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Vainglory for iOS review: An enormous amount of polish and excellent gameplay

This new MOBA for iOS made from Apple's Metal graphics engine is as great to look at as it is to play, but it lacks the sheer amount of options you get in classic games from the genre.

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Jason Parker
Jason_Parker.jpg

Jason Parker

Senior Editor / Reviews - Software

Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.

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5 min read

Vainglory (iPhone|iPad) is a new free multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game for iOS with excellent gameplay, great character balance and fun multiplayer.

vainglorypromo.jpg
8.2

Vainglory for iOS

The Good

Vainglory has exceptional graphics, especially on the latest iOS devices. The gameplay is excellent, and the use of a single lane manages to still be fun with strategic positions to control on other parts of the map.

The Bad

Even considering that it's an early launch, there are not enough heroes to choose from.

The Bottom Line

With stunning graphics, balanced gameplay and multiple ways to play within each game, Vainglory is a must download for battle arena fans.

Vainglory was first featured at the Apple event announcing the launch of the iPhone 6, where Apple showed off this game because it took advantage of Metal, Apple's new graphics platform.

After playing a prerelease version on both the iPhone and iPad I can tell you it's a great game for longtime battle arena fans as well as those wanting to learn the ropes of the genre. It also has some of the best graphics I've seen in a mobile game.

Vainglory has awesome battle arena graphics (pictures)

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Getting started

As I mentioned in the beginning, Vainglory is an example of a MOBA. For other examples from this genre, you might recognize 5-vs.-5 MOBAs including Heroes of Order and Chaos on iOS and League of Legends, Smite and DoTA 2 on PC. It's important to note right off that there is usually quite a learning curve to this genre of games, but with Vainglory, a simplified map that only has one major path and a maximum of 3 vs. 3 players makes it a lot easier to pick up and play. It also has two helpful tutorial levels that layout the gameplay and important map points so you can get up to speed quickly without feeling too intimidated.

In other words, Vainglory is a great way to break in to the battle arena genre in general and will help you branch out to other games in the genre if you like the gameplay. But experienced players will like it too because, even with the simplified map layout, you'll still be able to develop unique strategies to help your team win.

Picking and advancing your hero

Once you're through the training levels you'll be ready to try your hand at a real 3-vs.-3 match. The game is very good about matching players, so you should get into a game quickly with people of your skill level.

Next you'll need to select a character that you'll play during that game. There are 10 heroes to choose from with a mix of ranged and melee attack capabilities. Once you make your selection, you'll enter the game soon after.

As you progress through a game, your character will level, letting you unlock and upgrade your core abilities. You also can buy items back at base that complement your abilities to make your attacks and other skills stronger. When at the store, it's best to follow the Recommended tab to buy items until you learn the ropes and want to experiment with other character builds.

One thing to point out here for beginners: You are only advancing your character through one game session. Once the game is over, all your upgrades are reset. MOBAs don't have persistent characters that grow over the course of several games (like RPGs) -- they only advance within that particular game session, so the challenge is figuring out how to perfect a hero with the right skills and items in the shortest amount of time possible.

Gameplay progression

In a standard 5-vs.-5 MOBA like League of Legends or DoTA 2, there are three paths on the map called "lanes" and your team is challenged to blow up the defensive turrets in those lanes before destroying the enemy base to win the game.

With Vainglory, there is just one lane right up the middle, but there's also an area below (known as the "jungle" in MOBAs) where you can supplement your experience gain and gold earning by killing AI monsters.

So, while your main goal is to take out the enemy turrets and destroy their main base, it's best to have a good mix between "jungling" and lane attacking to help both your hero and team to success over the course of a game session.

The jungle adds game variation

The reason why the jungle is so important in Vainglory is because it has strategic locations to conquer that will help your team's overall success. Killing a certain type of monster in the jungle, for example, will upgrade your AI soldiers in the lane (called "creeps") that you use as a front line to defend against enemy heroes. Killing another more difficult AI monster will make you earn gold faster.

Then, halfway through the game, you'll be able to fight a third large monster called the Kraken (note you'll probably need your whole team to beat him). Once you win against the Kraken, it will turn around and fight for you in the lane, giving your team a huge advantage to go all the way to the enemy base for victory.

A great game in its early stages

Vainglory has beautiful graphics made using Apple's Metal graphics engine, and the hero balance and jungle strategies are all very well thought out. This is truly a great touchscreen MOBA game.

Still, having experience with games like DoTA 2 and League of Legends, I wish I could play 5-vs.-5 games on larger maps with this level of graphics, gameplay and cool strategic map points. Also, there are only 10 heroes to choose from in Vainglory, whereas other games have hundreds to choose from (between them). It could be that more heroes are coming over time, but at this point it feels like there are too few to choose from.

Vainglory only just launched, so it might be that we have yet to see which direction the game will take next, but while it feels a bit lacking, it's clearly a great start.

Conclusion

Vainglory gives you great graphics, well-thought-out gameplay and excellent character balance. Even with just the one lane map, I never got bored because I could switch it up by taking control points in the jungle or trying to hide near the lane for a surprise ambush -- in other words, there are plenty of ways to play within each game.

But with something this good, I think it's only natural to want more. I'd like to see this game eventually expand to 5-vs.-5 matches, but even more importantly, I'd like to see a lot more playable heroes. I think the short-term goal should be adding as many heroes as possible to make this a must-have for MOBA fans of any experience level.

Overall, if you like this particular game genre, it's hard to go wrong with Vainglory. I only hope they continue to work on the game, because it has so much potential out of the gate.

vainglorypromo.jpg
8.2

Vainglory for iOS

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Interface 9Performance 9