Supervive is a surprisingly deep MOBA-style battle royale that could be your next game for life

If Riot Games decided to add guns and a battle royale mode to League of Legends, it would look something like Supervive. In fact, at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking you are looking at a new LoL game mode given the visual similarities between the two. A lot of the Supervive team worked at Riot, including studio CEO Joe Tung who was an EVP on LoL. He came up with the basic idea for Supervive while there, but technical limitations meant it could never work in League. 

Supervive has grown to become much more than a LoL game mode, however, and the only real similarities now are the look and the selection of characters with MOBA-style abilities. I tried it during a recent hands-on session, and it’s closer to a fast-paced top down hero shooter, where you compete as a team or solo against 39 other players in a battle royale. You’ll pick where to drop, kill creeps to level up and collect gear, then go hunt other teams to take them out and be the last one standing.

“In the beginning the game looked and played like much more of a traditional MOBA,” says Tung. “18 months in, or somewhere in that timeframe, we let players play it and they told us unilaterally that the game was too slow. So that’s the closest thing to a reboot we had on the project, we took the game offline for a period of months and rebooted the sandbox from top to bottom. Now the game I think doesn’t really share that much DNA with the MOBA genre, certainly relative to where it was prior to that moment. Now, the game feels much more like an action game.” 

Supervive has moved away from some MOBA elements and as someone with thousands of hours across League, Dota and countless other MOBAs, it was difficult to unlearn things I expected to happen. You move your character with WASD and aim your basic attacks and some abilities with the mouse, so there is no way to control the camera. When I played as a backline glass cannon, it was initially annoying that my camera was almost always centred on me, when I wanted to be watching the front line of the fight to see what opportunities I could take.

When I moved over to playing tanky frontliners, including my guy Kingpin who is basically a version of Dota’s Pudge or Overwatch’s Roadhog, I finally started to feel slightly useful. Throwing out a massive hook and then smashing whoever got caught with my close range stun was satisfying, and obvious enough that I could pick out the impact my abilities were having. 

(Image credit: Theorycraft Games)

But Supervive has the same issues MOBAs have when it comes to understanding what is going on in a fight, and after four hours I’m still struggling to read every ability that goes off. Even when my team did well, winning a game and placing top three in the next two, I struggled to know what impact I was having outside of the most obvious abilities hitting, and it was near impossible to track if my basic attacks were connecting. But this took hundreds if not thousands of hours in Dota and LoL to pick up, so I expect the learning curve to be similar, if somewhat reduced due to the smaller roster. 

While the fighting does resemble a MOBA with guns, the rest of Supervive is very un-MOBA like. The map is massive and made up of lots of floating islands, with gaps between different areas. You can fly across these gaps with your glider, which is an incredibly satisfying way of moving around, but if you take damage while gliding over a gap you get spiked, dying instantly, in what is already seen as an insulting way to kill someone. Spiking someone is one of those hype moments that really make you feel good and I expect will become the highlight reel plays for Supervive. 

“For a long time we were trying to figure out how you solve the problem of movement,” said Tung. “You’ve got a top down camera and you need to have a sizable world to make the battle royale work, but running through the world with a top down camera, especially with the sort of MOBA movement model is not engaging, it feels slow and not fun. [But] gliding works now and we sidestepped around that whole set of problems around traversal not feeling great.”

(Image credit: Theorycraft Games)

Then there’s Supervive’s revive system, which has a massive impact on the game. Until the final few fights where the battle royale circle forces you together, running away when a fight is going badly is the strategy to employ. If a squad member goes down, or even if your team is forced to split up too much, the best strategy is never a hero play to win the fight. It’s to run the hell away and find a revive station. Standing on it will alert nearby enemies, but if you can fill up the progress bar your entire team respawns and you are back in the game. 

This influences every decision you make. There is always the question of if running is the best option and sneaking away after your team has fallen can be very satisfying. However, the flip side is that a single death from your squad can be punishing and often the best play is for the rest to turn tail and run. This means that sometimes fights turn into long distance poke-fests with each team trying to land one ability to get the advantage.

(Image credit: Theorycraft Games)

I expect, when things open up to more players, this will become the meta and the epic multi-team fights I experienced will be a rarity as there is too much risk involved. I hope I’m wrong, because dancing around on the edge of ability ranges hoping an enemy steps in the wrong place isn’t all that fun, whereas jumping in and causing chaos is. 

The four hours I got with Supervive is nowhere near enough to offer up any definitive statements, but I genuinely do believe this could be another 10,000 hour game, as the dev team likes to claim it will be, because of the complexity. There’s a lot of potential depth and so much to master that even after four hours I feel like I know very little and am still a complete beginner. But the foundation feels strong, fighting is inherently fun when it finally kicks off, the battle royale system works surprisingly well and most importantly I want to play more. It’s too early to tell for sure, but this could end up as one of the big competitive live service games of the future. It is a bad name though.