Arena Of Fate – Preview

Title   Arena of Fate
Developer  Crytek Black Sea
Publisher  Crytek Studios
Platform  Windows PC
Genre  MOBA
Release Date  TBA

Crytek are renowned for their ability to craft entertaining and action-packed first-person shooters which feature stunning graphics as well as engaging gameplay, and I consider the Crysis graphics in particular a benchmark to which other titles of that genre aspire.  With that in mind, you can imagine my surprise when one of the first appointments I booked for E3 2014 was a title from Crytek that was a complete departure from everything they had previously produced. Arena of Fate is a MOBA with its roots deeply planted in the realm of fables and mythical characters; a hugely interesting direction for Crytek to take, and a brave move for them to expand their horizons into a genre that is dominated by the likes of DOTA 2 and League of Legends.

As I entered the wonderfully air-conditioned room in the West Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Centre, I remembered that I’d only played one MOBA prior to this and that was Awesomenauts, some years back. I’d previewed and eventually reviewed that title, enjoying it immensely for its wacky characters and intrinsic team elements.  Since then however, I had not touched an MOBA and had no real inclination to give DOTA 2 or its friends a go.

Prior to getting started, we were presented with a short briefing because, as the developer put it, “everyone likes slideshows”. I’m unsure where they’re doing their market research. It was explained that Arena of Fate was a five-versus-five MOBA which would feature up to thirty playable characters, all plucked from age-old myths and fables. Those on show today included Red Riding Hood, Lionheart, Helsing, Jessie James, and Robin Hood. Crytek’s aim is to create a fast-paced team-battle arena, with a twenty-minute time limit on each game. Everyone begins with a set number of spells and abilities all ready to go from the start, meaning players can dive in and try to mash each other up quickly.

The basic premise of winning works in a similar nature to most MOBAs. Different lanes extend between two points on the map, and these are usually the opposing sides’ home bases. The objective is to get to the enemy base and destroy it. The various routes into these points are guarded by the players and AI who need to not only repel the invaders but also counterattack in order to win. In Arena of Fate there are three ways to win the game: Overwhelm, which is to destroy the enemy base; Outscore, which is to score ten points before the opposition does; and Outlast, which is to survive until the twenty minute time-limit has expired but have more points at the end. Points are scored by either destroying a tower, destroying a Titan, and for every seven kills that the team racks up, another point is scored. The aforementioned Titans are one of the many ‘contested objectives’  which I’ll come back to shortly.

With the briefing over, character choices had to be made and, of the thirty mentioned, I had three to choose from on my screen. I opted for Lionheart (who, I believe, is based on Richard The Lionheart), as he was a tank character and I basically wanted to get stuck in and kick the stuffing out of Red Riding Hood.  A quick look through the abilities while the map was loading showed a fairly interesting smattering of techniques to employ: a flaming sword attack, an option to target an enemy player for increased damage, an area technique that pushes opposition away, and a move which chucks a banner onto the battlefield to slow the enemy team and increase the speed of the allies.

Towers are positioned every so often between the lanes and they pack one heck of a punch while spawning little computer-controlled chaps called Minions who act as cannon fodder for advancing parties. Although myself and another player quickly advanced on the first tower, we were promptly swatted away without the Minions to act as meat shields. We focused on the middle route, which gave us the option to flank the other towers should we need to. Although we weren’t organised any more than a gaggle of journalists usually are, we were only attacking on two fronts whereas the others were trying to attack on all three. Soon, we’d started to make some serious advances on the middle tower.

By this time, we’d encountered the enemy players, all of which were different characters with various powers and buffs. Robin Hood proved to be a particular pain in my ass with his ranged attacks combining well with Red Riding Hood’s thief-like agility and quick attacks. Lionheart doesn’t give up easily though, and with my own Red Riding Hood colleague in support, I quickly started dealing some heavy damage. The flaming sword attacking combined with the Banner of Slowing (as I named it) meant that anyone who got in close was getting barbecued with little chance of escape. Soon we’d racked up our first point by killing seven of them, and they followed suit by destroying one of our towers. Although we were tied, they were at an overall advantage, advancing closer to our base.

It wasn’t long after this that I suffered my first death, but got the opportunity to level up which allowed me to gain a new attribute. There was a large number on offer but it was unclear if I would get to come back to choose more because, despite reaching level six, I only ever got to choose one new attribute. I opted for an instant heal of fifty percent of my health because, despite a hefty cool-down, it would be invaluable to my tanking nature. I re-spawned and rocked back into the fight but was reminded I’d also gained the chance to choose a new item. Completing certain tasks such as killing Minions, towers, and players nets you gold which can be spent on items. There was room for three different items plus two specialty ones that possibly could have been character specific, so I picked up an armour buff and got back into the fray.

By now, we’d racked up another point for killing seven of their guys and then, with my hefty sword, destroyed their first tower, making the score three to us and one to them. We quickly started on the second central tower, while they neared killing seven of our guys. As the second tower (which had stronger attacks than the first) rained merry hell down on the Minions, myself and Red Riding Hood entered into a two-versus-three battle with evil Red Riding Hood, Helsing, and Fenrir. My increased armour soaked up more damage and I started using the targeted attacks so that my friend could deal extra damage. In a moment of story-based irony, I watched Red Riding Hood smash the werewolf Fenrir’s face in with a staff – her grandmother would be proud. Helsing tried to avenge Fenrir’s death but only found my sword instead, leaving evil Red Riding Hood wondering how the tables had been turned. We let her flee and cracked on with the second tower, which soon fell.

By now the clock had been ticking for over fifteen minutes and the score was going bananas. We were eight points rich to their three, and we didn’t show any signs of slowing up. For all my exploits, I gained more items including increased health, hit-point stealing, and the ability to self-resurrect after death with a portion of my health restored. I was a tank in all but the metal shell, dealing tons of damage from the start, and now I was just an unbelievably tough bastard to actually kill. Even when they did, I just got back up a few seconds later, as poor, unsuspecting Jessie James found out when he turned his back.

Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the Titans had spawned and although we didn’t need their aid, I had to take a look. These would be the contested objectives, a series of neutral elements that could be fought to earn yourself a point and give your entire team a buff that could help turn the tides of a battle. With only a few minutes left on the clock I was happy to ignore them, given our lead, and leaving them alone certainly had nothing to do with their giant size or fire-based attacks.

Now, with only a minute left on the clock, we destroyed another tower and killed two more people, racking up seven in total and sealing a victory of ten points to four. Jovial shouts of ‘hacks’ were heard from across the room and some fist-bumps were exchanged. The game had certainly been a lot of fun; graphically it was of the high quality I would expect from Crytek, in terms of the map, the attacks, and the environment.  Each character was well designed and had a strong sense of individuality which I could relate to, given my prior knowledge of mythical characters and fables.

As the room filtered out, I was left with a sense of intrigue and interest. Crytek certainly have a decent product on their hands and it has the fun and challenge nailed down. The only variable they can’t control is if the public will be swayed by the emergence of a new IP into a very popular genre.

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