EA reintroduced Dawngate, their entry into the MOBA sphere, during E3. The game has been in beta since April last year, but I only started playing recently. It definitely has a short-term addictive quality, but is it here to stay? With huge competition like League of Legends, DOTA 2 and the upcoming Heroes of the Storm, can this upstart game really hope to make a dent in the market? It bears mentioning that Dawngate is the first release by Waystone Games, a small studio that was picked up by EA. With those concerns in mind, let’s take a look at Dawngate.
From the beginning Dawngate presents itself with a distinctive visual style and slickness that sets it apart from the competition. The patcher lacks polish, but that’s forgivable in the beta stage. The launcher is responsive and very minimal. I like that there’s not a lot of lag in the store and that starting a game is quick and painless. Characters are drawn in a cartoon style, while the supplementary art looks inspired by stained glass motifs. This seems to play into the idea that each character is a hero in the game’s “living lore”, a choose-your-own comic that directly involves players in the story of the game. I haven’t seen it in action enough to judge it, but it’s certainly a cool idea. Overall, the game looks clean but lacks additional polish. Now on to gameplay.
First, the map. There are a few obvious changes from your standard fare. There are only two lanes. This means that there never needs to be a solo lane, unlike in traditional MOBAs where there is almost always a mid and top laner who have to solo because someone is jungling. Speaking of jungling, the jungle in the game is quite large, which means a double jungle is actually doable. There are your typical towers (Shifters) and Baron/Worm (Parasite). But there is a third objective- spirit wells, and there are four of them, two belonging to each team at the beginning of the game. They passively produce “vim” (gold) for every player on the team. At around 15 minutes in you can start contesting these wells in order to increase your team’s total gold over time or stroll in and kill their farmers to cripple production. Parasite is an objective for a different reason- instead of giving a buff or an item, Parasite gives the team that kills it “Striders”. Striders are upgraded, super bulky minions that are great for pushing towers and destroying bases. Speaking of bases, check out this guy.
Your base is a giant monster that attacks invading heroes. In order to render it vulnerable to attack an enemy team needs to destroy a number of attack and HP orbs that are attached to your keeper. This adds a dynamic feeling to base assaults. As an assaulter you have to run around dodging these attacks while staving off the enemy team long enough to destroy their orbs. In addition to picking from a roster of characters you also get to pick a “role” before the game. This affects gold income for individual players. Gladiators get twice the currency from killing minions, predators get 1.5 times the currency for killing heroes, etc. This way you have some additional control over how you want to play.
Theoretically with this system you can shove any hero (shaper) into any roll that compliments your item build. This is noteworthy because Dawngate’s tagline is “break the meta” and what better way to do that than play a “support” shaper as a carry or a jungler? I have tried this, and it works… sometimes better than others, but making your own customized build tends to work a lot better than simply following the recommended items. Which it should. Experimentation is encouraged but hard to realize in practice. Item descriptions are wordy and it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for with the tree system the game uses. That said, there are pretty cool combinations you can make with chain lightning, shrapnel and frost options.
The game feels markedly more like League of Legends than DOTA when it comes to gameplay. Oftentimes switching between MOBAs trips you up when it comes to small mechanical differences like last hitting or skill timing, but I found that switching between League and Dawngate was painless. Dawngate’s approach to laning favours aggressive tactics, especially since most characters use skills entirely based on cooldowns and don’t have resource pools to manage. Shapers (heroes) are diverse and well-designed, capable of fulfilling many roles, lending to a more DOTA-like approach to hero building rather than the LoL style of “this is your build, but you can choose GA or Banshees” way.
You can and should tailor your offense to the threat you’re facing and the team you have. There is a sense of freedom in builds because a lot of stats are shared, like in DOTA. Abilities all scale from the same stat as basic attack damage, movespeed is paired with attack speed. It streamlines the process and makes the actual effect of the items you buy more important than the stats. Dawngate has forgone all item actives in favour of three spell slots that work like summoner spells in League.
To conclude, Dawngate is a fun, enjoyable romp and some fresh air in the MOBA market. It distinguishes itself by being true to its tagline- “break the meta”. There is a high amount of customization found between how two people will build the same character down to the smallest rune page. The game is still too young to have a proper competitive scene since there is no separate ranked queue and everything is scored on the same leaderboard. That’s not a bad thing. When you play League of Legends the meta is breathing down your neck and forcing you to adopt the styles of professional players in order to stay on top of the competition. Otherwise your teammates are going to be saying “WTF is your build?”.
For what it’s worth, Dawngate also has a fresher community that is currently exhibiting minimal toxic tendencies, and it might be because good karma is actually a rewardable currency. Dawngate is a great start. As Waypoint as a studio matures, so too will Dawngate. It helps that they have the gaming giant that is EA standing behind them, flush with advertising dollars. When this game officially comes out of beta, watch out. There might be blood in the water.
This is to all of you tired League players and you DOTA players that are skeptical of new MOBAs. Dawngate represents the movement of change in this little corner of the gaming market. It won’t be the first and certainly not the last, but is a contender in its own right. Whether it will ever reach the heights of these more established games, only time will tell. After all, who would have thought in Season 1 that League of Legends would break records for e-sports watchership worldwide? The world of online gaming is forever changing, and there is nothing wrong with embracing a new meta.