When I think about hero-centric games, my mind immediately jumps to multiplayer online battle arena games or better known as MOBAs. Although, widely popular, these games tend to have a stigma for attracting the worst in the gaming community. Aerena: Clash of Champions keeps the hero-centric focus and combines it with a turn-based strategy twist, supporting cross-platform play across PC and Android devices with later support coming to iOS and Mac. Thanks to my desire to own a Windows Phone 8, I am unable to test how the game plays when using a mobile devices.
Mind you this preview is based off of the Early Access alpha state of the game, a few of the menu option sand are currently not implemented into the game. The core gameplay however is intact, allowing for players to fight against AI controlled players or test their skills online. Aerena is primarily a multiplayer title, so the single-player matches are quite limiting and serve as practice for online. The first thing I did in the game was to select my ship from a handful of different designs. Currently, the different ship designs don’t have any stats attached to them, but in a future update they will in fact have unique stats and abilities. Afterwards, I chose my champions from the pool of characters, as well as three different Aether Shells or special abilities for the ship. Each one comes with a separate power requirement, so tactics must be used depending on your play style. I aimed to have one lower costing healing ability and two costly, but powerful damaging skills.
Taking my selected champions and ship, I met another ship on a floating platform in the sky, with no real indication of why we are fighting for control of it, but all I know is I want it and they can’t have it! The voice-over announcer sounds more in-line with a sports commentator so it’s possible that this is considered a sport in the world of Aetherpunk. The platform is comprised of a 6×6 grid with a randomly placed squares that provide bonuses or penalties to whoever stands on them. All of my games had an instant death square included, which my opponent used wisely by knocking one of my champions backwards into it.
Figuring out what to do on my first turn, I placed my initial hero on the grid without thinking about possible ramifications about where they should be placed. After both sides place their heroes, the game begins. Turns are broken down into two different moves, allowing you to move and attack or attack twice. Heroes have their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as different attack styles and ranges. Depending on your strategy, you can attempt to chip away at the health of the opposing ship from afar or ignore the ship entirely and set out to destroy all the champions of the field. My first few games online ended rather quickly as I was still learning the different characters. Heroes with long range attacks are generally weaker, but can stay one step ahead of slower, more powerful champions. As far as I could tell, you are unable to see your opponents heroes prior to them being placed on the grid, so it’s important to be able to adapt on-the-fly.
Aerena is set to release Q1 2014 for Steam, Android, Mac and iOS devices. As a free-to-play title, the game will be free for everyone, although purchasing either of the Founder’s packages will give you early access to the game, as well as helping the development team. For your support, you will get an additional game code and some in-game goodies – unique champions and an additional ships. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what I have played so far, although with players that have well over 100 hours already in the game, online matches can feel one-sided.
UPDATE: 1/17/14: The preview for Aerena has been updated to reflect the fact that ships in the future will have their own unique stats and abilities tied to them. In the current build the only difference between the ships are visual changes.