Entering The Dawngate: Is EA Reshaping The MOBA?

Out of the big four press conferences at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, EA’s was perhaps the most tame. With only a clutch a new announcements, it was business as usual for the publisher and its stable of low-risk investments. However, nestled between Battlefield, The Sims, FIFA, and other usual suspects was a game that seemed discernibly out of place.

Developed by Waystone Games, Dawngate is EA’s attempt to branch into the highly-competitive MOBA market. Embodying hugely popular titles such as DOTA 2 and League of Legends, the genre attracts tens of millions players each and every day. It’s understandable, then, that a company such as EA would want a slice of the pie. It isn’t the only publisher to thought along these same lines, however. From Warner Bros. and Zynga to myriad smaller studios, many have tried to carve their own niche in this ever-growing genre with varying levels of success.

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Put simply, the MOBA scene is impenetrable. Aside from rampant overcrowding, studios also have to contend with the players themselves, the majority of whom are devoted to one or maybe two entries in this turbulent genre. On top of that, you have to consider just how intense these games are. As someone who regularly plays DOTA 2 I can say with absolute confidence that, after spending some two hundred hours with the game, I’m still only scratching the surface. Personally, I could never see myself juggling two MOBAs at a time, especially if one is a still largely an unknown entity.

That’s where the problem lies for EA and Dawngate. With the genre having fully ripened and, in a sense, gone mainstream, the only MOBA developers that aren’t left fighting for scraps are those who either got there first or are doing something truly innovative.

When it comes to MOBAs, however, there is extremely limited scope for innovation. Though the acronym can be applied to a wide spread of online games, it’s mostly used to described the classic real-time strategy/role-playing game hybrid that gave birth the genre. For the past few years, studios have continued to refine and rework different aspects of the MOBA though, by and large, most are identical.

Dawngate isn’t any different. Matches are strictly limited to two teams of five, both of which are trying to destroy the enemy base. As MOBA convention demands, these bases are connected by lanes, populated by towers and waves of minions. Alongside these mindless AI drones, heroes from both teams will duke it out, each one equipped with a small selection of abilities. Over the course of the game experience and money are earned, allowing for better equipment and the eventual victory of either team.

Waystone’s crack at the genre adheres to its core rules soundly and even tries to work in a few nuances of its own. Outside of matches, for instance, players can fit their heroes with small stat boosts and perks. While in-game, on the other hand, there are tweaks such as regenerating towers and money-producing spirit wells.

No matter how good you are at one MOBA, making the transition to another can be completely disorientating, even after customising your key bindings and whatnot. Each has its own terms for stats and abilities that appear throughout the genre. On top of that you have to learn an entirely new set of hero abilities, at least if you want to get ahead.

If you’re completely new to the genre this isn’t as much of an obstacle. What might be, however, is the presence of micro-transactions. Though common in just about every MOBA, Dawngate does that typical EA thing of asking you to buy in-game currency before you’ve even had a chance to settle in.

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So, what is Dawngate doing differently from its competitors? The answer: lore. One particularly weak area, even in DOTA 2 and League of Legends, is the lack of background and context. Though both have plenty of fictional nuggets scattered all over there is no sense of cohesion, something Dawngate looks to address. Having recently announced that Mass Effect writer, Chris L’Etoile, is joining the team, EA seems to be throwing itself behind Waystone Games. More interesting than that, however, is the studio’s plans to create a progressive “meta” story that moves in tandem with Dawngate and its growing player base. It’s certainly an interesting concept but unlikely to lure players away from rival MOBAs.

Dawngate’s appearance at EA’s press conference was unusual albeit intentional. With the game having been in beta for over a year already, EA is clearly attempting to assert itself as a big player in the MOBA world. Whether or not this move pays off remains to be seen yet, in my opinion, the publisher is too late to the party.

Let’s not forget that it was only a few years ago that EA announced Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes. Compared to its rivals the Mythic-developed title was unique, abandoning the traditional MOBA template for something tactical yet action-heavy. EA shuttered the game last year, however, relocating the once great developer to its mobile division before giving it the boot entirely. It was a wasted opportunity to say the least and makes me wonder if things would have turned out any different if EA gave it the same support it is now channelling into Dawngate.

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3 Comments

  1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head; “the MOBA scene is impenetrable”, and against DOTA and LoL, Dawngate doesn’t stand a chance, even if it does include a fancy story to go along with the game.

    I think it was Jim Sterling, who during the Dawngate part of the conference tweeted something along the lines of “if you repeatedly have to say your game is not a clone, then it’s probably a clone”.

    It’s clearly just another money-grabbing attempt by EA, which I reckon will fall on it’s face and be shelved within a year.

    • Precisely. It’s ridiculous to come out and say it’s not a clone as that’s what all MOBAs are and should be. The ones which are at the top of their game, however, are just the ones that got in there first.

      DOTA 2 is my personal go-to and, despite being considered one of the toughest, it’s still the one I’d recommend to anyone wanting to try the genre.

      Information in DOTA 2 is displayed clearly and the player-made loadouts help when trying a hero for the first time.

  2. That trailer is awful. I think I’ll stick with LoL.

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