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Hands-On: Solstice Arena Was the E3 Sleeper Mobile Hit

Leah B. Jackson | 17 Jun 2013 19:00
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It's mobile MOBA.

It's always exciting when something at E3 manages to blow you away, and that's exactly what Zynga's new free-to-play MOBA Solstice Arena was able to do. Solstice Arena is an iOS speed MOBA that offers the perfect bite-sized chunk of play on any iOS device. While other MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 offer excellent experiences in their own right, Solstice Arena brings something entirely new to the table.

Solstice Arena offers quick 6-11 minute games and can be played cross-platform between different iOS devices. It's guided by two main principles: accessibility and hardcore fun. Whether you're new to MOBAs entirely or a hardcore veteran, Solstice Arena is easy to pick up and play for any skill level. The game itself is a condensed version of other MOBAs and offers a single lane map with no farming. Instead, players earn gold over time and by killing other players.

The map layout is very simple and accessible. Two teams of three start on opposite sides of a single lane map and each base has three towers. To win, you have to destroy your enemies' base by taking out all of their towers and their main Oracle tower. What's interesting about the towers in Solstice is that they don't attack you unless the players on the other team are alive. Meaning, if you manage to wipe them all out you'll be able to take towers even faster, which speeds up the game overall if you're in an advantageous position. Additionally, in the center of the map there's a chest that respawns every minute or so, and when a player captures it by channeling it for a few seconds, each player on the team earns 100 gold.

There are random power-ups scattered throughout the map as well that offer various buffs based on what character you choose. Currently Solstice Arena offers 11 heroes, and Zynga plans to release new ones every two weeks. Not only are all of the characters in Solstice unique, but they look absolutely fantastic and they each already have three skins available for purchase.

Characters in Solstice Arena each have two usable abilities as well as a Signature, or Ultimate, attack. You don't level your attacks up in game, instead you earn experience for playing (whether you win or lose) and as you level up you can upgrade each ability up to nine times.

As is the case with other MOBAs, the characters in Solstice are all divided in to different types. There are assassins, support, fighters, tanks, and casters. Each different type of character is buffed by different elemental attributes.

In general, assassins benefit from items with void, casters get buffs from sun, support heroes use moon, fighters need earth, and tanks should focus on iron. By building the correct elemental items for each character, their damage and support capabilities will increase exponentially.

On top of unique character design, Solstice Arena also offers a diverse item shop in-game. All of the items in Solstice are passive items, so once you buy them you don't have to use them, your character just gets stronger. For people who love to theorycraft and go for unique builds, that's totally viable. However, if you're a new player you can simply purchase the recommended items each game. If you don't even want to bother with the item shop, you can select the auto-buy option which automatically purchases the recommended items every time you leave your base.

The auto-buy option is one way Zynga helps make the game more accessible to new players. Additionally, there's no chat in the game so no one is going to be running around calling you a noob and feeder the whole time. This was a conscious decision on Zynga's part. Not only did they want players to feel welcome, but during a five minute game it would be annoying if your teammates were chatting the whole time. To communicate, there's an alert team button you can press which allows you to ping different things you want your team to do.

If you want your team to defend a tower, you can hit the alert team button and then click your tower and a notification will pop up saying Defend! There's also options for advance, attack enemy, and heal. Even once the game is over there isn't an opportunity to talk to the other team. Instead, you can either hit the GG (good game) button or not.

These decisions completely eliminate the intimidation factor that comes with playing a new MOBA, and they're great design choices that play out well. If you do happen to like playing with another person, you're free to add them to your friends list once the game is over and continue to play. I do wish there was some way to chat with friends, but that may come later.

For now, Solstice offers three different modes. There's single player versus bots, co-op versus bots, and online multiplayer. The bots themselves come in three different difficulties, and it's clear that Zynga worked hard to make their bots very clever. During our game the opposing team's strong tanking character always lead the charge in front of his squishier healer and caster allies. They used their moves when appropriate and really gave us a competitive game each time we played against them.

As for matchmaking, the developers explained that when you queue for an online multiplayer mode you will be teamed up with and against players of your own skill level. You'll also pick your character before matchmaking begins, so that teams will have a balanced make-up rather than three tank heroes for example.

Overall, Solstice Arena ended up being the biggest and best surprise at E3 2013. I was so impressed with everything this game already has to offer that I gave it Best MOBA of the show for WarCry.com. Since it was released on June 13 I've been playing non-stop and fans of the MOBA genre are going to be delighted with everything Solstice Arena has to offer.

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