Arena of Valor Review
Real-time strategy games have always been an active niche from the earliest days of the industry. Its mantle has been taken up in recent years by MOBAs – multiplayer online battle arenas – like League of Legends, Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm and more. That’s why I was excited to try the most popular MOBA in China that few outside of it have heard about – Arena of Valor.
The game – also known as Strike of Kings or Glory of Kings, and which has 200 million players (you read that right) in China, just came out for the Western mobile market for iOS and Android systems. Its developer is Tencent, the same company that owned League of Legends. I want to go over what Arena of Valor is all about, how it’s set up, the playing experience, and how to unlock all the rewards and exclusive heroes.
So first of all, Arena of Valor is a free-to-play mobile game – you don’t have to pay anything to download and play the game itself. In fact, you can unlock almost all of the playable heroes by merely playing the game (the exceptions are the licensed DC Comics characters – like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) and earning Gold and Gems, which are used to obtain Vouchers, the in-game currency. But I’ll return to this system a bit later.
How to Play Arena of Valor
The gameplay itself is much like League of Legends (LoL) but adapted to mobile platforms. When you play a match, you’re tossed into an arena with teammates for a fast-paced 5-vs-5 or 3-vs-3 battle. Since the game was created for mobile platforms and players who might be pressed for time, matches are quicker than the average League of Legends or Dota match.
On the left side of your screen, you’ll have a digital virtual joystick to navigate around the arena with. And above that, in the upper-left corner of the screen, you’ll see a minimap of the battlefield with various buttons related to sound and communication (microphone on/off, sound on/off), as well as a line-up of your heroes which shows whether they are still active or if they have been defeated by the enemy.
On the right-hand side of the screen, towards the lower right-hand corner, are buttons for special attacks your heroes can perform as well as fist button that you press to make your hero perform an attack. Your objective is simple – get through your enemy’s defences – units, heroes, and defence towers – and destroy their main base. Simple enough. But where Arena of Valor really shines is in how polished, smooth, and enjoyable the gameplay is. You can tell that the publisher is Tencent, one of the biggest gaming publisher in the world and that the game is the most popular mobile game in Asia. A lot of money and thought has been put into it. Each hero has their own unique abilities and characteristics – Mina has a combination of skills and strengths that make her good at performing the role of a tank – soaking up massive damage and dealing it out, too. You can actually see this in the hero selection screen – heroes can be grouped by type, and these types include “Warrior,” “Marksman,” “Support,” “Tank,” and more.
Like I said, the games can be short and intense – the shortest game I’ve personally played lasted just over eight-and-a-half minutes – our team pushed right through the center and destroyed the enemy’s main tower. But other games have been much longer and intense, with both sides focusing on clearing defence towers, fighting each other, or doing other tasks – taking over 16 minutes to see through to completion. What I enjoy most is that the game is balanced enough that it never feels too grindy – it’s not just about tossing your heroes against the other team’s heroes and defence towers again and again until one side or the other gains an advantage. You can also, for example, choose to attack NPC “boss units” which, when defeated, grant your team certain perks. For example, the Dark Slayer, when destroyed, will give a damage boost to your whole team. The heroes and their abilities and roles are varied enough that you can use different tactics and strategies.
How to Get More Gold & Gems
Since Tencent are serious about this game’s competitive nature, even going so far to begin setting up an e-sports league for it, they definitely don’t want Arena of Valor to be seen as a pay-to-win game. You can unlock all heroes in this game simply by playing matches to gain Gold and completing quests to receive Gems, which are exchangeable for heroes and perks respectively. The perks include things like Gold boosts, EXP cards that boost rewards, or crates containing heroes.
Gold and Gems are soft currencies. The hard currency in this game – Vouchers – can only be bought with real money, starting at $0.99 for 100 Vouchers to $99 for 14,000 Vouchers. Currently, Batman is the only hero in the game who can’t be unlocked with Gold – he costs 1799 Vouchers, which is roughly $15, whereas Superman costs the same amount of Vouchers, but can also be obtained for 18,888 Gold. This is quite a considerable amount of money to pay for virtual things, but luckily you don’t need these to fully enjoy the game.
How to Get More Vouchers
You can also use Vouchers to buy skins for your heroes, and other than that and being able to unlock new Heroes more quickly than if you’re only playing for free, the Vouchers don’t give you any real advantage over players who are not paying anything. Tencent made the right choice, in my opinion, in not implementing a loot crate or other pay-to-win dynamic in this game – being one of the biggest game companies in the world probably means that they have enough money to be confident that they’ll eventually recoup costs and make a profit from people who do choose to pay for Vouchers.
Tencent didn’t reinvent the wheel with Arena of Valor, that’s true – the Arana and Talent systems are basically the same as the Rune and Summoner Spell features in League, but that’s not a bad thing. If you’re a veteran MOBA player, you’ll recognize these features of the game, but the setup is more than satisfying enough for players new to the genre. Combined with a smooth onboarding and tutorial system, as well as shorter matches, it’s an excellent introduction to the world of MOBA games. The game runs as smoothly as silk (even sports a high frame-rate mode toggleable in the settings menu), something which is not unimportant to me – PUBG isn’t a mobile game, but even on my beefy PC it often stuttered and lagged, something which put me off playing it. Arena of Valor has had a lot of optimization, so it shouldn’t present you with such annoying performance issues.
AoV also has a few different modes than just 5-vs-5 or 3-vs-3. Solo Battle is what it sounds like – a 1-vs-1 face-off that does not allow for the “recall” ability (teleporting your hero back to base to replenish HP), and Death Match can be played in 2-vs-2, 3-vs-3, and 5-vs-5, but in it killed heroes don’t automatically respawn and you win the game by killing the last player on the opposite team.
Superman’s Playing Tips
When I play as Superman, for example, I like to take flight (Superman gains energy as he walks, and once his energy is fully charged, begins to fly) and zip around the map, playing a support role for my teammates. Superman’s increased speed in flight mode (+20%) and decent health (he is categorized as a tank, but, in my opinion, is not a typical tank character) allows you to use him well as a harasser of enemies. Just fly in, use some special attacks on enemies, and get out. That way, you can really piss them off and make them chase you, separating them from their teammates or distracting them from their attack. A little tactic I find hilarious (or at least funny) is hiding in the bushes (you become invisible) and letting some enemy players pass by, only to hit them in the back afterward and run away, potentially blunting their attack on a defense tower, for example, and making them waste precious seconds deciding whether to chase you or keep going.
Since Arena of Valor also has the ability to equip your heroes with items, you can – for example – buy Boots of Speed or Gilded Greaves and equip him with them, which will increase Superman’s speed by 60 points as well as give him extra resistance to magic attacks, which in turn will help prevent him from being slowed down by “crowd control” and slowing spells or attacks.
Exciting Items & Features
There are so many items that you can buy with Gold and equip your heroes with that will allow you to carefully tweak and customize them to fit your playstyle and strategy.
Because of all these cool in-game features, the game never feels too dull or grindy. You can switch up so many things, there are different modes to play, the rounds are short but at the same time very strategic, and the rewards are varied and appropriate for the battles you win or the quests you complete. You communicate by voice or text chat with teammates and coordinate your strategy.
Say NO to Pay-to-Win Microtransactions
The game is very well-optimized and runs smoothly, and perks and bonuses from the publisher meant that after a few weeks of playing, I had already collected 16 out of 40 heroes. Pretty good progress, I’d say – and nowhere near as big a disaster as it was with EA’s Star Wars Battlefront 2, for example. So just by playing the game at a normal pace, you could easily unlock most of the characters you desire.
Is Arena of Valor Worth Playing?
Most of all, this game is FUN. All its features and game modes would just be lipstick on a pig if the game was boring and grindy, but Arena of Valor is really a game that you can get into and enjoy every day – and it stands out as being one of the few well-made MOBA games for mobile devices. I give it two solid thumbs up for these reasons – it’s earned them. Its mix of a diverse range of heroes, a level playing field for all players, different games modes, and depth of the gameplay itself makes it a great game to grab and try out if you’re looking for a MOBA experience on mobile. It doesn’t reinvent the MOBA wheel, but then again – it doesn’t have to.