Trion Worlds, creator of Rift and Defiance, is entering into the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) market with Atlas Reactor. Trion’s pricing model for this is Buy-to-Play (B2P), where the initial tier of $20 will unlock all characters for you ($15 if you get a 4-pack), instead of the traditional Free-to-Play (F2P) where you unlock characters over time or with cash. Players can also earn in-game currency to unlock cosmetics, taunts, and modifications to skills.
TMC contributors Tess Ashpool, Gommel Nox, and Macky Avelli received closed beta keys to give Atlas Reactor a whirl. With experiences ranging from a few thousand hours in DOTA to not knowing what MOBA stood for, and Gommel Nox being the Accessible Gamer with a truly unique approach to gaming, we all decided to give our own perspectives on this game below:
WHAT IS THE VERY FIRST FEELING YOU GET WHEN YOU LOAD THIS GAME UP? DOES IT REMIND YOU OF OTHER GAMES? WHAT IS ORIGINAL ABOUT IT?
Tess Ashpool: Upon first loading it, the game drops you directly into a single-track tutorial to go through the basic functions of movement, camera control, and turns. On the surface, it feels like it will be a very simple game – and execution-wise, it is – but there is a lot of depth hidden beneath it.
This game immediately feels like XCOM with its isometric view, and sports cel-shaded graphics reminiscent of Borderlands. The MOBA element is, of course, DOTA-esque. However, there are no levels or gear, and all skills are immediately available with the exception of the ultimate, which requires charging. The way phases work and combat is resolved are very similar to collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering.
The most original feature of this game is the turn-based concept in a MOBA, which takes Actions Per Minute (APM) out of the equation while forcing you to be far more cerebral – 20 seconds at a time – than twitchy.
Gommel Nox: I have a feeling people are going to be using the phrase ‘XCOM meets MOBA’ for a very long time, and for good reason. The maps are a great deal smaller than your typical level of XCOM, however. Unless your entire team deliberately hugs one side of the map (and I’ve seen this done in tournament play), you will meet the opposing team by the second turn.
It definitely has the cartoon-style charm found in most MOBAs. The different freelancers are extremely unique, and one of my favorite parts of learning this game was learning the personality quirks of each hero as shown by their little taunts and comments before executing each ability.
Obviously, being a disabled player, the turn-based nature appeals to me, but make no mistake: this game will definitely show you exactly how little time 20 seconds is, whether you are able-bodied or not. The three-phase resolution of each turn is a fantastic game mechanic that I find makes it even more fun than a game of XCOM, because I’m not only trying to position myself to take advantage of where the enemy is, but also where the enemy will be. I’ve had so many turns resolve where my target teleported, dashed, or was dragged away during the phase before my attack, causing me to completely whiff it. The best part is that I actually find moments like these to be enjoyable.
Macky Avelli: Having never played a MOBA before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I made a point of not looking up what “MOBA” means beforehand, so that it’d be something of a surprise, although I did know that it had something to do with PvP.
The first thing that catches my eye is the art style which reminds me of Borderlands, but more cartoon-y and colourful. Once the game is loaded up I’m immediately in a pretty familiar place, if not a little bit updated. Though this game bears a resemblance to the style of gameplay found in XCOM, as noted by my associates, this game is at its core a tactical RPG which is something that has been around for a long time. As a matter of fact, I was feeling nostalgic recently, and decided to fire up Final Fantasy Tactics a couple weeks before taking this assignment, so I had apparently unwittingly primed myself perfectly for this one.
I was surprised to see how well a tactical game works with a timer. You have to be able to move pretty fast, but you’re also given a enough of a chance to think of your next play, so there’s definitely plenty of opportunity to be strategic. I also really enjoyed that the game felt like it had a level playing field. Though experience and time spent playing can certainly make a player better at the game, I found myself winning battles here and there against players who were at a higher level than I was.
WHAT ARE THE FEATURES YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THIS GAME? WHAT ABOUT LEAST-LIKED?
TA: The turn-based MOBA is the most intriguing aspect of this game. Your immediate reaction is that 20 seconds is an eternity compared to real-time MOBAs where APM and twitch skills are generally the determinants in a fight. However, once you realize that your opponents have those same 20 seconds to think of their moves simultaneously, it quickly gets into a thinking game where you can psyche yourself out or just freeze up with indecision. Next thing you know, time’s up.
The feature I like the least is the lack of character versatility. Your character is defined by the three main roles: Firepower, Frontline, or Support. Since there is no gear like in DOTA or League of Legends, and no modifications to base skills like in Heroes of the Storm except what you choose prior to the match, there is no innovative way to use a character outside of its narrowly defined role in reaction to how the match is unfolding or who you are up against. The metagame may be limited as a result.
GN: This game is definitely one requiring “a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.” Dividing characters into the three roles can give you some sense of what each freelancer is capable of, but more often than not your freelancer is actually a combination of all three. My current favorite, Rampart, looks like your quintessential frontline tank, with its robotic armor, huge sword, and giant eff-off shield. However, I find that he is most effectively played with a support mindset: using skills to buff nearby teammates or placing his shield to protect them from incoming fire. When you include the fact that characters can select three “catalysts” from a pool of nine abilities that can be used once per match, and that every ability can be augmented with an additional effect (you choose one of five options per skill), you find that a small pool of about 20 freelancers provide more options than one might think.
The user interface does leave a bit to be desired. I find it somewhat difficult to scroll the camera down when my mouse is in the center of the screen, and I find deselecting whatever ability I’ve chosen to be a little difficult, if I want to change my mind. Right clicking to deselect would probably be better than left clicking again, if I were the one in charge..,
MA: I think one of the things I like the most about this game compared to other tactical RPGs that I’ve played in the past are the three combat phases, which almost give it a kind of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” element. You could maybe even call it a Tactical RPS? Probably not. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of importance on picking the right ability, or making the right move at the right time. Before you know it, you’re spending the action sequences trying to figure out what your opponent’s next move will be, and acting accordingly in the decision phase.
Additionally, I like that although this game isn’t necessarily “pay-to-win”, there are still plenty of opportunities to unlock things with credits earned from battles, such as different skins and abilities or catalysts. When it comes down to it, I’m a simple guy who likes rewards, and Atlas Reactor has plenty of those to keep you busy.
I have to admit that there wasn’t very much that I disliked about this game, actually! One criticism that I had early on was that there isn’t very much of a warning to remind you to move your character once you had selected an action. As much as it was a bit of a nuisance at first, after playing for a few days I didn’t feel quite as rushed in the 20 second decision phase, and didn’t find myself forgetting to move quite as often.
WHAT IS THE MOST DEVELOPED PART OF THE BETA? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IMPROVED BETWEEN NOW AND LAUNCH?
TA: There was nothing that jarred me out of my immersion like obvious bugs – the gameplay is solid and it feels ready to launch.
What they need to improve on the most is GUI visuals. Almost every move in the game uses a light blue indicator on the map itself and is not intuitively distinct from one another. Once they make it visually intuitive, it would be great since it would allow me to focus purely on the match.
GN: I think that Trion did a really good job in creating interesting and unique freelancers to play. You’ve got snipers, robotic dogs, and beings of pure energy with which to wreck your opposing team. I still haven’t played all of the characters, but I have yet to find one that I didn’t enjoy playing.
On the other hand, I think that if Trion worked a bit more on interplayer communication, players would have that much more of a satisfying experience. Perhaps I’m just spoiled by Eve Online, but I would love to be able to alert my teammates that the enemy sniper is creeping along the right side, that I need help at my current position, or that I’m about to use my ultimate, by pressing a button to send my teammates a broadcast or ping.
Also, Trion announced that they are switching from a free-to-play business model to a buy-to-play model, where players will have access to all of the freelancers by paying a one-time fee. The day I logged in after this announcement (I was all excited because I had saved up enough game currency to unlock Rampart), the first question I asked myself was “now what am I going to do with all of this ISO?” From what I understand, there will be all kinds of new game mechanics revolving around this game currency, but as it stands, this is probably what needs the most immediate development.
MA: Not only is this the first MOBA I’ve ever played, but it turns out that this is actually the first beta test I’ve ever been involved in as well. I was expecting the game to feel somewhat broken and moderately incomplete based on what friends had told me about previous betas they had played, but I was pleasantly surprised to find exactly the opposite. As a matter of fact, I was hard pressed to find an element of the game that didn’t feel complete. Although Trion is still making changes to the game, such as the change to B2P, it seems that they’re otherwise only tweaking minor elements at this point.
HOW MUCH POTENTIAL DO YOU SEE IN THIS GAME? WILL YOU PLAY IT?
TA: With the recently announced B2P model where all characters are unlocked to start, I think it will be challenging to obtain a sizable market share that is sustainable. While the game itself is solid with obvious quality to it, the B2P business model might hinder its growth because the game does not appear to be unique enough to compel people to shell out money just to try. This weekend’s open beta needs to draw in a large crowd from its target demographic to make its case. Atlas Reactor feels like a very promising game, so I hope business decisions are not the reason that it will not realize its potential.
I am lukewarm about this game with its B2P model, and unless I have three friends who I would queue with on a regular basis, I would probably not spend money on this. I would absolutely play this if it was F2P though. Trion already implemented F2P with Rift, Defiance, and ArcheAge, so it is intriguing that they want to move away from it, especially given the overwhelming percentage of the MOBA market which is F2P-based.
GN: I see a great deal of potential in this game, especially as an E-sport. To date, at least three tournaments have taken place and teams are already forming. Moreover, this is a real game changing opportunity for physically disabled gamers like myself to have the possibility of participating in organized tournament play of the game that is not Hearthstone. For that reason alone, I’ll be throwing all of my ducats at this game. While I have yet to see a SomethingAwful thread for the game, it’s already sporting its own subreddit, Discord server, and is available for preorder on Steam. I can see a few people being put off by the idea of switching from F2P, but since the change occurred before the game came out of beta, I don’t see it putting off all that many potential players… I hope.
I’m already looking for a team…
MA: I enjoyed my time playing Atlas Reactor and I do see plenty of potential in this game. I think that although the to decision to change to B2P may deter some players, it is ultimately the best thing for this game. When I first started playing I found that being limited to specific characters actually wasn’t particularly fun, and none of the available characters were really to my liking. Once the whole range of characters had been unlocked, I found the character that I liked the most, and found it a little bit easier to get immersed in the game.
I’m not 100% sure whether or not this would be a game that I would buy unless I knew that I was going to have some pals to play it with. I had a great time in the rounds I played with Tess and Gommel, but found it a bit more difficult to get into once I wasn’t chatting it up in comms. The game is being sold for $29.99 USD, which is actually more in the neighbourhood of $40 in my country, so I’ll definitely want to know that I’m going to have some pals ready to jump in before I drop the loot on this one! The pricing has changed since this was written, you can see their pricing plans here.
This article was written jointly between Tess Ashpool, Gommel Nox, and Macky Avelli. Thank you to Trion for providing closed beta keys to TMC and enabling us to write this preview!
Atlas Reactor will be running an open beta this weekend from, 5/13 to 5/15. Be sure to check it out!