Prime World Preview: An RTS MOBA

In the year of the MOBA how does MOBA/RTS game Prime World stack up?

Over the last few weeks I had an opportunity to give the new MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game Prime World from developer Nival a try. Currently in Beta, Prime World is popular in the Russian community and recently launched an English client. But how does it stack up in the year of the MOBA?

Prime World is a game of Technology vs. Magic, two sides each with its own identity, fighting an eternal war over the priceless resource Prime. At its core it is everything you would expect from a MOBA game (and maybe a little more), but during the downtime you will be playing an RTS, managing your Castle and its various structures.

Before we look at the MOBA side of the game, we need to look at what makes Prime World different, the RTS style Castle-building built into what would otherwise be a waiting room.

The RTS Castle building game

Anybody familiar with RTS games, especially those on Facebook and mobile stores, will feel at home in this setting. The buildings available under the Castle Construction section are split up into For Heroes, Resource Gathering, Production, Residence, Services and Decorations.

As you would expect, the resources you have in storage can be seen on the top right of the screen. They are: Gold, which is bought with real-world currency and can be used to speed-up production, Silver which is the in-game currency used for hiring Heroes among other things, Population and Food which work in tandem, Sap and Silk which are used to upgrade buildings and finally Prime Crystals which are used in certain buildings.

Initially you won't have spare resources to build much, but later in the game it will become necessary if you want to squeeze every little advantage out of the system to get the edge on the battlefield. Once your Castle reaches level 30 you will have access to buildings that allow you to min-max your Heroes. These buildings add to your Heroe’s Strength, Stamina, Intellect, Agility, etc.

When you take into account the limited space you have to place buildings, maximum level Castle users will have unique Castles to compliment the type of Heroes they play.

Another thing that sets Prime World apart like no other MOBA I've played is how it handles Hero Progression. The standard MOBA allows you to buy items and upgrade set abilities during the game, rinse and repeat. In Prime World, yes there are set abilities that cannot be changed, but outside of that there are six tiers of talents.

There is a massive selection of talents in the game; you will be able to completely swap out each Heroe’s talents for whatever you want, allowing you to build each Hero how you want. If you want to take a tank and add a bunch of agility talents to him, go right ahead.

Talents can be acquired from rewards in games played and can be created from a building called the Talent Garden. Talents can also be upgraded. When you choose a talent to be upgraded you will be asked to select Talents to consume in exchange, given enough sacrifice the item will go up in level increasing its bonuses.

Hero level is also handled differently in Prime World. During each game you will level up like you would in other games, but at the end of the game you will also receive experience based on your performance. When your Hero levels up you will get mastery points to increase the statistics of that Hero. This is persistent and does not refresh between games.

While you are building your Castle and managing your talents you can click the gate and queue up for a game.

There are a number of different maps and game modes available in Prime World at the moment. First there is Borderlands, your standard 5v5 DotA-style map that you all should be familiar with. A win or lose here will increase or decrease your rating. Next to that there is a map that changes every hour or so. These games are not ranked and will not affect your rating.

On the un-ranked queue I have so far played a 4v4 “Kill the dragon and capture the egg” game mode, which is basically a race to the middle while killing the monsters blocking the path. A single lane 3v3 map that was fast and furious (and fun). And now I see there is another available that is a 5v5 battle with a capture the flag objective.

Playing the MOBA

For the most part you will be playing the standard 5v5 Borderlands map, so let's talk about that.

Borderlands is a large three lane map with the teams spawning on either side of the map in their base, soldiers (minions basically) spawn and run to the middle to defend their towers. There are monster camps in the wilderness between the three lanes and a more difficult Dragon camp. This map will be familiar to players of DotA-style games.

When it comes to the gameplay in Prime World, it is largely the same. You control your Hero and kill soldiers, monsters, towers and enemy Heroes to gain levels and Talents.

The biggest difference, once again, is in the progression. During the game you will receive experience and in-turn levels. With that experience you can either accept the recommended Talent upgrade or you can choose your own. There are six tiers of Talents and six Talents in each tier; these can be swapped around outside of the game as discussed previously.

Ultimately I think this system is unique, but outside of that I don't really see the benefits of it over the normal item shop system, if anything it is friendlier for new players who get confused by the whole item system. You can just focused on your lane and accept the recommended Talents without having to return to your spawning fountain.

Personally I find the item shop approach a lot more appealing; it forces the players to move around and makes the choices more meaningful. The talent system on the other hand, yes, it allows you to play Heroes how you want to, but I can do that in League of Legends or DotA if I want, even if it isn't the most effective way to play the Hero or Champion.

Another important system that adds to the MOBA experience in Prime World is the war of attrition. The system allows players to capture flags for their team that change the neutral or enemy land around the flag into rich home territory. While fighting on home territory players gain bonuses to their abilities.

There is an item shop in the game but, instead of selling Doran's items and Blink Daggers, it sells teleport scrolls, a handful of potions and scrolls. The teleport scrolls allow you to teleport to allied structures, which unfortunately does not include captured territory flagpoles, which would add a nice strategy to the game.

The art style of the game itself is well defined. Both the Technology side and the Magical side are unique. The technology side has steampunk structures with gears sticking out, mechanized soldiers and beasts for minions and tanks for siege units. The Magic side has woodsman and jungle cats for minions and their structures draw inspiration from Elves and ancient China. The world is vibrant and all the textures look very crisp.

There are some strange design decisions in the game and, while I understand they are to make the game more social, I don't really agree with them.

Gender bonuses and the mini-game

One such decision is that you gain bonuses if you are playing in a lane with a character of opposite gender, bonuses such as “a mortally wounded female hero becomes impervious to any damage for a limited period of time, when next to a male player’s character.“

This is a really strange feature, I don't think things such as gender should influence which Hero you should play. It doesn't even say what gender the Heroes are, for example “Dragonfly,” the gender isn't clear. And by my count there are quite a few more male than female Heroes. Let’s not even get into the debate of sexuality and the opposite gender rule.

The next decision mystified me. In the Battleground map there is a big puzzle box in the middle of the base, I had no idea what this was and just ignored it, I haven't even seen somebody use it. So I went to the website and read through the information there:

“By the way, there’s also room in the game arena for players who aren’t thirsting after bloody battles. The mini-game is both fun and productive: Paint the scroll before time runs out, and receive Prime, as well as a scroll with a powerful spell that will help bring your team victory in battle. “

Right. So the puzzle is for players who don't want to get involved in PvP in a PvP game. Then it becomes a question of whether the rewards are good enough to compensate for a player standing idle, essentially making the game a 4v5 (assuming the enemy isn’t doing the same).

From what I've heard other people say and from the lack of people actually using the mini-game, I don't think the rewards are worth the idle player. While not possible currently, this feature would be great if players could use it while dead, waiting 80 seconds for a respawn isn't fun and this would add another meta-game.

Going into Prime World I didn’t have any English speaking friends in beta, and since I didn’t see a single English speaking person during my time I would say my experience has been nowhere near that of the game at release. Teamwork and communication are key in these games, after-all the DotA-style genre started as a mod for Warcraft III.

My time with Prime World has been enjoyable, and they aren't just simply copying the format and slapping on a new art style; some of the unique features I spoke about today truly add to the experience and show their ability to innovate the genre. I look forward to seeing how the game develops during the beta and, on release, will be trying it out again with my friends.

With the massive success of League of legends and DotA 2 everybody wants a piece of the pie, and like back in the World of Warcraft days everybody is jumping on the band wagon. Prepare to see a lot of MOBA games in the next few years.

Be sure to head over to the Prime World website and sign-up for beta.


Chris Rainey, Columnist

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