CD Projekt Red has announced The Witcher: Battle Arena, a MOBA game due out on Android, iOS and Windows tablet and phone devices in Q4 2014.
Eurogamer played the game on a tablet at E3. It's a fast-paced, simplified take on the likes of League of Legends and Dota with touchscreen controls.
We played the 3v3 Conquest Mode, which sees two teams battle for control over three pillars set across a small map. If your team controls two or more pillars the enemy team starts to lose points. The first team to see their points tally hit zero loses.
Heroes are lifted from across The Witcher universe. Eight will be available at launch: the Witcher Letho of Gulet, dwarven adventurer Zoltan Chivay, sorceress Philippa Eilhart, Eithne of Brokilon, The Operator, Golem, Saskia of Aedirn and Iorveth.
CD Projekt, which has drafted in Fuero Games to help build the game, has simplified traditional MOBA design to suit mobile gaming. There are no mobs and thus no farming for experience points during a match (this should help avoid snowballing). Instead, gameplay revolves around combat between heroes only, with the occasional return to base to buy items from the shop using the gold you've gained from killing heroes. To move you simply tap where you want your hero to go. To attack you tap on your target.
Each hero has three skills - two are considered common, one is considered special. To activate them you simply tap on the corresponding icon on the left of the screen. On the right are the icons for a bomb and a potion. You can of course level up your skills and items bought from the shop.
The short respawn combined with the small map means there's almost no downtime. Our match lasted about 10 minutes, which according to CD Projekt is the average.
The Witcher Battle Arena is free to download, but CD Projekt stressed it is not pay to win.
"It won't be a free-to-play," project manager Tadek Zielinski said.
"It will be a free game. A genuinely free game. You know we are fair with gamers. We are known for giving away stuff for free. We believe free is fair. So we wanted to realise our philosophy also with the MOBA game."
All items and heroes can be unlocked by playing the game, including what are considered vanity items (armour and weapons), but you can spend real money to speed up the process.
"You will mostly pay for saving time," Zielinski added. "If you don't want to farm for your hero you can buy him. And also there are vanity items you pay for. But there will be absolutely no pay to win elements in our game.
"We were actually approached by somebody who told us it's wise to have pay-to-win in the game because it monetises better. But we said it's an absolute no go. It's against our policies. It's against the philosophy we have at CD Projekt Red."
CD Projekt also promised the game won't feature wait timers, popular among most free-to-play mobile games. There won't be gems, either. In fact there is no in-game currency you buy with money. "Every price you see in the game will be a fair price given in a normal currency," Zielinski insisted.
The developer is narrowing the grind, in this respect, so it'll take around a week to get the vanity item you're after. "It won't be like you have to play for a month to get something in the game," he said.
"Also you start the game with a fair selection of heroes. It's not that you will be only forced to play with the free rotation heroes."
Zielinski continued: "Our reputation is at stake right now. And this is a touchy subject. We really don't want to jeopardise what we have been working for for such a long time.
"We really want players to know they are not forced to pay for anything."
There will be a role-playing game style player profile and hero progression, which lets you tweak the way your hero plays to a degree (sliders let you reduce the cooldown on skills but also reduce their power, for example) as well as a crafting system which lets you change the types of items you use (poison bomb instead of standard stun bomb and mana potion instead of health potion).
So, why create a Witcher MOBA spin-off for mobile in the first place? CD Projekt is on a mission to expand the Witcher universe, so that's one part of it, and it saw a gap in the market for a MOBA on mobile.
"The Witcher universe is vast," Zielinski said. "You are familiar with the term expanded universe. We have comic books, our board game, so this is another step in that direction. We actually want to grow and this is one of the ways we want to do it.
"We believe right now mobile devices are powerful enough to sustain our vision and let us realise what we would like to see on the small screen of the iPad or Android device. We are missing something on tablets. Mostly there are casual games. There's not many games that are aiming for the more adult audience: somebody who is a gamer- not necessarily a hardcore gamer but somebody who likes to play serious games."
CD Projekt said it's not trying to compete with the MOBA big boys with the game - there's no point - so it's sticking to mobile devices for now.
"Everybody is jumping on the MOBA bandwagon right now," Zielinski said. "I dare you to name three MOBA games on mobile devices. I think it would be hard for you to do it.
"We don't want to fight with League of Legends or Dota. We are a humble company. It wouldn't be wise to go against guys who are working on it for such a long time."