Dawngate: A MOBA with a Story

I said in my last post that most of the games I play these days are of a competitive nature rather than a narrative one. To be more specific, I’ve mostly been playing MOBA games. The most famous of these are DOTA 2 and League of Legends (my personal vice), but there are a lot of MOBA games being released this year. While at PAX East last weekend, I went to see a panel about Dawngate, one of these new MOBAs and one that I’ve been part of the beta for.

I’m not going to touch on the gameplay mechanics here, suffice it to say that there are some really neat elements that make the game different from competitors in the genre. As this blog focuses on storytelling and narrative, the main thing I want to point out is the Dawngate team’s commitment to creating a living world with characters and lore that are part of a greater story.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with MOBA games, the acronym stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Players are put onto teams and then each one picks and plays a character who fulfills a certain function on the team. I think of MOBAs as more closely linked to sports than many other types of games, and sports don’t have storylines that are part of the game, or at least the storylines that exist in sports are created by the teams and the players and are not part of a larger construction derived by an author. At the end of the day people who play games like League of Legends are attached to characters they enjoy playing or maybe like the look of rather than characters that they know a lot about because of their narrative history.

Waystone Games, the studio behind Dawngate, looks to change this approach to the MOBA genre by focusing a lot of their effort on the lore and backstory of the game and the characters involved, and I think this is one of the biggest things that could separate them from their competitors. If you want an in-depth look at some of the things they have planned, you can check out the developer diaries that explain their approach, but I wanted to at least touch on a couple of the cool things they are doing or planning.

Currently the primary medium for the Dawngate story is The Dawngate Chronicles, a webcomic that tells the story of the different characters (known as Shapers) featured in the game. Multiple comic panels are planned to be released each week so that readers can be continuously engaged in the story and not have to wait very long for new content.

As you can probably tell from my webcomic reviews, I am a big fan of the medium, but I think it is also a great choice for telling Dawngate’s story. One of the other unique aspects of the game is its art design. Inspired by the art of Miyazaki, Dawngate is visually beautiful, and I think it has a higher standard in art than other games in the genre, most of which have a more cartoonish feel. Telling the game’s story through a comic is a great way to capitalize on that aspect of the game.

The medium isn’t the only thing to talk about in terms of the game’s story. Waystone wants Dawngate’s story to be dynamic and full of, what they’ve termed, “living lore”. Their plan is to have the story affect the game, but also to allow players to affect the story by voting on the outcomes of certain scenarios (most likely through playing specific shapers in-game). What the players choose will steer the course of the story, and this will open up things in the game like story-related skins for the shapers, in-game banter between shapers that reflect what they’ve experienced together, and even new shapers that people will be able to play.

I think Waystone’s attempt to bring story to the MOBA genre is admirable, as most other games in the genre simply feature these heroes fighting each other in an arena for some unknown (or very loosely described) reason. I think their ground-up design of story and art influencing the feel of the game is really great, and you can see it as you play.

Dawngate is now in open beta, and the game is free to play, so if want to check it out I definitely recommend it. You can also check out the webcomic (which has just started, so there aren’t many entries to catch up on) and see if the story entices you. If it does, then maybe the game is worth looking into. Personally, I’m a big fan of the game, and I hope it succeeds. I’m definitely curious what Waystone will be able to do in regards of story, and if they can deliver on all of the plans for the lore that they have laid out.

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