Arena of Valor U.S. Pre-Launch Review

The immensely profitable Honour of Kings, a mobile-based MOBA with over 55 million daily Chinese players, is making its international debut. It has been rebranded as Arena of Valor for the international audience, and it has already become available in SE Asian countries and the UK – the US launch is set for November, with pre-registration already open.

In anticipation of the US launch, we managed to VPN ourselves onto the SE Asian servers for the purpose of playing and reviewing this top-grossing MOBA. Can it compete with other online arena games such as Mobile Legends or STBA.Io? Read on to find out.

Upon launching the game, we were treated to a somewhat lengthy mandatory gameplay tutorial – a bit annoying, if you’re already familiar with other MOBAs like League of Legends, as Arena of Valor is virtually identical to nearly every other MOBA in existence. Fortunately, the tutorial did reward us with some champions to start out with, and enough in-game currency to afford one of the cheaper IAP champions from the shop.

Speaking of IAP champions, there’s quite a large list to choose from. What I enjoyed most though, is that you can actually try champions before buying them – and I don’t mean just in a “free weekly champions” sort of way that other MOBAs do, I mean you can literally press a button to do a “Champion Trial”, which takes you into a sort of testing mode against AI bots with that champion.

In the testing mode, you can press other buttons to instantly level-up your champion or give yourself gold, to mess around with different item sets. As someone who has regretted IAP champion purchases on other MOBAs (usually from buying the champions that “look cool”), I actually appreciate this.

There are several PvP match modes available in Arena of Valor:

  • 5v5 “Grand Battle” (3 lanes)
  • 5v5 “Hook Battle”
  • 3v3 “Valley Skirmish” (mid-lane only, top and bottom lanes replaced with jungles)
  • 5v5 “Abyssal Clash”( random champions, single lane)
  • 1v1 “Solo Battle”
  • Death Match (Teams of 2v2, 3v3, or 5v5, no turrets/minions/jungle, purely kill-based)

As I said, gameplay is virtually identical to other MOBAs like League of Legends, but there are some unique elements in Arena of Valor to make it worthwhile. For one, all of the champions seem overpowered in their own ways – if you’re familiar with League of Legends, you should know that certain champions are “counters” to other champions, or just generally overpowered.

I’m sorry if I’m assuming you’re familiar with other MOBAs – if you aren’t, gameplay is basically this: You join a game mode, your team chooses their characters, and then you’re put into the arena. In the most popular mode (5v5 “Grand Battle”), there are 3 “lanes” to defend – top, middle, and bottom. There’s also the “jungle”. Who defends what lanes depends on who is playing what characters – tanks tend to go top lane, fighters and mages usually go mid lane, marksman and support go bottom. Assassins tend to take the jungle, since they can run around and kill monsters for EXP, and easily jump into brawls in the 3 lanes when they’re needed.

The one mode unique to Age of Valor would be the 5v5 “Hook Battle”, which is only open on the weekends. This mode was a bit like ARAM, except there are no turrets or lanes – the two teams are separated by a barrier that cannot be crossed, and you try to cast a hook / pull spell at members of the opposite team, to pull them over to your team’s side and gank them. It’s a lot of running sideways back and forth and shooting hooks all over the place.

It doesn’t feel that way in Arena of Valor – I saw support-based champions racking up penta-kills with well-timed ults in ARAM (sorry, “Abyssal Clash”) mode, for example. So that tells me that AoV is less about rock-paper-scissor mechanics, and more about skill and coordination.

The 3D graphics are well-done – a little less cartoony than League of Legends, but still bright and colorful. Animations are smooth and spells / abilities aren’t too flashy, but visually stimulating enough to make the game fun.

The controls are extremely simple, but you can customize them to your liking in the Options menu – you can, for example, choose to auto-target the closest enemy to your champion, the enemy with the lowest HP, or scrap auto-targeting altogether and go manual. Casting abilities is also easy and intuitive – even for skills that require careful aiming and timing, like Slimz flying spear, I was hitting opponents 9 times out of 10. Maybe I’m just an awesome sniper though.

One useful little feature is that during champion selection, the game will actually tell you if your team is unbalanced – it will display “Too Many Marksman, Not Enough Tanks”, for example. It doesn’t stop your team from choosing whoever they want to play, but it can certainly help decision-making. I figured people might just ignore it, but I saw people choosing different champions when the game displayed those kind of alerts, so the community isn’t entirely daft.

Another useful feature is that you can edit the displayed recommended items for any champion during gameplay – what I mean is, while you’re playing the game, you will receive gold to purchase items that enhance your character’s abilities. However, so you don’t need to open the Shop and scroll through items, you can put together a list of “recommended” items that you can quickly buy from the corner of the screen during gameplay. That’s just like most MOBAs, right?

But in Arena of Valor, you can automatically set yourself up with “Pro Builds” – by tapping “Pro Builds” from the Armory menu for any particular champion, the game will display the most used item sets from the top-ranked players for that particular champion, and you can set those builds as your preferred item sets. This saves you alot of time looking at champion guides for build sets.

Overall, if you enjoy online battle games like League of Legends, Mobile Legends, VainGlory, DOTA (the list goes on and on, I’ll stop here), Arena of Valor is actually quite fun and unique in tiny, but enjoyable ways. As someone who regularly plays both League of Legends on PC and Mobile Legends on Android, I was able to score MVP in several matches within my first day of playing, so the learning curve is virtually nonexistent if you’re coming from other MOBAs. But the fun and addiction of typical MOBA gameplay is certainly there.

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