Nintendo Switch hasn't even hit the 18-month mark and it's already been acquiring all manner of popular new genres. It's jumped onto the hero shooter bandwagon with the excellent Paladins and ticked the battle royale box so hard with Fortnite it's gone right through the paper and snapped the pen for good measure.
So now it falls to a genre that's long been one of the most impenetrable, a PC mainstay that's become a crown jewel of the eSports scene - the MOBA. Known as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena to its friends and family, the classic MOBA template remains incredibly popular on PC thanks to the success of Dota 2 and League of Legends.
Arena of Valor - a new, previously mobile-exclusive instalment in the genre - shares a publisher with the latter (Chinese giant, Tencent Games, no less) and it's that shared gene pool that's helped take an often intimidatingly deep concept and turn it into a fast-paced and rewarding experience that's just right for the 'pick up and play' ethos of a handheld-friendly console.
In fact, the free-to-play Arena of Valor takes more than inspiration from LoL. It outright copies many a character, right down to their costumes and abilities, but considering both games are aimed at very different markets, it's a cross-breeding of ideas that's unlikely to cause the industry to capsize. If anything, building on the solid foundation of a game like LoL only helps build AoV's authenticity.
The concept is mercifully simple. Select a match type - they come in 5v5, 3v3 and 1v1 variants - select a hero from the 34 available then head into battle. Only a handful are available from the start, but if the unlock system from the mobile version follows suit on Switch, you'll be unlocking new characters every few days through log-in bonuses, in-game challenges and special events. With skins and skills also dolled out regularly, it promises to keep you coming back for more.
Anyway, back to the action. Much like LoL, each map is divided in half, with three channels linking one end to the other. Each team has a core they need to protect - destroy your enemy's core and the game is over. However, you'll need to destroy towers along the way - which serve as a line of defence along each route - as well as engaging enemy heroes. It can be a little overwhelming at first, especially if you're new to this genre, but its top-down view and myriad abilities soon start to open up.
Each hero has a unique set of abilities tied to 'L', 'R' and 'LZ', 'RZ', 'B' and 'A' and a number of these can be upgraded throughout a battle. To do this you'll need to get in among the action, killing enemy heroes, taking out minions (AI-controlled fodder that follow you into battle) and increasing the credits you can spend. Soon you realise respawning back at your own core isn't a punishment, it's simply a way for you to upgrade a given power, making it far more potent by the time you rejoin the action. The controls also map over surprisingly well. The mobile version was a pure touchscreen affair, so being able to use the analog sticks on the Joy-Cons is instantly more tactile and responsive than a digital joystick on screen.
Many of your attacks also have cooldowns, so there's a tactical nature of knowing when and where to use them. Many of the heroes also complement each other. It's not as strictly team focused as Paladins and its objective-based action, but heroes are still divided into distinct categories - Tank, Warrior, Assassin, Mage, Marksman and Support.
Having a powerful heavy character such as the Viking-esque Ormarr ploughing into battle with his giant hammer is a great way to cause mass havoc near a tower, but his life expectancy can be dramatically increased if you have a Marksman such as Violet taking powerful potshots outside the AOE of a tower, or a Support such as Alice with her helpful shield abilities. Matches may only last around 10-minutes long each (regular MOBA matches on are usually around the half-hour mark), but there's still a pleasing amount of depth once you stop aimlessly hacking and slashing.
Performance-wise its mostly good news. Designed to run on the same mobile processors found in Nintendo Switch, Arena of Valor usually only stutters when a match begins, with a short but frustrating drop in frames. Load times between matches are also painfully long, but once you're into a match you're only kept waiting by a cooldown timer between deaths. Its character designs look a little muddy on screen compared to their much higher-res cousins shown off in menus, but the in-game experience is still clear enough to keep the action discernable. The controls also map well to the Joy-Con or Pro Controller, offering just as much dexterity in handheld mode as it does tabletop/docked mode.
Overall, Arena of Valor's short yet sweet beta has left us surprisingly optimistic for its eventual release. It looks and plays much like its genre counterparts, despite being of mobile origins, and there's still plenty to enjoy and earn through in-game achievements for those not looking to spend real-world cash. With tweaked graphics and support for both casual and ranked play, Arena of Valor promises to be a huge new addition to Switch's handheld library when it arrives later this year.
Have you played Arena of Valor on Switch? Are you a big MOBA fan? Share your thoughts on the game in the comments below...