I've tried League of Legends. I've tried DOTA 2. I can respect these incredibly popular games...but I can't really play them. Warner Bros. and developer Turbine hope to win over skeptical comic book fans like myself with Infinite Crisis, the latest evolution of the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre.
As announced earlier this week, Infinite Crisis allows players to take control of various altered versions of popular DC superheroes and villains, such as Nightmare Batman (a vampire version of Bruce Wayne) and Gaslight Catwoman (a steampunk interpretation of Selina Kyle). When I sat down to play, I chose a regular (but powerful) villain: Doomsday, the massive alien creature responsible for the death of Superman in the ‘90s.
Playing as a bulky character immediately gave me access to one of Infinite Crisis' biggest additions to MOBA gameplay: destructible environments that can be turned into weapons. I played on a circular map of wrecked roads with a series of six checkpoints stretched at even intervals across it and a giant graveyard in the middle. I was able to grab crashed cars and throw them at members of the opposing team for huge damage as an opening attack. Turbine said that future maps will make even greater use of environmental items, including the ability to block off paths to weaker characters.
The gameplay is as fast and unforgiving as other MOBA games. Heroes fight off weaker AI-controlled troops to level up. Then they clash for control of checkpoints using a handful of powers that can be improved with skill points. I found myself teamed up with Green Lantern, destroying Gaslight Joker, and getting killed over and over again by Nightmare Batman. But even as a relatively unskilled MOBA player, I was able to end with a somewhat respectable balance between kills, deaths, and assists.
A lot of my average performance is owed to Turbine's attempts to make Infinite Crisis approachable for rookie players, particularly through the use of the helpful "recommended" button. When you start a map with a few skill points and some money to spend, a small button in the corner will let the game choose for you. Not sure whether Doomsday's pummeling assault attack skill or one of his buffs is more useful? I wasn't either, but the game decided for me and helped me create a viable build.
This is particularly useful when it comes to items. Infinite Crisis has a store full of items referencing classic relics from DC Comics — Lobo's chain, Wonder Woman's bands, etc. — that increase attack damage, defense and other stats. Infinite Crisis' recommendations figure out which of these items work best with your specific character. In Doomsday's case, that meant items that increased his HP and allowed him to take even more hits. It's a small but incredibly helpful addition that makes the beginning of the game a lot less intimidating.
Turbine has only announced 12 characters for Infinite Crisis so far, but they said they will be aggressively adding more heroes and villains in the coming months. The game will employ a common free-to-play rotation where a certain number of characters are free each week while others can be purchased for play. Most interestingly, you can level up characters outside of each individual match. Once you've leveled a hero or villain high enough, you'll unlock their abilities, at which point they can be swapped to any other hero, allowing for vast customization.
If other games in the genre are any indication, Infinite Crisis almost certainly has a lot of depth waiting for a hardcore community to uncover. For now, though, it's much more welcoming than most MOBAs on the market, both because of its subject matter and its smart design. We'll see how long that lasts when Infinite Crisis launches on PC later this year.