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Honor of Kings review - middling mobile MOBA

In our Honor of Kings review, we finally get to experience the good and the bad of one of the leading mobile MOBAs in the world for ourselves.

Honor of Kings review: Trickster Angela skin close up

Our Verdict

Honor of Kings’ global launch brings nearly ten years of mobile MOBA excellence to the West, but it turns out there is such a thing as too much content

Despite only recently expanding outside of Mainland China, Honor of Kings is one of the world’s most popular mobile MOBAs. After years of growing its audience and player base in the Chinese market and an underwhelming first attempt at a worldwide launch with Arena of Valor, Tencent and Level Infinite are finally bringing Honor of Kings to the global stage as it’s meant to be played – exclusively on mobile.

While I wouldn’t call myself a MOBA connoisseur, I’ve dabbled here and there in the genre in the past. Most of my MOBA experience comes from playing League of Legends on the PC in university and casually grinding Pokémon Unite on my Nintendo Switch. The Western gaming market isn’t as into mobile-only MOBAs as other parts of the world, so after meeting the team in our Honor of Kings interview, I was intrigued to give the game a go.

Unsurprisingly, Honor of Kings (HoK) plays just like many other MOBAs on the scene. The genre has very clear guidelines, and instead of straying too far away from the established norm, Tencent has done a great job of translating the traditionally keyboard-based champion abilities to on-screen touch controls while maintaining the familiar 5v5 game mode and lane system. HoK assigns names to its lanes, changing top to clash and bottom to farm. This adds a slight learning curve at the beginning, even for experienced MOBA players, but jungle and mid stay the same, so it doesn’t take long to adjust.

One of the first things I noticed when jumping into a game of HoK is that not only does the game provide you with a recommended lane for your chosen character, but you can also pick from a range of pre-selected builds, something which made me breathe a sigh of relief. Back in my League of Legends days, I constantly had build pages open in another tab to help me remember which items to buy each time I respawned.

Instead, HoK integrates upgrades into the core gameplay, letting you purchase pre-selected items with a simple tap of the screen once you generate enough gold. Then, once you’re more familiar with the game and your chosen character, you can formulate your own builds and select those instead, so the system is both beginner-friendly and adaptable for experienced players.

Honor of Kings review: A screenshot of Angela from HoK wearing a cute pink bunny skin

Since most MOBAs have very similar gameplay elements, the unique selling point has to be the characters. HoK has a huge roster of unique and beautifully designed characters from across the game’s nearly ten-year history, each fleshed out by detailed lore and relationships with other champions. As part of the game’s global launch, you get access to over 80 characters immediately, which – while incredibly generous – I find extremely overwhelming.

One of the benefits of the traditional MOBA model is that a smaller pool of free heroes each week lets people try out new roles and classes without facing choice paralysis. Then, players can commit to permanently unlocking their favorites using in-game currency or microtransactions once they’re more comfortable. Freedom of choice can be a great asset to some players, but for people like me with limited MOBA experience, I’m constantly worried that I’ll make the ‘wrong’ choice, so I tend to stick with what I know, which in HoK’s case means playing a lot of Angela because she was my starting character.

I also find myself struggling with HoK’s home screen UI. While the layout of the in-game overlay is well organized and optimized for mobile, the home screen feels incredibly cluttered. Every time I log on, I’m visually assaulted by several pop-ups at once advertising the latest event, log-in reward, or bundle in the store. Personally, I much prefer tapping an additional time to enter a separate menu to visual clutter as soon as I open a game. Honestly, I’d go so far as to say that it puts me off jumping into a match.

Honor of Kings review game screenshot

This is because not only do all these pop-ups affect the aesthetics and usability of the menu, but they also impact its performance. I attended a press briefing for Honor of Kings earlier this year to get all the details about the global launch ahead of time, and HoK’s chief designer, Dean Huang, emphasized that the team optimized the app to prioritize high refresh rates and graphics by keeping packet sizes down.

By extension, this means that, in theory, you should be able to play the game on older or lower-end devices. I’m playing HoK on the Tecno Pova 5 Pro, a mid-range gaming phone specifically aimed at markets where mobile esports is popular, like Latin America and Southeast Asia, and the performance leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve mostly encountered issues navigating menus on the home screen rather than during my online gameplay, but as I said above, the performance is so slow and clunky that oftentimes I want to just put the phone down. I should note that the Western Europe server doesn’t go live until launch day so I’ve been connecting to the next-closest one, but this seems like more of an issue with the app rather than the servers as I’ve never had issues connecting to or staying in a match.

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Overall, I think that Honor of Kings is an interesting and fun entry into the MOBA genre, and it’s great to see more of these games make the jump to mobile, but ultimately, I think Tencent and Level Infinite’s commitment to mobile exclusivity will hold the game back in the global market. Myself and many other gamers in my circles simply prefer to play intensive, team-based games on a console or PC or at least have the option to switch platforms. When Arena of Valor launched, it did so on mobile and Switch, and I can’t help but wonder if its lack of success scared the team away from tackling consoles again.

If you like MOBAs, you should definitely give Honor of Kings a try. There’s a lot to love, especially in the characters and cosmetics, but it’s definitely not a game for everyone. If you decide to pick it up, check out our guide to the Honor of Kings characters, Honor of Kings codes, and our Honor of Kings tier list next.