With the sales of the PlayStation VR now surpassing three million units sold, Japanese developer SUNSOFT seems to think there is now a big enough user base to support a multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA. In this case, choosing to meld MOBA elements with real-time strategy in order to create Dark Eclipse.
Dark Eclipse, unlike most MOBA titles, doesn’t give you one hero character to control, instead you have to juggle three of them. This sounds like a tall order, but in reality the RTS style means that for the most part you are delivering instructions and watching your little minions toddle off to fulfil your instructions.
Though Virtual reality (VR) gives you a universal perspective when needed, most of the time you will be playing in a third-person, vaguely isometric perspective, which gives it an old-school RTS feel. The RTS elements really do dominate compared to the MOBA, as you collect resources, select a strategy and choose what towers to build and where and when to attack. A key component here is learning the strengths of your hero characters, and picking a group that mesh well together.
There is a tutorial to guide players regarding the controls, but it is somewhat bare bones, and neglects many of the mechanics and tactics that are vital. For example, the various towers that you can build which offer various bonuses are not explained at all, which feels like an oversight considering how necessary they are.
While the controls within a match work well if you are using PlayStation Move, with the ‘hand pointer’ being decently intuitive, you do have to keep a Dual Shock 4 controller close at hand, since it is impossible navigate menus using the PlayStation Move, a minor but irritating restriction.
Since Dark Eclipse is free to play, this means that microtransactions are indeed present. Levelling up your hero characters earns currency that can be used to strengthen your troops, or unlock skins of the leaders. As you might expect, you can buy more of this in-game currency by spending real money in the PlayStation store. Though the boost you get is relatively minor, it still stands a good chance of affecting gameplay balance.
With any multiplayer title, one of the major hurdles to overcome is gathering a large and active community. Sadly, it seems Dark Eclipse has not managed this feat just yet. You often find you are waiting for quite some time to get a match-up. As a free to play title there’s nothing to stop this being a sleeper hit if it manages to successfully gather a community, but only time will tell on that front.
There are single-player modes versus the AI, but they are, at best, practise modes to test out potential strategies. There doesn’t really appear to be a specific story campaign as such. The focus is clearly online play. SUNSOFT have promised that there will be regular updates and balance tweaks to chance the meta-game, but that will only have a significant impact if enough players latch on to Dark Eclipse.
Dark Eclipse works well enough, but the mixture of MOBA and RTS elements means it feels watered-down and lacking a firm identity. In addition, the lack of a large community of online players presents a problem for an online-focussed title. For a free to play title, it is solid, and worth considering for RTS fans.
Update: Further to this review, SUNSOFT’s PR team has contacted VRFocus in regard to two points in the review and have asked to clarify them. According to the team PS Store currency does not strengthen your troops directly, and therefore does not affect gameplay balance: Leveling up hero characters in-game is based on experience earned within each round, not from spending money outside of the game. According to SUNSOFT all players are on an equal playing field, regardless of which characters they own, since the roster of characters is designed to provide balanced match-ups. They also wanted to clarify that purchasable characters are not more powerful than those you receive for free characters, neither do other content such as skins and cosmetics influence gameplay balance,
Additionally, while the team admit that it it is not very clearly outlined in the title, and they are working to make the option more obvious with a future update, you can utilise the PS Move controllers in the menu. For the record, and for anyone else who struggled with locating the method instructions are as follows: Turn off the DS4 by first long holding the PlayStation button, then “Sound / Devices” to turn off the DS4. From then you can use the PlayStation Move to navigate the 2D menu.
Irrespective of the above, VRFocus stands by its score of 3/5.