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Shards of War
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Shards of War

Release Date:  2014, 10
Publisher:  Bigpoint
Developer:  Bigpoint
Genre:  MOBA
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Shards of War is a new action-packed, sci-fi-themed MOBA from German developer and publisher, Bigpoint. Their other works include Farmerama, Battlestar Galactica Online, and the upcoming Game of Thrones MMORPG. Shards is free-to-play but, unlike most Bigpoint titles, you’ll need to install a client to play it instead of just playing in your browser. You’ll also need Windows 7 or higher.

Even if you’re not familiar with the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) genre, you’ve probably heard of some of its heaviest hitters — DotA, League of Legends, and Heroes of Newerth. MOBAs began as custom maps for StarCraft and Warcraft III, but the genre has absolutely exploded over the past five years. Basically, MOBAs give each player control of a single powerful hero and divide the players into two teams. The team that destroys the opposing team’s base first wins. The two bases are connected by three different paths, each of which is defended by automated turrets. Computer-controlled drones are regularly spawned at each base to aid the heroes in combat.

Shards of War has several features that set it apart from other MOBAs. Most obviously, it uses a sci-fi setting. Instead of blades, bows, and magic, the heroes employ guns, explosives, drones, and other technology. Bigpoint has fully embraced the use of guns and developed the gameplay to feel like a top-down shooter. Where most MOBAs have you click around the map to move your hero, Shards gives you tighter control of your movement with the WASD keys. This may be the most important difference — Shards combines the precise controls and speed of a top-down shooter with the tactical depth and teamwork of a MOBA. Finally, where most MOBAs have matches that typically take longer than half an hour, Shards keeps matches down to 20 minutes of intense combat.

Shards of War entered beta last week and already has 10 unique playable heroes. That pales in comparison to established MOBAs, but it’s just enough for each player in a match to use a unique hero if desired — a match of Shards is 5-on-5. Like most MOBAs, you can always play some characters for free, but these rotate each week. If you find a character you like, you can pay to unlock it permanently. Each character is assigned a class (attack, tank, or support) to give you a general idea of their playstyle, but each character has unique stats and abilities that form a unique playstyle. Most characters have alternate skins too. Just as they should, these cover the spectrum from badass to lighthearted, including a couple goofy action heroes straight from the 80s. Great heroes are the lifeblood of a good MOBA. Shards’ existing collection is small, but generally interesting. It’s a safe bet that Bigpoint will be adding many more characters and skins over time.

Shards of War has several systems that lets players progress over time and have some continuity between matches. You earn experience points as your team defeats enemy heroes, turrets, and drones. You can then spend experience points to unlock items that can be taken into future matches and equipped by your heroes. As you finish missions, you will receive treasure chests containing random building materials. These materials can be crafted into new items or used to upgrade the ones you already have. Finally, increasing your player level lets you improve your characters and access more powerful items.

The beta test is in place primarily to fix bugs, but Bigpoint is actively listening to player feedback in order to shape the future of Shards of War. New heroes, new game modes, and a ranking system are already in the works. If you’re eager to get in on the action, you can register for the beta at the official Shards of War site.

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