The days of the MOBA gold rush feel like a distant memory, with Battle Royale being the newest hot-ticket genre everyone wants to imitate. Only the strong can survive in the MOBA space these days - or thrive, in the case of Arena of Valor. After dominating the Chinese mobile gaming market as Honor of Kings, this 5v5, free-to-play MOBA tailor-made for iOS and Android came to the US and EU as Arena of Valor in 2017. Now, Arena of Valor is gearing up to be the first of its kind on Nintendo Switch later this year, and its perfectly suited to on-the-go matches for those who prefer physical controls.
As MOBAs go, Arena of Valor hits all the right notes, with its colorful cast of characters, vibrant art, jaunty animations, and smooth play. It has no qualms with aping League of Legends in almost every imaginable way, from the layout of the map to the graphical style, though Arena of Valor has its own roster of heroes (including DC icons like Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Joker, who feel a bit like refugees from their own shuttered MOBA, Infinite Crisis). The key difference is that the games are tuned to be much quicker - around 15 minutes for the average match - via tweaks like fewer minions per wave and the ability to buy items no matter where you are on the map. Arena of Valor comes to us from Chinese megacorp Tencent, which also owns League of Legends developer Riot Games. And for anyone wondering (as I was): there's no actual sharing of tech between the two games, despite all the aesthetic and design similarities.
I'm one of those folks who just never gelled with touchscreen controls; swiping my finger across the screen has never felt as satisfying or responsive as moving a D-pad and tapping a button. And though the mobile version of Arena of Valor has done exceptionally well for itself with a virtual joystick and giant, touch-activated abilities overlayed in the bottom-right corner, I much prefer the Joy-Con setup of the Nintendo Switch version, with fully remappable controls and precision of spells with the right thumbstick. It even makes use of HD Rumble, in the form of a quick jolt when your home base is under attack (which is rather startling, if you're not expecting it). Total touchscreen controls similar to the mobile experience aren't an option on the Switch, but you can tap the screen to ping the map for your teammates with a tap of your finger.
Looking better than ever
Even if you're a diehard fan of the mobile control scheme, there's a big incentive to make the jump to Switch: massively improved visuals. Arena of Valor currently runs at 900p with 45fps on Switch, has notably enhanced textures on every character, and weaves in plenty of lighting improvements that make the whole map feel more refined. A representative from Tencent relayed a humorously sad story about an artist who died so frequently during playtests that he had plenty of time to peruse the map, and made it his mission to improve the visual details at the outskirts of the map to give his fellow feeders something to look at while waiting to respawn.
The only thing going against the Switch version is that it'll be playing catch-up to its mobile forefather, with just over 30 heroes currently in the game compared to the mobile original's 60-plus stable. Tencent is adamant that the Switch and mobile versions are two different ecosystems, without crossplay or patch parity - which seems just fine, considering how many mobile veterans would wipe the floor with Switch-based newcomers. It'll be interesting to see how the Nintendo playerbase, which is always hungry for Switch ports of third-party games, will take to the highly competitive MOBA landscape. If the instant success of Fortnite on Switch is any indication, Arena of Valor should expect some sizeable player counts (though nowhere near the ludicrous 50 million daily users on mobile).
As someone who's grown to prefer quick-and-dirty MOBA skirmishes over drawn-out battles of attrition, Arena of Valor is right up there with Heroes of the Storm and (the gone and totally forgotten) Tome: Immortal Arena. If you're looking for a MOBA with polish and panache that you can play on the go - but prefer a real joystick to a virtual one - Arena of Valor could very well be your next Switch fix. Its next closed beta test runs from June 28 to July 12 (which you can apply for at this link), with plans for a full launch later this year.
For more Nintendo Switch standouts, check out the best Switch games.