PAX East 2015: Hands-on with Undead Labs’ Moonrise

Let me show my pokey... oh, you know the gag.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I first laid hands on Moonrise at this year’s PAX East so I suppose that “fast-paced party-based Pokémon” should not have actually come as a surprise. It sort of did, though.

Moonrise is the new game coming out of the developer currently best-known for State of Decay, and it’s an interesting creature. Comparisons to titles like Pokémon are inevitable, as the game focuses very heavily on capturing and training up monsters. But the game is also a party-based affair with a lot of things going on at once, and the addition of the trainer as an active participant shuffles up gameplay significantly.

There’s more lore to it than that, of course, but at this point the lore is only broadly sketched out and isn’t particularly relevant. What does matter is that you field a team of two monsters and do battle with “corrupted” versions of monsters, slowly building up your own army and taking on other players and trainers.

Players who are familiar with Nintendo’s long-running series of legal dog fighting will notice some pretty major changes right off the bat. The first is that the battles take place in real-time rather than in a turn-based environment, which means that you are constantly trying to have all of your assets using abilities as fast as possible. Second is that there’s no worry about accidentally knocking out your capture target; monsters are “purified” when you beat the snot out of them, which gives you the choice of capturing them or not.

Yes, the choice. You have a fairly limited supply of keys to grab monsters, and you have a fairly robust selection of customization options for the critters you’ve already captured. Instead of trying to catch ’em all, you’re focusing more on capturing the ones that might actually prove useful in your overall lineup.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the game makes the trainer a target as well. You lose the match if all of your monsters are knocked out, but also you also lose the match if you lose your trainer. It’s a neat shift to the dynamics.

Otherwise, though, it felt very familiar and basic. You challenge fairly straightfoward quests, there are dungeons, and the whole thing is clearly designed for the tablet interface first and foremost. Battles are a bit frenetic, and it’s easy to be blindsided by unexpected maneuvers; it felt a bit like playing a speed match of a card game. It’s solid, responsive, and designed to cater to many different strategies and team layouts.

I don’t think Moonrise is quite my cup of tea, but if you’re looking for another monster-based game, it’s a solid entry. Players can sign up for the closed beta now.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Boston for PAX East 2015, bringing you all the best MMORPG and MMO coverage from GW2, FFXIV, Blizzard, and more!
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