App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Tencent is a giant in the games industry, and no single game of theirs is bigger than League of Legends (LoL), their free-to-play multiplayer MOBA. Although LoL isn’t available on mobile, Arena of Valor is the next best thing. It too is a free-to-play online MOBA from Tencent and it pits teams of five against each other in a game that is bursting with variety and fun. As a free-to-play game, there are some not-so-great aspects of Arena of Valor’s design, but for the most part those are easy enough to ignore, especially considering Arena of Valor is quite possibly the best multiplayer game on mobile.
MOBA on the move
If you’ve never played a MOBA before, here’s a quick rundown: Multiplayer Online Battle Areanas (MOBAs) feature two opposing teams who are trying to work together to destroy their opponents’ base structure. Standing in the way of accomplishing this task are protective structures, known as towers, AI-controller monsters strewn throughout the map (known as “creeps”), and—of course, the enemy team of heroes. In any given match, the goal is to outplay your opponents by scoring key kills and farming creeps quickly to gain and press advantages over the enemy team.
In Arena of Valor, nothing is really new in this regard. The only real gameplay tweaks for making its MOBA action work on mobile are by streamlining some of the more micro-manage-y processes of traditional MOBAs (e.g. the shop) and implementing a virtual joystick control scheme instead of tapping around to move and attack in something like Vainglory.
Valor and variety
Where Arena of Valor really stands out compared to other mobile MOBAs is in the amount of stuff that is packed into it. With over 40 heroes, six game types, a boatload of skins, and an Arcana system for further customizing each hero to your liking, there’s a ton to see, do, and work toward in the game. It also helps that all of the heroes in the game have their own unique stats and abilities, which gives you a lot of ways to change up the way you play, even if you stick to Arena of Valor’s primary 5v5 Grand Battle Mode.
It’s also worth noting that Arena of Valor is really generous with its unlocks, even for people who do not want to put money into the game. Playing three matches a day unlocks a good number of heroes, and there’s a slew of special events and challenges going on all the time to unlock new limited-edition skins or get bonus heroes without spending any currency, in-game or otherwise. This helps make matches feel rewarding, even if they don’t turn out the way you had hoped.
Mixed feelings on monetization
The only real bummer about Arena of Valor is its Arcana system and the way it ties into the game’s monetization scheme. Arcana are items you can unlock and equip to add bonus stats to heroes, but the amounts of Arcana you can equip are limited by your account level. On top of this, you can earn Arcana through random drops or alternatively use in-game currency to buy exactly the stat buffs you want.
Obviously, such a system benefits those willing to pay to customize their characters in precisely the ways that they want, but the good news here is that grinding out the Arcana you want feels achieveable and the game does a good job of pairing players of similar levels together in matches. As a result, earning Arcana feels like a meaningful means of progression, but these upgrades aren't so individually impactful that matches ever feel determined by a character or characters with the most advanced Arcana equipped.
The bottom line
Arena of Valor is a fantastic MOBA that feels right at home on mobile. It’s packed with variety and gives you a ton of ways to see everything it has to offer, even if you don’t spend a cent on it. If you want to play the game competitively, its monetization scheme might force you to shell out to keep up an edge against the competition, but otherwise the game is remarkably generous, well-tuned, and a heck of a good time.