There’s something highly compelling about Gigantic. Whether it’s tied to its unique take on the MOBA formula, its varied and well-balanced roster of heroes, its charming cartoon aesthetic, or perhaps a little bit from all columns, whatever it is we can’t seem to stop playing it.
Right now Gigantic’s Preview Program offering involves three maps and a rotating selection from the 16 available characters, that’s in its free version at least. Pay for the Founders pack however, and you’ll have access to the whole cast of quirky, anthropomorphised animal heroes. Trying it out then, is entirely free, and thanks to solid balancing between the heroes, and seemingly the matchmaking, whichever version you play there’s no obvious ‘pay to win’ shenanigans.
Of course, it’s early days but in our experience, things were fair between the competing sides despite the heroes selected. This felt largely due to the restriction of only one hero choice per team, and the free version’s roster including a well-sized selection of heroes to facilitate this. In the end, your five strong team naturally fulfils multiple roles: tank, DPS (Damage per Second) and support. The strategy is in the detail; are the DPS players ranged or melee, what’s the ratio of classes, and are individuals playing to the strengths of their character and class. And as long as the latter was true, matches were tense, action packed and closely fought battles.
The aim of each match is very simple: deal three blows to the enemy’s guardian, a massive lion eagle thing for the good guys, and a dark snake thing for the bad guys. And in classic MOBA tradition, this means securing points within the map and defeating players and the creatures they summon. This generates energy orbs, and once you reach 100 your guardian dashes across the map and engages the enemy guardian, opening up an opportunity to strike and injure it. The other team’s amount of energy also then aids in their defence, with more granting them a higher chance of pushing back against the onslaught and saving their guardian from taking damage.
However, Gigantic follows less traditional MOBA design when it’s comes to its map layout. Lanes are less of a focus, in fact the maps are more arena shaped. Instead of minions and creatures roaming around and pushing forwards via lanes, the creatures you summon are static, remaining at the strategic points you capture within the map. Here they grant different bonuses, such as healing, defensive barriers, or offensive abilities. Therefore, another part of the overall strategy is figuring out where to put each kind of creature to best benefit your team.
In truth, the strategy is fairly shallow, but this makes it far more intuitive to learn. With a little practice on each map you gain a good idea of the best strategic points to capture and what creature to put there, which makes for a player base that can pick up and play without having to worry about a steep or complex learning curve. The nuance comes in learning how the heroes work.
The 16 heroes offer a wide variety of move-sets to master, based around the aforementioned three classes of tank, DPS and support. A potion wielding mad scientist can buff the team with defence and attack enhancements, meanwhile, a robotic artillery piece can offer ranged DPS, and a hulking bull can charge on in, distract enemies and absorb its fair share of damage. Moreover, many characters can fulfil the role of two classes, depending on the upgrades you choose as that hero levels up within a match. Once a match is over, these upgrades are reset and you’re free to mix it up next time you jump into battle, changing your role and focus to meet the requirements of your team. There’s certainly characters that have some particularly devastating skills when in the right hands, but there’s always a character or strategy that can level the playing fields, it’s just a matter of finding it. However, the biggest threat your team will face comes from within.
Teamwork is absolutely crucial to your success, and managing the strategic points, upgrading your characters, killing enemy players without falling yourself, and then attacking the enemy guardian when the time comes, is a lot to keep track of during a match. This is exacerbated by just how fast paced it all is. The maps are small enough, mostly, so a re-spawning enemy can get back into the fray quickly, movement is equally swift, especially in combat, and smooth, lightning framerates makes the whole experience a visual treat. Moreover, the cartoon aesthetic and bright colour pallet is stunning, almost distractingly so.
However, there’s always a ‘but’, or indeed a collection of ‘buts’, fortunately in this case they’re smalls ‘buts’, ones sure to get a good kicking during Gigantic’s time in the Preview Program. Matchmaking is a rather lengthy process, leaving you waiting at the title screen for several minutes. Meanwhile, when a match is found you need to confirm you still want to participate, which often resulted in matches not going ahead and the matchmaking starting from scratch. Hopefully this is more a limited player-base problem than an issue with the matchmaking itself, but that confirmation step really needs to go. One of the maps, Sanctum Falls, is also significantly larger than the others, and despite its attractive design, its size makes matches more drawn out and frustrating. Fortunately, Gigantic’s trick of reducing the map size when the guardians clash – triggered when a match is taking too long – works splendidly at hurrying up a prolonged competition.
Gigantic also doesn’t feature any private match options or bot battles. A singleplayer tutorial helps you figure things out but the ability to play with and against friends with bots filling up the spare slots would go a long way to making the title more engaging to a larger audience, and aid in people’s quest to master the many characters and their unique upgrades trees and move-sets.
Gigantic is one of the most stable preview program titles on Xbox One, and offers highly compelling MOBA style battles with enough unique twists on the genre to make it stand out. It looks and runs terrifically, and has a wonderfully diverse set of quirky characters that’s hard not to fall in love with. We cannot wait for more maps to be added, in fact, add half a dozen more and we’d call it retail ready, fix our ‘buts’ and we could well be seeing a game of the year contender here.
Thanks to Xbox and Motiga for supporting TiX