There's no bigger genre in competitive gaming right now than MOBAs (or multiplayer online battle arena games), which pit small teams against each other to destroy the base at the other end of the map. Computer entries like League of Legends and Dota 2 command millions of daily players and have shot to the top of the eSports world. Also, the top games in the genre are free, putting traditional $60 or subscription-based games to shame with their player devotion.
Luckily, you don't need a gaming PC to enjoy a quality MOBA experience: a few key games are available on the App Store, designed specifically for the iPad and iPhone. And while they may be scaled down from the more elaborate desktop entries in certain ways, you can still find exciting, strategic combat wherever you are.
Wondering where to start? Here's a quick tour of the top MOBAs available today for iOS — they're all free-to-play, so you might as well dabble.
Released in November for both iPad and iPhone, Vainglory (free; iPhone and iPad) is our top pick of the bunch, as evidenced by its place on our lists of the best iOS games of 2014 and our favorite free games of last year. And it's certainly the most attractive of the bunch, with excellent texture work and effects making it a showcase game worthy of its own iPhone commercial. (Which it got, amazingly.)
But this mobile original is luckily much more than just a pretty face, as the three-on-three team battles offer plenty of excitement on the battlefield. Vainglory is a bit streamlined compared to some MOBAs, however: there's just one key battle lane on the single current map, where you'll team up to fight your way through automated turrets and ultimately destroy the crystal found in the rival base.
Below the lane are strategic opportunities to power-up your autonomous fighting minions or generate extra gold, but a lot of the actual combat takes place on the one path. Much as we'd like to see some additional variety pumped in, the characters are nicely designed and differentiated, and Vainglory really looks and plays like the real deal, albeit on a tablet or phone.
Fates Forever (free) is our next best choice for an iOS MOBA, but it's a very close second, and this iPad-only affair differs from Vainglory in some key ways. Notably, the game map takes a dual-lane approach to combat, with high and low paths lined with turrets and tributes (minions), with the strategic conquest elements found in the wooded area in between. And it also offers a voice chat feature via headset, if you want to team up with friends and really strategize your movements and actions.
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