The lights are on
Prior to Ubisoft's announcement that it would be publishing Airmech Arena on Xbox 360, I hadn't given Carbon Games' free-to-play title much attention. I had heard the name, but with a flood of MOBAs (and MOBA-like) titles on PC, I never managed to turn in its direction. That was a mistake.
When last week's news came out that Carbon (the studio behind Fat Princess) was bringing the title to console, I checked out the trailer to see what it was all about. What I found was Robotech-like vehicles transforming into robots, duking it out in the air and on land. As a fan of giant robots, especially those that transform, I immediately made an appointment to play the game at PAX East.
My very first MOBA experience was Awesomenauts. It speaks the same language as League of Legends and Dota 2, but does so in a way that console gamers can understand. Airmech Arena has a traditional overhead perspective, but the twin stick shooter controls accomplish a similar goal to Ronimo's cartoonish creation.
I played two Airmech matches, a two-vs-two competitive game and a solo survival experience. The solo play was the second, but I'd recommend players start here, as it provides a great sandbox to experiment with the different mechs, units, and upgrades.
Right now, there are nine different Airmech classes, an intentionally focused number. Co-founder James Green tells me that they approach the game more like Team Fortress 2, which hasn't added any classes in all its years of existence, rather than a traditional MOBA. That's not to say more Airmechs won't be added, but you won't be flooded with new classes to buy.
Player customization comes in the form of different units that can be built at the base and outposts. These are selected in advance and include anti-air, turret, healing, foot soldiers, tanks, and more.
Units are deployed by spending credit to built them at base. Once they are complete, you need to return to shuttle them to the fight. There is a lot of rapid movement back and forth to base, making this a sharp divergence from most MOBAs. You won't have to make the tough decision to go back and leave a tower undefended. You'll just need to zip back for a few moments, upgrade, set up the build queue, and get back to the fight.
Units can be picked up from your main base or one of the forward outposts that you capture. There is an option that can be toggled that automatically queues units once you have a lot of money, which is something Green tells me is there for newer players who get caught up in fighting and forget to build minions.
Airmech is a free-to-play game, but Carbon offers something called Airmech Prime in the PC version. This $20 bundle will make its way to Xbox 360 and unlock all nine classes, a large number of units, experience and kudos (earned currency) bonuses, and includes a small amount of diamonds (paid currency). If you are a PC Airmech player, your existing purchases will not carry to the console, though.
If you want to purchase Airmech skins or solo/bot match only ultimate units, those are diamond purchases only. Ultimate units are more powerful, which is why they can't be used in competitive play. Additional unit types can be acquired either through kudos or diamonds.
Knowing at the start that I can spend $20 and unlock all of the different class options feels like a nice middle point between the free-to-play wild west and the more traditional structure of game ownership. Between the smooth twin stick shooter controls and the quick match speed (games can be played in 10 - 15 minutes), Airmech Arena's summer launch on Xbox 360 can't come soon enough.
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Is it going to be a Summer of Arcade title?
Looking forward to playing this on 360. I don't play any MOBAs, but this one sounds interesting.
I don't care much for MOBAs; never played on before. But this actually looks interesting enough for me to give a try.
"Does so in a way that console gamers can understand"
Derp! No understand, if it mouse where cheese? Doy! So many buttons make head hurt! Make me mad!!!
I'm just kidding, I know what you meant. I couldn't resist.