Prime World improves the League of Legends formula while adding a dash of Farmville…and Zuma?

Prime World improves the League of Legends formula while adding a dash of Farmville…and Zuma?

When I saw Prime World at E3, the game's developer was adamant that this game was not a MOBA. They made a bunch of comparisons to games like Guild Wars and Pokemon, but refused to say the name “League of Legends.” Which is strange, because well, Prime World is a MOBA. And more than that, the MOBA it has the most in common with is League of Legends.

That's not to say it's a clone, but the best way to explain the game is to start with League of Legends. Prime World is a lot like League of Legends with a dash of Farmville thrown in. But don't let that latter comparison scare you off.

League of Farmville: Guildemon

There are several game modes in Prime World, but most players will be most familiar with the standard, run-of-the-mill PvP games which will be instantly recognizable to League of Legends players.

This is the same three-lane gameplay you're used to, but many players will see that as a blessing. Many games try to mix up the three-lane template unnecesarily, and most tend to fail.

The setup is the same: 5 players try to escort waves of NPC soldiers into the enemy base, killing defenses and enemy players along the way. Prime World does some great things to try to mix this up though. For starters, there are flags placed around the map, about six per lane, which need to be captured as you march forward. Capturing the flag claims the territory for your team, and any team member fighting around that flag gets defensive buffs. This brings more positional strategy into the common fights that make up the bulk of the game.

You won't want to fight against an enemy team while they're fighting next to their flag, but you can knock down the flag with five hits. This forces you to make choices about how you want to engage the enemy. Do you poke at the flag slowly, trying to knock it down before picking a major fight? Or jump in and try to take out the flag instantly, but give the enemy team a brief advantage as you waste your damage on the flag instead of using it to kill enemies?

This change made the game feel less prone to landslides, at least in the matches I played over the weekend. One of the main problems with many MOBAs is that they have a tendancy to snowball. Early kills lead to a statistical advantage for the attackers that just gets bigger and bigger as the game goes on. Prime World's focus on defensive play seems to give the losing team more of a chance to get back in the game if they play intelligently.

Short-term, long-term

“One of the problems with modern games is that players need instant gratification and that requires both fast progression and long-term progression, and we often find that's very difficult to balance,” said Marc Singer, a producer on Prime World. “So MMOs are really good at long progression, but what they're really bad at is fast progression. It takes a long time to accomplish something. MOBAs, however, are very good at fast progression, but what they're bad at is long-term progression. Once you've finished a battle there's nothing you can do but queue up for another battle. So what Prime World does is put the two together.”

The way the game handles long-term progression is through a Farmville-esque city-building mode where players can add buildings, mines, farms, libraries etc within their city's walls. You give these buildings tasks to complete, and then click to harvest whatever reward they spit out. These buildings give you the ability to mine more silver to buy in-game items or they can turn silver into lumber to build more buildings and so on and so forth.

This long-term castle-building mode seems a bit too big for me to get a grip on over the course of a single beta weekend. Reaching the more expensive characters wasn't possible in just a couple of days, but it's possible that once the game launches this could be an interesting feature if it allows more dedicated players to focus on farming silver and lumber to build better cities or access higher-tier characters.

The inclusion of a Farmville-styled mode might seem bizarre, but there's a lot about Prime World that will seem bizarre. There's even a mini-game system within the PvP mode that allows you to complete mini-games in order to gain scrolls that give buffs to your team. The one that I tried was modeled after Zuma, and gave my team an area-of-effect intellect buff.

It's a little off-the-wall in a few places, such as the gender-dependent buffs, but Prime World is one of the more fun MOBAs I've played recently. It's not as refined as League of Legends, but that may take time to develop; these games are perfected when large numbers of playes move in and show the strengths and weaknesses of the game's design. It's hard to know how things will go before that happens.

The only question is whether there's any room left for a worthy competitor in gaming's new most-crowded genre. Which, in the end, is probably why Nival is uncomfortable calling it a MOBA.