SAN FRANCISCO — Comic book fans love to argue about which superheroes would win in a fight. Would Batman really beat Superman? Could the Flash take on the Green Lantern? But what if these heroes fought against themselves: Would Batman Prime (with the regular cowl and tights) win against the vampire-like Nightmare Batman? Or would Gaslight Batman’s steampunk gadgets school them both?
These are the sorts of questions Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment may answer with Infinite Crisis, a free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) for the PC featuring the well-known heroes and villains from DC Comics. It follows the basic MOBA formula: Two teams fight for control over specific points on a map, players level up by capturing those points or killing the opposing team, and then they upgrade their skills and buy items to maximize the potential of their characters.
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Handling development duties is Turbine, a studio best known for its massively multiplayer online games like The Lord of the Rings Online. With Infinite Crisis (set for release later this fall), Turbine is going up against established MOBA giants such as Riot Games’ League of Legends and Valve’s Dota 2. Even though Warner Bros. just announced it Monday, Infinite Crisis was ready to see, with an early version available to the press at the annual Game Developers Conference.
It may not set the MOBA world on fire, but my time with Infinite Crisis was enough to see that — just like the DC-centric fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us — superhero-on-superhero battles never get old, no matter what the genre.
“All of our work has been about players getting online, playing together in groups, and having a good time together,” said executive producer Jeffrey Steefel. “ And MOBAs felt like the natural next step for us.”
Taking inspiration from the comics
While the plot is loosely based on the Infinite Crisis comic book series that DC released a few years ago, Turbine wants to tell its own story and focus, in Steefel’s words, “on the characters and the [different] worlds they come from.” The premise involves a mysterious cataclysm that pulls in all sorts of parallel universes (hence the different versions of the superheroes and supervillains) to the Earth we know and love. As a protector, you must assemble a team to fight against other teams in order to restore order across all the worlds.
Infinite Crisis will start off with six different variants of each character, with Turbine planning to release more (including versions of heroes that aren’t in the comics) as time goes on. These aren’t just character skins, however. Each will have their own sets of powers, skills, and backstories: That means Gaslight Batman handles very differently from Nightmare Batman.
For those who closely follow DC Comics lore, Turbine also made sure to incorporate some character-specific touches to their attacks and abilities. I only got to play two characters during my short time with Infinite Crisis, but the best example I saw was when I was controlling Captain Marvel. His ultimate attack (ultimates unlock for all characters once they hit level 6) actually reverts him to his human alter ego Billy Batson, a young teenaged boy, who then runs up to the nearest enemy and yells his trademark battle cry of “Shazam!” This summons a large thunderbolt that hurts anyone within a small radius as Billy transforms back into Captain Marvel.
Other ultimate attacks also lean on creating the sort of spectacle you’d expect when superheroes fight each other. The Green Lantern (the Hal Jordan version) creates a large plane using the powers of his ring and smashes it on top of his enemies, while the Flash uses his incredible speed to repeatedly punch you.
Familiar MOBA gameplay with a twist
I’m not the most seasoned MOBA player — I play a little League of Legends every once in awhile — but I was able to easily slip into Infinite Crisis without too many adjustments. Capture points are still here in the form of large electronic pads, as are your team’s “minions” or nonplayable allies — here they’re robots — that mainly serve to deter the enemy from venturing too far into your territory by themselves.
The matches I played took place on a circular map known as Gotham Heights. In order to win, you have to reduce the opposing team’s health bar to zero, which starts decreasing once your team captures three or more pads. On the one hand, you can join your teammates to hunt down and kill isolated players, but this leaves you with fewer eyes watching your captured points. If you spread out, you’re more likely to defend or capture new places, but you’re also more vulnerable, especially if the other team decides to gang up on you.
One major way Infinite Crisis tries to distinguish itself from other MOBAs is by pitting players against the map as well as the other team. This happens during sequences Turbine calls “catastrophic events,” where a large meteor heads toward the map whenever a team’s health bar dips below a set number. Small beacons determine where the meteor will land, and if you don’t deactivate the one near your team’s spawn, the meteor will crash and damage everyone, as well as alter some geographical features of the map itself. If both sides shut off the beacons in time, the meteor will just hit a “neutral” spot where no one gets hurt.
Some abilities called “stolen powers” also let you interact with the levels. When I was playing as Doomsday, I had the Super Strength power already equipped, so I could lift heavy objects like cars and toss them at other players for extra damage.
Infinite Crisis isn’t finished yet (that’s why you don’t see any screenshots of the user interface, as much of that is still being finalized) but as far as MOBAs go, it seems like a solid addition. Given the worldwide recognition of DC Comics’ stable of heroes and villains, it should have no trouble finding a dedicated community to support it.