Review: Arena of Valor


So long Android version!

Tencent probably expected more from Arena of Valor when it launched the game in North America last December. After all, it was the highest grossing mobile title last year, pulling in $1.9 billion in revenue. It’s gargantuan in China, but on this side of the Pacific, it barely registers. Even with the mythos-shattering introduction of DC heroes like Batman and Superman, it’s mostly floundered. People are playing it -- I’ve never had an issue connecting to a game -- just most of the people on this continent aren’t spending any money on it. So what do you do in 2018 when you want to make money on a video game? You put it on Switch.

If you’re already familiar with Arena of Valor, there are a few things you should know about the Switch port. For starters, a Nintendo Switch Online subscription is not required to play. Second, the Switch version will interact with neither the iOS nor Android versions. Finally, at the time of this writing, the Death Match game option and DC characters are not available. Anything this game lacks, compared to the mobile versions, it makes up for by being a more polished and playable version of the game.

Arena of Valor review

Arena of Valor (Switch [reviewed], iOS, Android) 
Developer: Tencent Games 
Publisher: Tencent Games 
Released: September 25, 2018 
MSRP: Free-to-play w/ microtransactions

The tutorial for Arena of Valor tells you everything you need to know about playing the game. AoV is a MOBA, and the primary objective for most of its modes is to work your way through enemy towers, defeating A.I. controlled grunts and human opponents alike, until you and your team take down the opposition’s core. Players start each round at square one, leveling up their character by defeating foes, taking down towers, or eliminating any of the monsters found off the main path of battle. As players level up and gain money, they’ll unlock and strengthen special moves, and buy armor, accessories, and attack buffs, all in real time.

It can take some time to learn, though anyone familiar with DOTA or Heroes of the Storm should fit right in. I have months of experience with the mobile version, so my first ten rounds or so were all cakewalks, with me scoring MVP every time. At least that’s true of the main mode.

Grand Battle is the primary mode in Arena of Valor. This is the bog-standard MOBA set-up, with two teams of five working their way through up to nine enemy towers to demolish the core. This mode takes place on the Antaris Battlefield, which has never looked better than it does on Switch, even if it’s still an unimaginative setting. Valley Skirmish is a three-versus-three mode, with just two towers on each side standing between teams and their cores. Solo Battle is a one-on-one competition with a single tower and core, while Abyssal Clash is another five-versus-five mode that’s more direct combat oriented than Grand Battle.

Instead of letting players choose their characters, Abyssal Clash picks fighters at random, though I do have the ability to reroll a limited number of times. Each team has just two towers and a core to defend on a single pathway, leading to matches that are frequently just all 10 people fighting at once in an all-out slobber-knocker. It’s quite the frantic mode and one I have to approach differently than the others. I can usually annihilate the competition with Valhein, one of the two characters I unlocked at launch, but I’m pretty much useless with him in Abyssal Clash.

Every mode is available from the start with special mode Hook Wars relegated to weekends only. If I want to play ranked battles, I can’t until I unlock five characters. It’s a stupid limitation that carries over from the mobile version. Arena of Valor starts players off with two of the 39 characters available. Unlocking more requires either real-world money or in-game gold. Through matches, achievements, and other rewards, I slowly accumulate gold to buy permanent usage of characters.

Or I can spend real money on vouchers to unlock them right away. To give you an idea of how much you can spend in this game, one of the most expensive characters in the game is Lu Bu. His coin price is a staggering 13,888, or he can be purchased for 999 vouchers, which will set you back about $10.

Arena of Valor review

Coins and vouchers are two of the currencies in Arena of Valor, but there are also gems. These are gained through chests and daily rewards and can be used to purchases Arcana. The Arcana Pool is one way I'm able to personalize my characters. As I level up, I unlock Arcana slots, which I can fill with buffs to strengthen my attacks, defense, and energy. There is yet another level of customization available called the Armory. I mention above that during play it's on me to purchase armor and accessories. When I use the auto-buy feature, (which I suggest everybody does until they get the hang of it), I can dictate in advance which purchases my character makes by setting up their individualized armory upgrade tree.

It may sound like a lot, but in practice, it’s easy to keep track of. I find myself sticking to the two or three characters I’m best with, though I do dabble in the free fighters the game lets me try out to get a taste of the character classes I’m not as proficient in. Though it very much wears its mobile roots on its sleeve, Arena of Valor isn’t as "in my face" about getting me to spend real money. The interface here is clean and not as cluttered as its mobile brethren. That might change as time goes on, but as of right now, it’s the least aggressive interface for a free-to-play game that I’ve encountered.

Arena of Valor review

In fact, I have to hand it to Tencent Games. It could have just ported the game over to Switch with few changes and called it a day. But the development team really took the extra steps to make this the most enjoyable way to play the game. A touchscreen can’t compete with real buttons, and while the control set-up for Arena of Valor took a few minutes to acquaint myself with, it’s incredibly intuitive in practice. Unlike a lot of other games on Switch, it makes extensive use of the all four shoulder buttons. The L, R, And ZL buttons control the special moves I unlock for my character while ZR is its own maneuver I can equip before battle. The face buttons control everything else and it all just works so well. Even the netcode's been golden. Dropped matches haven't been an issue and my ping rate has always stayed well within an acceptable range.

When I played the game during the first Switch beta test, I said Tencent Games wasn’t screwing around. It still isn’t. This is the absolute premier way to play the game. Arena of Valor may have been born on mobile, but on Switch is where it feels at home.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game downloaded for free by the reviewer.]

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Arena of Valor reviewed by CJ Andriessen



Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Destructoid reviews guide


CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. Also, I backed that Bloodstained game. more + disclosures



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