Dawngate Beta Impressions: Breaking Meta But Not the Mold

dawngate-logoI’m not so sure that it’s everyone wants to get into MOBAs but everyone feels as though they have to get into MOBAs. While Riot Games is on their own and on top of the pile, all the other big players are trying to get in with their own MOBAs. Blizzard/Activision is trying something a bit more fan service and team objective based with Heroes of the Storm. Deep Silver is doing the Dead Island zombie MOBA. WB Interactive is onboard with Infinite Crisis. And, of course, Valve has Dota 2.

Now, Electronic Arts is the last one to jump into the MOBA fray by publishing someone else’s MOBA under their banner. Dawngate might seem to have a lot more in common with League of Legends than the other competitors but it also has some unique ways to differentiate itself from the king of MOBAs. Does it find its way to a solid third in the pack?

The basic premise is classic MOBA. Two teams of five try to move from their base long lanes and by turrets to destroy the central structure in the opposing base. Unlike Summoner’s Rift in League, this is a two-lane map with jungle between and adjacent to the two lanes. With the aid of your minions and teammates, you try to push through the three turrets in your lane to destroy the enemy base.

While the first visual impression that I got from a Dawngate video was that it was League on a map that wasn’t Summoner’s Rift, this game quickly differentiates itself from league. The central structure in an enemy base is the Guardian. The Guardian is a creature that has various abilities that it tries to kill you with. It’s surrounded by five nodes that must be destroyed before you can attack the Guardian.

dawngate-beta-screenshot-01-spirit-wellThe other unique feature of Dawngate’s field of battle, called The Battlefield, is the Spirit Well. There are four spirit wells on the map with each team holding two at the start of the game. These generate passive gold (called vim in DG) for you as the game progresses. The more Spirit Wells you hold, the more you vim is passively generated. At first, I thought these were closer to the Inhibitors from LOL but your minions gain buffs for every turret you destroy in their lane.

Since the tagline of the game is “break the meta,” I think it’s time to go into that a bit.

First, the five-player, two-lane map setup is different from most MOBAs. League and DOTA are built around five players and three lanes. The smaller map size makes for some unique laning moments. Rather than 1-1-2 with a jungler, there’s no set meta that I’ve seen. I’ve seen teams go 2-2 with a roamer. The common approaches are 3-2 or 2-3 and team fights are plentiful. Ganking is frequent because the jungle is on both sides of the map which means the unexpected arrival of reinforcements tends to be your undoing.

The real place where Dawngate is emphasizing breaking the meta is in the character select screen. While characters all have their typical archetype (tank, mage, support, carry, etc.), you can also select a role for your champion that gives a buff to certain ways to earn vim.

dawngate-beta-screenshot-02-rolesThe four roles are Gladiator, Tactician, Predator and Hunter. Predator is the least common one because no one is interested in being a jungler, it would seem. However, the Hunter gets a damage buff against jungle creatures. Gladiator is all about pushing lanes with vim bonuses for killing enemy minions. Tactician is almost a support role as your job is to harass everyone in sight with vim bonuses for attacking anyone on the enemy side. And Predator is all about killing enemy shapers (Dawngate’s term for champion) so I guess that makes it the AD Carry of your team.

It’s the mixing of shapers and roles that allows for the mix of strategies. In my experience, a mix of roles provides the best results. While you can get away without Hunters (junglers), not having a predator has been fatal in my matches. Not having someone dedicated to pushing forward can get your lane overrun. Given that playing to role leads to more vim and experience and therefore stronger shapers, playing to role is critical to success and a good mix of roles is good for your team. The meta gets broken by allowing you to play any character as any role as opposed to the slightly more rigid character archetypes and roles in a League of Legends.

As usual, whether you break the meta or not, it’s going to be the team that is able to work together the best that wins. While the games tend to be shorter than most MOBAs (I’d say 25 to 35 minutes on average), there is a lot of back and forth. Buffs from Spirit Wells and roles give that vim and XP boost to help close gaps quickly. I’ve seen games swing back and forth a few times with the end coming swiftly. The back and forth, unpredictable nature of some of these matches could make for an exciting eSport if EA is looking to back it in a way similar to Riot, Valve and Hi-Rez are doing with their games.

dawngate-beta-screenshot-03The flexibility in how you play characters and the fact that games never seem to be over until the Guardian falls means that there’s a lot of potential here for fun to be had in the gameplay. You can just go out and play the game you want to play rather than hope your PUG game allows you to draw into your preferred role. You can just pick your role and go to town. (Unless three of you want to jungle. I don’t think that would work.) Worry about playing your game than fitting in a team of randoms should make playing more enjoyable.

Even with the little differences that are interesting on paper, as a casual MOBA player (and I’ll tell you how I  got to that point but that’s another story for another time), you don’t feel as though the game is too different to play. One game, I was getting advice on how to play my shaper (Mikella) based on the most closely comparable League champion. When I looked up that champion, I found that they were quite similar in terms of abilities. In terms of skills, if you have favourite champions in other MOBAs, you should be able to quickly find a favourite here.

One other area that I will say that Dawngate gets high marks from me is buying items in-game. As a novice player, spending my gold in Summoner’s Rift is mostly terrifying. I don’t know what to buy and even the recommended items are a bit confusing to follow. Dawngate gives you recommendations but it also gives you easy branching paths in six categories to boost stats and give passive buffs. It’s very novice friendly compared to League. Please don’t change that system.

dawngate-beta-screenshot-05Visually, I don’t see a lot to set this apart from the competition. Like I said up top, the first time that I saw Dawngate, I thought I was watching League. The visuals of being  League clone might hold it back from growing to the levels of DOTA or League. It’s kind of sad that I get the feeling that MOBA players will just write this game off as clone because of how it looks when there are some unique depth elements that make it worth trying.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some problems with the game. While it’s still technically in beta (open beta but beta is still beta), I did have a few instances of where lag spiked to the point that I was killed as a result. It only happened in a couple of matches but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t annoying.

I also can’t see anything resembling an account leveling system. There’s no tutorial or versus AI bots option. There is only the one map available right now. Of course, those are all likely coming. For now, I don’t think you should jump in blind because you may not get a lot of help you getting into the swing of MOBAs.

Being an EA published free-to-play game, the in-game economy is absolutely broken. As per usual, you can buy new shapers using the in-game currency (called Destiny) or real money (Waypoints). Shapers are doled out in the classic rotation style with 10 of the 26 shapers available at any one time. However, each shaper costs 1,800 Destiny or 685 Waypoints.

If you want to buy all of the shapers, it’ll break the bank. I’ve been earning Destiny at a rate of less than 50 per match played. That sets me at a pace of more than 36 matches to buy one shaper. To buy them all, it’s 46,800. At the rate I’m earning Destiny, it will be close to 950 matches and that’s assuming that Waystone Games doesn’t add more shapers. It’s at least 36 more matches for every single shaper added. At 30 minutes per match plus ten minutes of queuing, loading and other miscellaneous time, that’s over 630 hours of playing.

dawngate-beta-screenshot-04If you use real money, it’s no better. Sure, you save 26 days of your life but you can kiss away a significant part of your next paycheque to buy the 17,810 Waypoints for all 26 shapers. Excluding “bonus” Waypoints when you buy in large quantities, $1 USD gets you 90 Waypoints. That’s $198 (26 shapers x 685 Waypoints ÷ 90 Waypoints per dollar) for the whole collection of shapers and just shapers. But let’s redo that calculation with the best bulk discount. The $50 pack includes a bonus 700 Waypoints on top of the regular 4,500 Waypoints which is 104 Waypoints per dollar. That means the best case scenario is that all the shapers will set you back just $171.

No, this isn’t nearly as bad as the mobile abomination that was Dungeon Keeper. That doesn’t mean that we have to be happy about something like this. Unfortunately, F2P games are built around converting single-digit percentages of the user base into paying customers. And, unfortunately, enough people are going to pay for Waypoints that Waystone Games are unlikely to change anything which means that I’m not going to rush back after this post goes live.

Speaking of reasons not to come back, I have not gone one game without a miserable experience with other players. If it’s not players on my team with name calling, profanity, complaining and other behaviour that makes me want to stop playing, it’s the other team where a player or players will ask my team to report a player on their team. If I’m finding someone that’s a problem in every game, do I really want to deal with that every time I log in? As bad a reputation that League’s community has, I would put the number of bad experiences at well under 20%. Why would I choose this over League?

Conclusion

As with most games, Dawngate has some upsides and some downsides. The metabreaking aspects of the game might not seem like much to me but I bet someone who has poured dozens or hundred of hours will see the difference and just might like it.

However, I’m not the hardcore MOBA player. I just don’t see the big difference between this and League of Legends. The unique role system would probably appeal to me if I would actually be able to afford to buy the shapers I want or if the other players I’ve met were nice… Okay, I met two I liked.

Maybe this will appeal to you and you probably shouldn’t write-off a free-to-play game just because I don’t like it. That being said, I’m not in a rush to get back to it after this post goes up. Maybe I’m getting old but I’d rather just play a game for fun. Maybe that’s why I so seldom play multiplayer. It’s just less aggravating that way.

Dawngate is available and was reviewed on Windows PC. At the time of writing, the game was in beta. The impressions of the game as written do not necessarily represent the state of the game after patches, fixes and final release. Your impression of the game may differ based on PC specs, MOBA skills and what you want or expect from a new MOBA.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on June 5, 2014, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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