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Vainglory, Apple's iPhone 6 showcase game, offers great, gorgeous MOBA action

Andrew Hayward | Nov. 19, 2014
With free-to-play PC games like League of Legends and Dota 2 pulling in tens of millions of daily players, it was inevitable that such multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games would scale down for mobile. Strong options like Fates Forever and Heroes of Order and Chaos have shown that it's possible to do the team-based tactical action genre justice on iPhone and iPad alike, but newcomer Vainglory might be the most impressive option to date.

Big action on small devices

Unlike a mobile MOBA like Solstice Arena that focuses on breezy battles, Vainglory matches typically last 20 to 30 minutes. As such, this probably isn't the game for your commute or quick break, but rather a half-hour sunk into the lump in your couch cushion. That's a gamble for an iPhone game, but developer Super Evil Megacorp even says that the iPad is the ideal play device for the game, and the match start screens make no illusions about the average skirmish length. It's not exactly a quick-hit pick. 

Otherwise, Vainglory adapts the MOBA formula to portable touch devices with large success. The touch controls — taps are used for movement, while attacks are automated and specials come with hitting an icon — are very responsive and easily understandable, although the lack of voice chat does make it tricky to coordinate actions with teammates. A simple system of preset text commands (like "go" or "on my way") is available, but none of my teammates seemed to know or care about them. Or I simply didn't notice them in the heat of the battle.

The free-to-play design thankfully puts no limits on gameplay: you can play as much as you want, all day and all night, but only with the certain free characters offered at any given time. If you want to use a non-free warrior, you'll have to pay a one-time fee with in-game currency — which accrues at a reasonable rate, but you can buy it if you need to have your favorite character unlocked ASAP. And since you can't spend real money to access character perks or in-match bonuses, it never feels like a pay-to-win game. In fact, it's a remarkably friendly freemium release. 

Having only one map with a single attack lane limits strategies and variety a bit, but despite some streamlining for the platform and market, Vainglory has the heart of a full-bodied MOBA experience — which is probably the highest compliment I can offer based on what I've played so far. And like the top PC genre entries, it's a remarkably fair and fun free game that doesn't penalize players who opt not to shell out. That makes it one of the best recent free options on the App Store, and a strong pick for both genre newcomers and veterans from other platforms. 

Vainglory is available now in the App Store, with separate downloads for the iPhone and iPad.


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