Back when everyone was trying to break into the MMORPG scene despite World of Warcraft’s dominance, I always said that the difficulty in doing so was in creating a game that was similar enough to WoW that players would feel comfortable, but different enough to merit switching away from hours and money sunk into WoW. It would also help, I deemed, to set your game in an established universe rich with lore that players could already identify with. The MOBA market currently faces a similar issue, with many gaming companies vying for a spot in the pantheon of MOBA games. Unfortunately, with League of Legends hanging around, everybody seems to be playing for second. Despite this, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment are putting forth a strong contender with their upcoming game, Infinite Crisis. It plays similar to League of Legends (or any MOBA for that matter), has all of the expected and necessary items, and even adds a few interesting twists to the genre. Couple that with the fact that every DC Comics nerd (I use the term lovingly, as a compliment) who ever watched Justice League growing up will be tripping over themselves for a chance to play as the Man of Steel in a MOBA, and you’ve got a game with very promising prospects. Infinite Crisis is currently in its closed beta, so it will hopefully only get better.
If you’ve ever played any MOBA, then you’ll have the basics of Infinite Crisis down pretty quickly. Every champion comes with a passive ability and four other moves, one of which is an ultimate. Players control their characters with mouse clicks from a top-down, scrolling camera perspective as they battle their opponents. So far, the closed beta features the Coast City Marina and Gotham Heights as playable maps, which function as Normal (Summoner’s Rift) and Dominion (The Crystal Scar) respectively. While Gotham Heights and the Crystal Scar are so similar it’s barely worth mentioning, Coast City Marina is where Infinite Crisis truly seems to be breaking the mold. Rather than the traditional three lanes down the top, middle, and bottom of the map, Infinite Crisis features only two lanes: the top and the bottom. The entire middle portion of the map is made up of “the jungle,” (placed in italics because Coast City Marina is in the middle of a city, and thus not really a jungle), with objectives like Power Relays and Doomsday Devices, there’s much more to the “laning phase” of Infinite Crisis than just laning. There’s also the added effects of environmental destruction, with cars and buildings blowing up around the destruction of the battlefield. In fact, players can even choose an ability that lets them pick up and throw cars at their opponents! However, despite extremely fun gameplay and a few interesting innovations, Infinite Crisis cannot escape the painfully steep MOBA curve. Even with only 15 champions, it’s difficult to memorize all of their abilities and know which champions you can afford to fight and when. Additionally, the shop is difficult to navigate; even if you know what item you’re looking for, it can sometimes take 30 seconds to find because the item icons all look the same.
There’s very little I can detract from Infinite Crisis’s performance. Even with FRAPS running (which usually munches my framerate and processing power), I experienced a smooth 60 frames per second and no lag spikes or choppy movements. Every move was in sync and all of the audio was spot on. Characters are responsive and do what you tell them to do when you tell them to do it. I was genuinely surprised at how well the game performed considering it’s still fairly early in the closed beta. Despite this, it felt like a polished game that was ready for release. I’m not kidding; Infinite Crisis plays more smoothly and with less bugs than some recently released titles I know of (I’m looking at you, Payday 2). It’s even more polished than Warframe, which has been in Open Beta for months. It’s hard to know just how the support team for Infinite Crisis measures up, as I’ve yet to experience any game breaking bugs or issues, but if the game keeps going the way it’s going, the support team won’t even be needed! Not only does the game run smoothly and work well, but it looks amazing. It’s one of the most detailed, aesthetically pleasing MOBAs I’ve ever played. It maintains a slightly cartoonish look in line with its comic book origins, but there’s a gritty, mature feel to the game’s appearance and environment.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to say what the community for Infinite Crisis will be like in the future. During my experience in the closed beta, I had nothing but good times with other players. Everyone was there just to try the game out and have a good time. I made a huge mistake at one point and got my friendly Batman killed. Instead of raging and calling me a noob and saying I should get reported, he simply asked “What happened there, Doomsday?” I told him the truth: “Map awareness failed.” He simply laughed and said “No worries. It happens.” Sure, good people like this exist in other MOBAs as well, but I consistently met friendly players in Infinite Crisis. However, this is likely due to the nature of the closed beta, and is very subject to change, particularly when ranked queues get implemented. I’d like to think that Infinite Crisis will be host to mainly friendly people who just want to play as their favorite comic book characters and have a good time, but something about arbitrary numbers turns people into absolute troglodytes.
In its current state, Infinite Crisis has lots and lots of potential. It’s definitely one of the stronger MOBAs out there, and having the name Warner Bros. behind it (and the budget that said name entails), it’s prospects will likely only get better. It’s safe to assume that the game will release with many more playable champions. Big DC names like Superman and Lex Luthor haven’t even made their way into the roster yet, and it seems that each champion will come with at least three versions of itself. Batman is included as himself, “Nightmare Batman,” and “Gaslight Batman.” Wonder Woman is also playable in her “Atomic Wonder Woman” form, and the Joker arrives as “Gaslight Joker” as well as his classic self. The downside is that with each new champion comes new balance issues and mechanics for players to have to learn. Additionally, Infinite Crisis shares the leveling system of League of Legends, where each match gives players experience which levels up their accounts. The problem with this, having just leveled a second account in League of Legends is that it takes an unnecessarily large amount of time for a laughably small reward. Leveling up gives you nothing tangible, instead only getting you closer to the level cap, at which point you will presumably be able to play ranked games. Another thing to take into consideration is the game’s viability as an esport. If League of Legends and Riot Games have taught us anything, it’s that being a large esport is pretty much vital to a free-to-play MOBA’s continued success. The most popular MOBAs on the market are League of Legends and DOTA 2. The most popular RTS is Starcraft 2. The most popular fighting games are Super Street Fighter 4 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3. It’s no coincidence that these games are also the most watched competitive games within their respective genres. Whether or not Infinite Crisis manages to become a mainstay in the competitive esports scene will have a huge impact on the game’s success and popularity, and I can’t help but feel that much of a game’s success as an esport comes directly from the passion and involvement of the companies behind it. Here’s hoping Warner Bros. takes the initiative.
I mentioned earlier two very important things that help new games compete in a saturated market: gameplay that is similar but new and innovative, and an established universe. Infinite Crisis excels in both categories, and even has a juggernaut of an entertainment company behind it. While the game needs, I think, to succeed as an esport in order to truly rival the biggest players in the field, professional gamers will ultimately go where the money is. And if Warner Bros. decides to add, say, five or six zeroes to the prize pool of a big Infinite Crisis tournament, the game will jumpstart its road to success. Once it gains attention, it will have to keep players interested with solid framework and fun gameplay. I believe it has both. It’s hard to discuss a MOBA without comparing it to League of Legends (either consciously or subconsciously), but I’ve tried thus far to give Infinite Crisis credit for its own merit. I wouldn’t say Infinite Crisis is, in its current state, as good as League of Legends. But the pieces for an amazing MOBA are there. If they’re assembled in the correct way, Infinite Crisis could become one of the greatest MOBAs of all time. But the game is still in closed beta, which is plenty of time for things to go wrong. I wish Warner Bros. Interactive and Turbine Inc. all the luck in the world. To compete with League of Legends, they’re going to need it.