PAX Prime 2014 | TOME: Immortal Arena Is A Fresh Take On MOBAs

Today, I got the chance to speak with Kixeye and check out their new MOBA, TOME: Immortal Area. Now, I have no misconceptions, the MOBA genre is quickly becoming flooded. DOTA may have started the boom, League of Legends continued it, and every IP, from DC, to Lord of the Rings, to Warcraft is getting in on it. So why then, should I have any excitement for “yet another addition”?

Well, as it turns out, I -did- have a few things to be excited for, I just didn’t know it yet.

Now, there have been a number of studios that have tried to make small changes to the game formula to try and strike it rich with a more appealing product. League of Legends got rid of denying. SMITE! Took the gameplay to a third person perspective. Awesomenaughts took it 2D side scrolling. Strife got rid of wards and vastly increased out of combat regeneration. The list goes on.

No need to return to base, players can buy items from anywhere on the map.
No need to return to base, players can buy items from anywhere on the map.

I’ll put it this way, there are three ways developers use to commonly innovate within the MOBA genre. First, there are those that simply introduce new IPs. It’s general a conservative gameplay formula, but this time with Batman. Or Legolas. Or whomever. Then there are those that make large changes just for the sake of being very distinct to the consumer upon first glance (such as SMITE!’s shift to 3rd person perspective, it’s immediately unique, but the change doesn’t seem be working towards any specific goal other than consumer recognition). Lastly there are those that make fundamental, mechanical, changes to the system from the ground up.

TOME seems to be of the third type.

So what’s so different about it?

Well, first and foremost, the thing that stood out the most to me was the map size. Everything is so compact that no fight should ever involve fewer than every player. With two lanes on a 3v3 map, you can go from a 1:2 split, to a 0:3 to a 3:0 and back to a 2:1, all in under 30 seconds. This makes the game much more fast paced. The game has a short play sessions (for the genre) and there is always action. This may be the largest shift for players (even if they don’t notice it).

This is the most tightly packed MOBA map I've ever seen.
This is the most tightly packed MOBA map I’ve ever seen.

Changes players will notice is that they can shop from anywhere on the map. All gold gained is passive (no more last hitting). Players don’t level up their guardians skills (rather all skills become gradually more potent as they level). All of these will be immediately noticeable to players. Will they, however, be immediately accepted? I think anyone that goes into the game with an open mind will enjoy the hell out of it, but some players just hate change. However, the important part is that this isn’t change with no reason.

I had the privilege of speaking with Shawn Carnes, the Creative Director, and Joseph Ryan, the Lead Gameplay Designer. What they told me was that what they were interested in is creating an environment where players are rewarded for the choices they make during play. That various systems that were grandfathered into the genre, like “lat hitting”, were antiquated and unintuitive to new players. That they wanted to create a game where players would be able to rest on the laurels of a strong early game to passively drift through a late game. A game where players would have to play reactively to changing situations and could overcome their opponents if they approached the situation in a more clever way.

Like all fledgeling genres, MOBAs will see some attempts flounder. Not every innovation works. TOME: Immortal Arena, however, looks like it’s doing something right.


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