Feature Article

StarCraft 2 Meets League of Legends In New Sci-fi MOBA Supernova

Bandai Namco enters the MOBA ring with Supernova.

It may be tempting to dismiss Supernova as another generic attempt to enter the multiplayer online battle arena genre. However, developer Primal Game Studio has taken elements usually found in a MOBA game and mixed it with the traits of a real-time strategy game. The result? Something that plays like League of Legends meets StarCraft 2, set in a sci-fi universe. I had some hands-on time with the alpha version of the game and spoke to product manager Jason Schaefer about how Supernova offers something different, and why he thinks games like League of Legends and Dota 2 won't always be the leaders in the MOBA genre.

As is characteristic of MOBA games, Supernova places players in direct control of a single unit who is called a Commander and possesses unique skills. The goal is to destroy the enemy team's base, which spawns units periodically. These armies of minions travel along a predetermined path to the enemy base.

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The similarities end there, however. In MOBA games like League of Legends and Dota 2, creeps spawn autonomously and players are limited in the ways they can influence the wave of minions. In Supernova, players pick which units they want to make up the army, and can choose to upgrade them. Units are added or upgraded using resources, which increase each time a wave of creeps spawn. Additional resources are gained when killing an enemy commander. You can delay spending these resources to buy more the powerful units, but risk having the enemy push further through your defences while you pool resources. Players are also able to sell units to change up their army composition.

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Different minion types possess different strengths and weaknesses, and are classed as either a ground or air unit. Choosing the correct units to form the army which travels towards your enemy's base is crucial to victory. Some units have special attacks that are effective against other particular unit types, and I altered my own wave composition to counter that of my enemy's.

For example, the enemy's army was comprised largely of raptors, an air unit, so I picked the coyote unit which would directly counter them. The coyotes I chose automatically prioritised killing off the raptors in the enemy's wave, thus swinging the balance of the wave in my favour.

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The strategy elements of the game can run deep, but the game allows the option to turn an auto-pick feature on, which handles army management automatically and helps to ease new players in. I found the feature to be especially helpful as I figured out what combination of skills worked best for the commander I was using, and familiarised myself with the layout of the map. Supernova does not have items, instead allowing players the ability to customise their commander builds through the selection of Masteries.

Interestingly, the focus on strategy has resulted in Supernova's ability to be forgiving for players experiencing higher latency--something which I, who regularly experiences the shortcomings of Australian internet, was intrigued to hear. I also enjoyed experimenting with different types of unit compositions in my army, using a strategy which revolved around picking units which directly countered those of my enemy's. It was a simple tactic to start off on, but proved effective against my AI-controlled opponent. It will be interesting to see how countering unit compositions play out between two skilled players.

Reflexes take a back seat to strategy in Supernova, something which Schaefer describes as an intentional design choice. For example, the game does not include the last-hit mechanic, which is a central gameplay feature in games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends. The mechanic focuses on the player's ability to land the killing blow on minions for extra money and experience, which in turn has heavy influence on the outcome of the game.

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"It was [removed] on purpose, and for a specific reason. When we look at other MOBAs that have that last-hit mechanic, it really emphasises the whole gameplay being really revolved around that. Especially early game. That's a very mechanical type of gameplay. With Supernova, we want strategy to count just as much if not more. By removing a last-hit mechanic it allows you to focus equal parts on working on your army and making sure your army is optimised and performing well. It makes it less about knowing the exact mechanics and executing the exact mechanics and more high-level, and forming a strategy," Schaefer said.

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"Yes, timing counts for a lot on Supernova, but even when you're battling a commander one-on-one, we've seen that even a medium latency is perfectly fine," Schaefer explained.

"One thing we have noticed is the game is pretty stable and is still a good experience even if you have a semi-high ping. It's not really dependent on really low pings. So we've been happy to see that. That being said, we are making plans and starting the efforts of expanding different server locations throughout the world. The next one that we do will probably be based in Europe. We do plan to eventually have global support."

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Although publisher Bandai Namco describes the game primarily as a MOBA, Schaefer said that he hoped that the strategy elements Supernova introduces will be enough to draw players who are familiar with the genre but are looking for something new. He was confident that games like League of Legends and Dota 2 wouldn't maintain their lead in the genre.

"Those games have both done very well and there's a lot to learned from their success. Especially League of Legends, it's been around for a long time now, [it's] kind of been in the lead for a long time. What we've seen is that experienced MOBA players who for example were playing League of Legends for four years, they're getting tired of it, they're getting a little burned out. They'll come try out Supernova and they find it a very refreshing and new experience that revitalises their interest not only in MOBAs but also RTS. When we have our alpha test phases and we send out surveys after to get feedback, one of the questions is what other games have you played, what kind of MOBA experience do you have. A large portion is previous MOBA players who have four plus years and they're kind of ready for something new. And we're ready to give them something new."

Bandai Namco plans to release the closed beta phase of Supernova at the end of July for PC.

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zorine

Zorine Te

Zorine “harli” Te is an editor based in GameSpot's Australian office. She wants to save the world.
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