Decrypt’s Art, Fashion, and Entertainment Hub.
The “auto battler” genre—a mash-up of chess and turn-based strategy games—saw a boom in 2019 with the release of the Dota Auto Chess mod, Valve's official Dota Underlords game, and Riot Games’ Teamfight Tactics. Since then, however, the genre hasn't seen many major releases that challenge the heavyweights.
While Teamfight Tactics dominates the genre, Mojo Melee has stepped forward as a new competitor.
The new auto-battler has entered an open beta phase utilizing NFTs that act as skins, in-game characters, and more that also help fund development of the game. We went hands-on to see how this Web3 riff on the auto battler is shaping up.
On launch, the game immediately looks great. The characters are high-resolution and are full of life, and the vibrant world made me want to dive deeper into the lore of the game. Considering that it is a free-to-play, in-browser game, the graphics and optimization are very impressive.
When you first create an account, you must choose a Mojo—a little green guy who you start every game with. Each Mojo has a different ability, so choose wisely as there's no going back.
Mojo Melee currently offers two game modes: Duel and Melee. Duel is a 1v1 battle, and first to win three rounds takes the game. Meanwhile, Melee is an eight-player tournament mode.
The 1v1 environment feels too short currently with a lack of progression, but due to the low player base during the beta, it's a great way to quickly test the game. An eight-player tournament offers more opportunity for team progression, but it's hard to fill a lobby of real players currently.
Just like any auto battler, this game is all about forming a team of champions to defeat the enemy. Each character has a unique ability such as a heal, stun, or knockback, and you’ll want to create a team that has a solid blend of damage, defense, and utility—but that’s about where the strategy stops.
Unfortunately, in this early beta state, Mojo Melee lacks the complexity and depth that makes you want to keep revisiting other auto battler games. There are no traits, synergies, or economic strategies that make the game more interesting or nuanced. It’s relatively skin-deep for now.
Especially in the shorter 1v1 games, it often feels like RNG (or random number generation) will dictate how successful you will be. If you can get a two-star Brooka Clawhaven in the first round, then it feels like you've won already.
It'd be great to see the developer add traits and synergies to build more depth to a game that already has sturdy foundations. In its current state, it feels like there's little skill to winning a game, so it’s not terribly rewarding. There are also balancing issues in the mix, including overpowered stun moves, but that’s to be expected from a pre-release beta test.
The Web3 angle
NFTs have been leveraged throughout the development of Mojo Melee. That includes a free mint for a Polygon NFT collectors pass, an "adoption" sale that unlocked a Mojo and some characters, and other chests currently available on Magic Eden.
Want to check out the next evolution of #AutoChess?🙋♂️
Join OPEN BETA for #MojoMelee
Experience the ultimate Strategy game!
— Planet Mojo 🌱| Mojo Melee OPEN BETA FREE MINT (@WeArePlanetMojo) May 9, 2023
You're not able to open these "beta chests" in-game at the moment, but similar chests can be unlocked through natural progression. Chests include in-game currency, characters, and upgrades—but thankfully nothing that muddles the balance and makes it feel pay-to-win.
Most of the ways that NFTs have been utilized thus far haven't majorly affected the user experience, but have been a useful way for the team to raise funds for the game. And hopefully, NFT sales will help fund the extra polish and nuance to help Mojo Melee really shine.
As of now, Mojo Melee is a simplistic, easy-to-pick-up auto battler that lacks depth for more hardcore gamers. That said, as it's a free browser-based game, it’s hard to be angry that it's currently tailored for a casual audience.
The auto battler genre has arguably struggled to grow at times due to it being a difficult concept to quickly grasp. This is not the case for Mojo Melee. If you are looking for a streamlined and simplified introduction to the genre, then this might be the game for you.