MOBA and mobile hasn’t ever been a very comfortable match. Phones aren’t really designed to handle this kind of gameplay and lazy ports of big MOBA titles or clumsy clones of the same haven’t done the migration to mobile platforms any favours.
Making such a crossover via mobile phones and then on to tablets has been at the heart of the problem since the genre tried to make the leap from the desktop to your pocket, but with developers keen to either port or copy the existing formats and to cash in on exploitative freemium incentives the mobile MOBA hasn’t really earned its stripes, choking on so many incompatibilities along the way.
What was needed was a fresh approach and veteran developer Jason Citron (OpenFeint) founded Hammer and Chisel to do just that. After over a year in sequestered development, Hammer and Chisel has produced what might be the answer to all of the mobile MOBA’s woes, a tablet only MOBA built from the ground up for this platform and this platform alone.
Fates Forever looks the part, with original characters that eschew burly knights and buxom witches for captivating animals that are more reminiscent of WoW in their presentation and light hearted styling than the heavier characterisation of established titles.
Fates Forever is a confident game. It knows what it is and has a clear sense of what it takes to work as a MOBA. Hammer and Chisel have been careful not to abandon the cornerstones of MOBA gameplay, but they have worked extremely hard to streamline the experience.
The graphics are appealing and accessible, light hearted and colourful without ever coming across as trite or saccharin. The choice to present heroes as animals was a good one and the balance between humour and cool is just right. Yes, the assassin, Cottontail, is a rabbit, but you really wouldn’t want to piss her off.
What really matters, though, is how FF plays and it is safe to say that H&C have gotten that just right. The ground-up development process has clearly paid off with a fluid gaming experience that is every bit a MOBA title and more. Gone is the awful clutter that came with so many awkward PC MOBA wannabes that had been squashed into the mobile phone first and then on to the tablet. In its place resides a clear, fluid and easy to use interface that leads to an exciting experience.
You get four special abilities that rapidly unlock as you fight and level, with further options to power up in any order you want. Managing these in the heat of battle is very easy, as is purchasing upgrades from the shop. You can choose a passive ability at the beginning of the match, which is also simple to manage.
The principles of MOBA gameplay have been sensibly left intact, even down to the last hit principle, which some titles have tinkered with to disasterous effect. The key to FF’s success is in how far H&C have streamlined the process, which is just enough. The challenging gameplay remains, but this title has sensibly recognised the limitations and advantages of a tablet device to bring a rich touch screen experience with just the right amount of complexity and not one ounce more.
It’s a lean experience that works not only within the range of a tablets capabilities, but also within the scope of a tablet users available time. Matches are short, with gameplay perfectly pitched to run fast without ever becoming overwhelming. In short, Fates Forever is a triumph of engineering with the strength of a confident new franchise.
It looks like the mobile MOBA has finally arrived.