I got an opportunity to put The Machines Arena (TMA) through its paces at the end of last week.
This top-down MOBA, from studio Directive Games, is one of the few blockchain games available through the Epic Games store.
It has strong League of Legends vibes – albeit with pretty different gameplay – but in League, the action is more drawn out.
TMA is action-packed from start to finish, and a game can take five minutes, as opposed to close to 40 minutes in League of Legends. It has the casual MOBA appeal of Brawlstars, but its design is more mature.
Its objective of moving the payload is also in Team Fortress 2 and more recently in Overwatch 2, but where these two web2 games are set up to have one team attack and another defend, TMA uses the mechanic to create a sliding measure of who is doing better when the 5 to 7-minute battle comes to an end.
Playing to the crowd
Given the types of characters in TMA (see below), and with the addition of a spectator mode for custom lobbies already built into the beta, it’s clear Directive are focusing on building a game that will fit into the current esports scene.
I played TMA with @GeorgeInTheMeta and @Sanb0x_ from Polkastarter, @WrecksGG from Playconomy and @yellowpantherx the creator of Treasure DAO. Here’s what some of them thought of the game:
“It’s a really nice, very smooth, unexpected release. Suddenly, we have a game out of nowhere. Suddenly ,we have a game that’s ready. There are some very minor bugs but other than that, it’s very good for esports.”
“I don’t know if it has a League of Legends level of sport because the game loops are so quick, but it does have the Clash Royale-like level of five-minute-long games. This is sick, it’s going places. It’s perfect for me in the sense that I can’t lock into the 30-40 minute League or Dota match because of children, but I can get in one or two matches real quick and then call it a day and still feel accomplished. I can see some people getting real sweaty over this game.”
How to play now
TMA is playable in beta right now for anyone who can get a key.
To get your hands on one, find people who have made content about the game, as hundreds were given keys to give away.
A good place to start is the game’s Discord where there is a channel for content creators to share their stuff.
Game modes and maps
There are several different game modes, available in the beta:
Death run (PVE)
Quick play (PVP)
Custom lobby @(PVP)
There is also a death run challenge (PVE) on the menu, but it’s locked until you reach a high level in the standard death run. The difference with the death run challenge is that the seed is locked, meaning each time you play it you will get the same rooms and upgrades offered to you.
I tested the PVP with a colleague and when we played against full teams of streamers through the quick play, we lost most of the games. But the gameplay was still fun even when we were losing.
The map’s “Push back – GCC Facility” is the only map option for PVP in this beta version and it is a 4 vs 4 mode.
At the center of the map, is something that resembles a large chemical bomb which sits on tracks that run from one team’s area at the bottom of the map, to the other team’s area at the top.
Each team needs to move the payload forward into the other team’s area before the time runs out. When the game’s five-minute timer runs down, if it’s not passed the barrier of a team’s goal, the barrier starts moving along the tracks towards the middle until the bomb is past one team’s barrier.
The map design is ever so slightly unbalanced due to it not being symmetrical. Although I couldn’t say which side gains the advantage just yet.
The payload system, which reminds me of Team Fortress 2 but in both directions, adds excitement to the gameplay.
The graphics are well done for a top-down MOBA, with intricate detailing and good textures, although there is room for further polish.
The game’s clear and straightforward objective may require a description to cater to people who skip tutorials, but the difficulty level is appropriate for players looking for a challenge without being too overwhelming.
The map’s high replayability via a simple and fast game loop, keeps players engaged. Each game offers a unique experience, depending on your team’s strategy and gameplay style.
Death run is a very interesting game mode. It’s set up as a PVE challenge to the player who must get as far through the assortment of randomly selected rooms as possible, while killing the enemy bots. All with a sense of urgency as time ticks down while players battle in each room.
Although I enjoyed playing the death run as I tried to get onto the leaderboard, I found the current build a bit confusing due to two things: cores and exiting the run at a checkpoint.
When completing each room, you are given the option to pick the type of reward you will get in the next room. There are between two and four path options, depending on your current room.
You can choose:
When you complete the room, you can pick up the reward.
New abilities or upgrading them makes total sense, but I’m not too sure why you would swap out the weapon you chose to start with, as it seems they are pretty balanced right now.
Money is used in the checkpoint room where you can buy upgrades for your weapon and your character, like max health and movement speed, as well as spend it on upgrading the abilities you already have.
In this room there is also the ability to exit the run. This has no effect on your final score – where dying instead of exiting has no effect either – so to exit currently has no benefits.
The final option is cores. These also have no use in this beta and do not affect your score, although they do show up on the information on the leaderboard.
I would guess that these parts work together and have something to do with the blockchain integration, where you collect cores and need to exit alive to keep them. But with no explanation in the game, we will have to wait and see.
Once you know all this, you can focus on getting abilities upgraded and collecting money to do upgrades in the checkpoints so you can push as far through this death run as possible.
There are 3 types of characters in the game: tank, support and assault. Each has three characters available to play in the PVP arenas.
Daye: With its fast shooting minigun and the highest HP in the game, this fully-armored machine resembles a robotic space marine from Warhammer.
Pyro: This character has slightly less HP than Daye, and her main weapon is called The Heartwarmer, a flamethrower that this tank is built around. It’s a weapon that deals fast, small amounts of damage at shorter range. Pyro can heal herself in her own flames.
Riot: With the smallest amount of HP of all the characters, Riot focuses on close combat with his sword Tranquility and huge shield, pulling enemies to their death.
Devol: Sporting a shotgun-like weapon called Boomstick, she relies on the use of turrets to support her team. One is defensive and the other has healing capabilities.
Ozymandias: This guy has a crossbow laced with poison. His moves are AOE, which causes poison and debuffs. He also has four orbs he can fire to damage enemies or heal allies.
Tesla: This sniper carries a lightning rifle and has the best healing abilities. Along with a healing grenade and her ultimate immortality grande, Tesla’s charge-piercing shot damages or heals as it passes through the players on the field.
Nightcore: This assassin uses close combat cyber blades and has the ability to create a clone to attack as she temporarily turns invisible. The rest of her moves focus on dashing forward and landing heavy-hitting melee attacks.
Noble: This is the only character that has a passive heal while out of combat. He uses his force lance to deliver high damage energy projectiles. His teleport/stun move, along with the hidden bear traps he leaves behind, make him a tricky and formidable foe.
Zulu: This character has the highest HP outside of the tanks. With his MG225E long-range machine gun and his all out damage-focused abilities, he is a walking death machine.
The characters are well designed, hitting the classic roles but still managing to seem unique to the game.
My personal favourites are Pyro and Tesla. Pyro is very simple to play and to use all her abilities correctly. Tesla has the best healing abilities and I like to pick a more challenging character that is integral to the team’s success.
The game lends itself to having a good fun time with your friends, although the only built-in social mechanic is a friends’ list.
It has the sort of esports potential that is sorely lacking in many other games, but with further additions and balancing to come, we will have to see if that remains the case.
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