Catalyst Black Looks To Change The MOBA Game Forever

This multiplayer twin-stick shooter puts a new spin on an old standard.

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When playing a MOBA like League of Legends or DOTA 2, players are bound by the characters they choose. Each warrior has set abilities with set attack powers and attributes offering little to no wiggle room in how to approach each match. Super Evil Megacorp, the team behind Vainglory, is trying to shoot a hole in that format with Catalyst Black, a game that's as much a loadout shooter as it is a MOBA.

Catalyst Black is a completely new universe entirely separate from Vainglory.
Catalyst Black is a completely new universe entirely separate from Vainglory.

The hook of Catalyst Black is customizable loadouts; players will earn new weapons, abilities, and items that can be equipped to create a near-infinite amount of combinations. Main weapon choices include assault rifles, shotguns, and other standard weaponry. Heavy weapons are rocket launchers, mortars, sniper rifles, and more. My loadout for the majority of my time in the game was a flamethrower in the main weapon slot and a minigun as a heavy weapon, making me a defensive stalwart when protecting objectives. Other equippable items to customize include Trinkets that grant special powers and stat increases, as well as spell-like Abilities that can heal or buff your character in battle.

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The most impactful equipment, however, are the Masks that give you access to the Primal of your choice. Primals are massive monsters with incredible strength, and when a player's mask timer hits zero they can transform into one of these beasts, becoming an instant threat to the entire opposing team. If a Primal's health is reduced to zero, the player transforms back to their human form and continues fighting. Each Primal can also be paired with a Power--a boosted attack with a cooldown--and a Relic that acts like a Primal-specific Trinket.

While this customization is cool and gives the player a bit more agency than other MOBAs, that agency comes at the cost of personality within the characters. Rather than having unique champions with backstories and biographies, every fighter on the battlefield looks barely indistinguishable from the others. League of Legends may have 160 champions nowadays, but each one of those champions has a unique look, lore, and presence to them. The character I'm controlling here simply doesn't have that, and it does feel like something is lost in that. Unique characters can be added to this world without sacrificing the customization angle though, so I hope this is something Super Evil Megacorp considers for the future.

The Catalyst Black loadout screen and its many options.
The Catalyst Black loadout screen and its many options.

After choosing a loadout, it's time to jump into a match, and Catalyst Black continues its eschewing of MOBA standards by offering multiple ways to play. The first is Slayer, a standard team deathmatch mode where the first team to reach a certain number of kills wins. Eventually more modes unlock, including a PvE Colosseum and Capture the Flag, but the two formats unique to Catalyst Black--Hydra and Eventide--are also the game's best.

Hydra is a 5v5 mode where players have only three lives to lose, and victory is achieved one of three ways: collecting shards and bringing them to the center area while it's under your team's control, eliminating each enemy teammate three times, or defeating the other's team Overseer--a massive enemy with force fields and small creatures protecting it. Battles ebb and flow as teams shift focus from one win condition to the other, creating a hectic and fun environment that has the potential to become a top competitive mode.

The map for the 12v12 Eventide mode.
The map for the 12v12 Eventide mode.

Eventide, meanwhile, is a 12v12 big team battle where the first team to score 28,000 points wins. The map goes through different phases, each spawning items that increase a team's score on a different part of the map before entering one final phase in the center. Teams score points by capturing and holding outposts, winning in-match events both PvP and PvE, completing objectives like returning shards or killing NPC bosses, or simply eliminating creatures and players.

Of these modes Hydra is my favorite, as its fast-paced action and multiple objective approach gives freedom to choose how I want to plan an attack. I also like the flow of a Hydra match, where one second I may be gathering a shard for the team but then I immediately make a beeline for the Overseer to deal some damage to it before heading back and looking for more shards. I will need some more time with Eventide though, as its big team battle approach certainly seems fun for the limited time I had to try it.

Two of Catalyst Black's transformations showing off their Primal rage.
Two of Catalyst Black's transformations showing off their Primal rage.

Catalyst Black is attempting to reinvent the MOBA, adding new ways to play and an unique focus on customizing loadouts. The freedom to design a character however you want is cool, making me feel like any victory I achieve is something I build from scratch. Playing through each unique mode is fun, as well, even if some Hydra matches are blink-and-you'll-miss-it in length. However, the lack of a unique personality in the characters fighting the battles does deaden the impact of these new formats and customizations. I can make the most elaborate weapon loadout in the world, but when the character holding the gun says little more than generic platitudes, the appeal drops. Thankfully, the game's Hydra of strong content--unique modes, custom loadouts, and Primal mechanic--provide more than enough reason to check Catalyst Black out.

Catalyst Black is out today on iOS and Android devices.

Jason Fanelli on Google+

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