guaranteed to get items that are relevant to your heroes every few boxes, and if you’re unhappy with your loot you can re-roll the box for a small fee of in-game gold.
Unlike League of Legends and Dota 2, HotS features no items. Instead, players choose upgrades to their abilities as they level up, allowing them to focus on utility, hardiness, or damage. Each hero also features two ultimate abilities, of which only one can be activated during a single match.
Also, unlike its competition, HotS hosts a variety of maps which feature unique objectives that can turn the tide of battle. One sees players fight for dominance of temples that fire lasers at opposing fortifications, another asks each team to collect plants that spawn a giant controllable flower monster.
Blizzard have gone to great lengths to keep the focus on combat and objectives rather than number crunching – you’ll find no one boasting about their high attack damage ratios or critical strike chance here. Games are also significantly shorter, generally clocking in at the 30-minute mark. However, what is sacrificed in depth is made up for in sheer polish.
Do Blizzard put the B in your MOBA? We've got the best Heroes of the Storm heroes for beginners.
League of Legends
League of Legends (or LoL to its friends) is big daddy of the genre and by far the most popular game in the world. League of Legends boasts 100 million unique players every month of the year, and has become the vanguard of esports.
League of Legends is to MOBAs as Quake III or Unreal Tournament are to the arena shooter: the now-recognisable blueprint that became a phenomenon, laying the groundwork for more unusual flavours. Several maps and game modes exist, but the 5v5 battles on Summoner’s Rift are by far the most popular. Matches across the three lanes last between 30-50 minutes.
Despite using a very traditional MOBA formula, League of Legends certainly isn’t lacking depth. Enhancing the game’s 136 playable champions with optimal item builds and choosing the perfect moment to take objectives are key to victory. For most, League of Legends strikes the perfect balance between tactical play and twitch skills for an experience in which anyone can find their niche.
Previous games in this list are influenced by ancient mythology, but Smite takes the gods of old as its direct inspiration. Each player takes on the role of a deity and battles it out across a three-lane arena. Ever dreamed of a muscle-bound head to head between Thor and Zeus? Here’s your chance to make it happen.
Smite’s esports scene is thriving, featuring regular tournaments and a world championship at the annual Hi-Rez Expo. Despite not having the prestige of League of Legends or Dota 2, Smite still commands international recognition on the sporting stage, with massive multi-million dollar prizes.
Unlike its contemporaries, Smite is played from a third-person perspective. As a result long-range skillshots and maintaining awareness of immediate surroundings can be more challenging. Group engagements are often chaotic. However, the added dimensionality does have its advantages: the spider goddess Arachne can crawl above her opponents, and Thor can launch himself far up into the sky to then crash downward with his hammer. Smite’s viewpoint lends it the feel of an MMO but with the mechanics of a MOBA.
If this sounds like your cup of ambrosia, check out the best Smite gods.
Valve’s own take on Defense of the Ancients – the original Warcraft III mod and progenitor of all MOBA games – is Dota 2. Yup, it’s pretty much the official sequel to the mod that started it all. Despite that prestigious title, its player numbers pale in comparison to League of Legends. Yet a strong 13 million players per month secures it second place in the MOBA race. The Dota 2 esports scene is thriving, particularly in the West where the yearly International world finals gathers a multi-million dollar prize pool.
Dota 2 follows the same formula as League of Legends but adds layers of complexity. For instance, it’s possible for players to kill their own creeps (minions) in order to prevent their opponent harvesting gold, a tactic known as ‘denying’. Players can also ship items to themselves across the map using a courier instead of having to return to their base.
Most agree that Valve’s creation is the most impenetrable MOBA out there for newcomers – knowing effective item builds is totally non-negotiable, However, if you’re willing to commit to learning its intricacies, the rewards are plentiful. Its sizeable roster of 113 heroes and deep tactical experience are bound to suck in those with the patience to persevere.
If it's Valve you're loyal to, get up to speed with the best Dota 2 heroes for beginners.
The newest of our MOBA picks, Paragon is the brainchild of Epic games. Built to showcase their new Unreal Engine 4, it’s not only the prettiest hero brawler on the block, but one of the best-looking games on PC. Of special note are the abilities heroes use; from fireballs to melting ice paths, everything in Paragon looks spectacular.
While Paragon stands out from the crow with its visuals, mechanically it’s a traditional MOBA. Like Smite, it's played from a MMO-like third-person perspective, but this is still a game about pushing lanes, destroying towers, and wrecking the enemy base. You’ll level up as you defeat enemies in combat, and use cards (i.e. items) to boost your own powers.
What makes Paragon truly unique is its crossplay capabilities. If you’ve got friends on PS4 you can seamlessly play with them from the comfort of your own PC.
Developer Motiga probably says it best: Gigantic is a ‘shooter MOBA where heroes battle alongside a massive guardian in a fight for supremacy’. When the game debuted a few years ago its bold visual style and less-traditional take on the genre made quite a splash.
The focus here is on giant beasts called Guardians – each team of five players fights alongside one of these enormous creatures. As members build up experience and rack up kills, they top up their guardian’s attack meter, lending it the advantage when it faces off against the opposing titan.
Unlike every other game on this list, the game features no creeps or minions, and boasts map design that doesn’t conform to the three-lane formula. Sound appealing? We broke down the specifics of Gigantic’s monster antics here.
Gigantic hasn’t officially released yet, but you can play the beta if you use Windows 10.
Many recent MOBAs have launched and then quickly shut their doors. But Strife has persisted. It’s the smallest game on this list with just 33 champions but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked. It’s got heritage – developer S2 Games made Heroes of Newerth, which was big back in the day – and it’s said to be a ‘second-generation MOBA’. Fancy!
Three lanes, towers, and creeps all feature, but Strife differentiates itself by one key objective – a giant gorilla monster by the name of Kratos. If players secure his assistance, he tumbles down the middle lane, destroying everything in his path. This monkey is a tough nut, and taking him down will take the assistance of several team members, leaving other lanes vulnerable to attack.
Strife also claims to host a less toxic community than its peers – a common problem that both Dota and League of Legends have continually struggled with over the years.
Made your mind up? Let us know which MOBA you've plumped for in the comments below.