My first game of Rival Wings – Final Fantasy XIV’s new MOBA-style PvP mode – was a veritable assault on my senses. I’m not very used to MMOs, so trying to make sense of the 48-player brawl unfolding in front of me was extremely difficult. Once you learn to see beyond past the chaos, however, Rival Wings becomes pretty standard MOBA fare. Hence, there are lanes to push down, minions to kill, and towers to destroy on your way to the final objective. But Rival Wings has a level of complexity to it that sets this unlikely genre pairing apart from many of its competitors.
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The map, located in the remote region of Astralagos, is split in two, with one base at either end. Along either side of the map runs two parallel lanes: one at ground level, the other raised on a bridge. Each team has one tower in each lane, both of which have to be destroyed before players can attack the opposing team’s core. Around each tower is a healing aura that offers small buffs to allied units standing within it. All the towers are constantly under siege from enemy minions, who will battle the closest obstacle to them, but will explode upon arrival at a tower, dealing a reasonable amount of damage. So far, so MOBA.
Where Rival Wings starts to deviate from the usual formula is with the introduction of Ceruleam – an important power source throughout Final Fantasy XIV. Maintaining a steady supply of this throughout a game of Rival Wings is crucial. Ceruleam drops sporadically around the map, but can also be gathered from the central Power Core, which provides a drip feed of the resource for as long as your team has control of it. In a cave beneath the core, rapidly respawning bundles can be found and gathered up.
You need Ceruleam to spawn in machina – huge, powerful units that can make short work of enemy towers and players. There are three types, all of which have their unique strengths and weaknesses, but each have to be managed correctly to offer the greatest chance at success. To make matters even more complicated, there’s a limit on how many of each type of mech your team can use at any one time. When I say team, by the way, I don’t mean you and your 23 allies – Rival Wings teams are further divided into six minor teams of four, all of which have their own unique supplies of Ceruleam and their own quota of mechs.
As a result of that information overload, and a very limited tutorial, my first game of Rival Wings was a bit of a disaster. At first glance, some areas of the map were confusing and even now remain deliberately difficult to navigate. Somehow, my team won, but I had learned very little about the game, and it felt more like an enormous combat sandbox than the more dedicated tactical environment I was used to from MOBAs. It was nice to not have to consider combinations of champions and items, as I might have done in League of Legends or Dota 2, but with so much going on on my own HUD, let alone in the rest of the game, I genuinely struggled to understand what I had just seen.
After that initial attack on my senses, however, everything started to come together reasonably quickly. There is a lot to consider, but the size of the map and the number of players means you can go anywhere and still be useful. When one person in a small team of, say, five, is off doing their own thing, it often spells disaster. But a lone figure among 24 can focus their energies on something that will definitely be useful and it not be to detriment of the others.
Rival Wings is refreshing in the MOBA space, then, in the sense that you don’t have to fight alongside your team to have an impact. You can run interference on enemy players, hold up their minions, gather Ceruleam, or defend your base using its Steam Cannons while other players battle on a different front. While that might make Rival Wings come across as not being particularly team-oriented, that is not how it actually plays out. Instead, you have loads of little teams all fighting to secure objectives that will inevitably point to the end goal.
Whether or not I consider Rival Wings a MOBA – at least in the traditional sense – is something I have still not decided on. By definition, the genre is a very open one, but many of its front-runners are extremely set in their ways. Rival Wings will never be a direct competitor (and nor is it trying to be one), but the genre’s giants could stand to learn from its more free-thinking approach to teamwork.