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iPhone App Video Review: Solstice Arena

by Andrew Koziara

The MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, craze brought about by games like DOTA and League of Legends continues. We've had attempts to bring the genre to mobile before, with games like Legendary Heroes. Well Zynga is throwing their hat into the ring, though the game they've created isn't even really a fully fledged MOBA at all. It's called Solstice Arena, and it's a surprisingly fun combat focused online multiplayer team game. Fair warning. I'm an avid LoL player, so I might throw some terms and references out here and there.

Playing as one of the unique hero characters, your goal is to beat the enemy team, eventually taking down all the towers and main structure in their base. Solstice kind of reminds me of that game Raid Leader, which took one aspect of a larger genre and made a single experience out of it. Whereas Raid Leader took the boss fights of MMO's and simplified them, Solstice Arena is pretty much all about the team fights. There are no creeps, no jungle, no lanes, and no real sense of farm outside of a treasure chest in the middle of the map that you must capture. Just team fights and towers. Also, these elemental pick-ups that can enhance your abilities.

Matchmaking is all random, which is kind of bad, as team composition really matters. If you get stuck on a squishy team of attack damage and ability power carry types, with no tanks or supports, you'll be in for a tough time. Also, despite the common League strategy of leaving the support alive until the end, they can provide insane amounts of sustain, so while it's still important to focus down the squishy damage dealers, I'd say prioritizing healers is just as important here, if not more so.

Matches are only three vs. three, so it never gets too chaotic. Each hero that you play as has a passive ability, and three core abilities, one of which is their signature move. Like an ultimate, but not nearly as strong. Playing on a smaller screen like an iPhone instead of an iPad makes it that much more likely that you'll have difficulty targeting the right champ in a clump of enemies. Even in League it's easy to occasionally target a minion or the incorrect champ by mistake, and here, with small screens and large fingers, it's even worse. They did include a form of team communication, with a pre-set list of commands like defend, attack, capture, etc, which act like pings kind of. You can't really coordinate with it, but it's still useful.

The game references League and DOTA a lot, in achievements and ability names and such. The fighter Hamhock even has a move called Spin to Win, which is actually pretty over-powered, though not nearly as much as it is with our old friend Garen. My favorite character so far is Roland, who has a leap and taunt combo for singling out enemies, plus he's tanky and deals a decent amount of magic damage with a Sunfire Cape style passive.

As with League of Legends, a roster of free champions constantly rotates out, though you can purchase champions permanently with enough valor or crystals. Crystals are the premium currency. You can purchase things with valor, the earned currency, but each champion is ludicrously expensive. Speaking of shopping, a large part of the game is buying items for your hero as the match goes on. You are somewhat limited in the items you can buy, as each slot has a specific set of items to choose from. No troll builds with five Zeals and some Berserker Greaves. There is merit to learning what items do what, but the games go by so quickly, you won't want to bother half the time. Luckily, you can have the game automatically purchase items appropriate for your character whenever you have enough cash.

Unlike other games, the playing field never stays totally fair. You actually gain experience and level up the champs you play, giving them upgraded abilities. Kind of an odd decision. All in all, this is a great simple game that captures a lot of the fun of a MOBA, even if it lacks all the nuances and phases. Matches usually only last ten minutes or so, but they're fun matches. This is a great way to get your MOBA fix on the go. I hate to recommend Zynga games in general, but this one is pretty solid over-all. It's also totally free. It has too many problems to play seriously in my opinion, but it's a simple distraction worth trying out.