May 20, 2013

Let's Check Out - Waystone Games' Dawngate Beta

For this week's edition of Let's Check Out, we were fortunate enough to get a first stab at EA's entry into the MOBA field, created by the newly formed, and relatively unknown Waystone Games. As a rather hardcore player of Riot's League Of Legends and Valve's DOTA 2, I did share some skepticism as to whether this game would be able to stand out in the increasingly crowded genre, but following a half dozen games during Friday's first closed beta block, my feelings are leaning more towards optimism.

Similar to the way Visceral Games was born with the Dead Space project, Waystone Games is an internal 'incubator' team comprised of a swathe of former Visceral developers given free reign to work on a new IP, which considering EA's recent track record with not rehashing old properties, is refreshing to say the least.

Dawngate offers familiar gameplay with a good slew of twists and noteworth gameplay changes, with the game's lore referring to champions as 'Shapers,' heroes that draw upon the power of the earth to augment their abilities. The closed beta had a total of 12 Shapers, each with their own distinct feel and abilities, although some felt familiar (Like Kel, who shared a few similarities with LoL's Gragas, except he chucks sheep). For the sample match I chose a lifesteal tank called Voluc, who uses plenty of debuffs to wittle down at his enemies before going in for the kill.

'Vim' is the name of the spirit currency in Dawngate.
Upon selecting your Shaper, you also get to choose between 4 distinct roles and perks, which offered some very distinct advantages depending on the role you were going to assume. As I chose to focus on laning instead of jungling, I went with a Tactician role, which offered extra currency for killing lane minions and damaging enemy Shapers, as well as a perk focused on defense penetration for surpassing armor. The other roles: Gladiator, Hunter and Predator offered distinct advantages for different playstyles, while perks offered a simpler, more streamlined version of League of Legends Rune pages on a first glance.

Dawngate Base Guardian
Gameplay wise the game offers the familiar QWER ability, 5v5 based gameplay along with some additional bells and whistles, particularly centered around map dynamics. Dawngate features standard pushing in a 2 lane format, with towers (Called Bindings) that can actually regenerate given enough time. This design choice actually resulted in some genuinely fun back and forth between the teams during a certain match, allowing us to come back from a scenario that would have been certain defeat in a game like DOTA 2, where losing your barracks is hard to recover from.

Instead of the main objective of the game being to destroy the enemy base, Dawngate features a tough base guardian who will soundly deliver a beating if you attempt to take him on alone. Imagine the end goal being to take on an even tougher Nashor or Roshan along with the enemy team, and you get the basic gist. The map has an entire central jungle labyrinth instead of a third lane, offering plenty of pockets for sneak attacks and ganks, although most of the action seemed to focus around the lanes and corners of the map.

Speaking of map corners, this is where my favorite part about the Dawngate map resided. Each team starts off with tw Spirit Forges under their control (With a total of 4 on the map), complete with RTS style workers gathering the coveted 'Vim' currency and providing an extra source of income aside from standard laning activity.

Similar to League Of Legends' Dominion mode, these points are capturable, resulting in an entirely new dynamic comprised of harassing the other team's Vim gatherers to outright capturing the points, which cuts off their source of passive income. This hybrid map gameplay was pretty damn fun, allowing us to successfully distract the enemy team by capping their resource points while they were making headway against our Guardian, causing them to retreat, ultimately buying our towers enough time to regenerate. The addition of this feature definitely added even more depth to the gameplay, requiring even more coordination off lane to stay in control of your currency flow.

The game has no traditional items when you peruse the shop in base, instead offering an abstracted set of principles: Life, Resilience, Will, Power, Time and Hunger with branching purchase trees offering distinct passive abilities. One of my first items branched out into Glory, which offered a passive damage aura that worked perfectly with my up close and personal tanking Shaper. While initially confusing to figure out, including an absence of a philosophy for casters from what I could tell, it's an interesting take on the traditional item builds.

The game also features a Spellbook option that allows you to add certain spells on the fly during the game, including heals, withers, blinks, stasis and more. With a total of 3 slots available upon reaching Level 20 in a game, it seems like this feature could add quite a bit of depth to combat as you level up.

Graphics wise the game offers a style leaning more in the colorful vein of League Of Legends, with saturated color palettes and bright, poppy characters along with a really nice and subtle, pseudo-Asian vibe to it. Upon some discussion with a developer or two over at Waystone, I was surprised to hear about some of their inspirations for the art direction in the game, including looking at the body of work by Studio Ghibli.

If I had any visual complaints it did feel like some of the heroes lacked a little bit of visual badassery, especially after playing a paint brush wielding Shaper called 'Zeri,' that nearly seemed a little too whimsical compared to the rest of the available characters. Despite that, the game does seem to have a solid visual foundation that they'll be able to build and expand upon.

In conclusion, Dawngate might just be a MOBA worth keeping on the radar, as I definitely get the impression that this title was created by a small, yet passionate group of devs trying to push new gameplay ideas into the space. With it's hybrid map, interesting visual theme and the depth of gameplay I experienced in my short time playing it, I do feel like Waystone's entry into the field might just have the legs to stand on it's own, if the company plays their cards right. Sign up for beta access over at the official Waystone Games website, as public closed beta access should be opening up relatively soon.

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