When Blizzard looks at a new genre to build a game around, people take notice, whether it’s a CCG, MMO, Shooter or today’s genre: MOBA. If you know me then you know that I’m not a huge MOBA player. I played a little of League of Legends and DOTA 2 but I am by no means an expert. Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s attempt at taking another highly complex genre and refit it for newcomers and experts alike and the game certainty has a different feel to it.
This spotlight is based on the beta version of the game. Screenshots and Impressions may not match the current version.
There is a story with how the different Blizzard properties have come together to fight but the real reason of course why you’re going to play Heroes of the Storm is for the MOBA action.
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you know what a MOBA is and have probably played League of Legends, DOTA 2 or both. As with the other MOBAs, you start out in Heroes at level 1 with no champions available. Playing matches will earn you experience for both your profile and the champion you played as and every week Blizzard has a free pool of champions for you to try out.
As par for the genre, champions are broken down into difficulty/complexity and their role: Healer, Support, Defense etc. The heroes are a “who’s who” and “not so who’s who” of Blizzard properties. You have characters like Kerrigan, Diablo, The Lost Vikings and Jim Raynor… and people like the Siege Tank driver. At the moment there is only one in game currency — Gold which is earned for playing games and is used to buy new champions. You can also spend real cash to speed up this process with each champion having a dollar cost and real money is the only way to buy new skins.
Leveling up your hero will unlock additional variants of available skins and access to additional talents during a match. Your profile will unlock new features like daily quests, ranked matchmaking and more. Despite these features, Heroes of the Storm is not about a true meta game in the sense that outside factors will have a huge affect on playing like rune pages or talents in League of Legends and this brings us to what makes the game different compared to the other MOBAs.
Heroes of the Storm follows the basic setup in any MOBA — two teams fight on a symmetrical map while minions from each base will make a run for the opponent’s base. Towers signify defense points for both sides and you need either fully leveled heroes or minions to help you take them down.
But it’s how a match progresses where Heroes of the Storm goes a different way. In a traditional MOBA, every hero has their own level, money supply and items that are tied only to them. Here, levels are shared between the entire team and there are no items or money to deal with along with no last hitting.
As minions and enemy heroes are killed, your team’s experience bar will grow and when it maxes out, the team will level. Leveling up will improve stats and unlock talent perk choices that will impact their skills or innate bonuses with more talent choices available as you level up that hero. Another difference is that every hero starts out with their four skills and passive unlocked at level one, with an ultimate skill available at level ten.
These changes affect the game’s flow drastically compared to LOL or DOTA.
Because everyone starts out with their skills unlocked, team fights can happen almost immediately and there is no need or reason to send a character “to jungle” as they can’t level up at a different rate. And that also means there are no “carry” heroes and no one can fall behind thanks to the shared levels.
Without items mean that the characters themselves will not change their dynamic or utility that much during a match. In other MOBAs, part of the challenge came from dealing with characters once they got their best equipment bought but here the game really doesn’t change that much between the early, mid and late parts of the match.
What is different and possibility the biggest shift from the other MOBAs is map design and how there is more than just creeps to deal with.
For most MOBAs and especially LOL and DOTA 2, their one main map is the biggest deal of the game. The map is a vital element and one competitive teams can spend hours analyzing and figuring out the best places to gank, leveling spots, ambush points etc. But in Heroes every map has the same basic foundation with one major exception — objectives.
Each map has a different setting with lore built around it and objectives to achieve. At random points during a match, an objective will become available to both teams and this could be anything from holding a point, collecting items and so on. The first team to complete their objective will be given a major advantage for the next few minutes. For example on one map, the losing team can be cursed causing their towers to be weaker and all their minions reduced to one health while on another map the winning team can transform one hero into a super unit for several minutes that can take on structures by itself.
This gives the game a completely different feel compared to other MOBAs as you can’t just stay in lanes or go after heroes and the objectives focus the battle onto these set points. Losing the objective advantage is a big deal and can help to turn things around if a team gets caught unaware.
Because there are no items to enhance heroes, the main comeback mechanic outside of the objectives is the death timers.
As the game goes on along with the increase in levels, the amount of time that a hero will stay out of play increases. One complete team wipe late in the game can give the other team a huge amount of time to regain control of the map and objectives.
All in all, this different feel is what separates Heroes of the Storm from the other MOBAs but here’s the big question: Can it compete with the big names?
The big point about Heroes of the Storm is like Hearthstone the developers have made a very streamlined version of a complicated genre. While there is a learning curve present, there are far less advanced mechanics and rules compared to LOL or DOTA 2 and games are a lot shorter thanks to the objectives and long death timers.
But this comes at the cost of lacking that sense of growth in play and team strategy that you see in those games. The focus on team fighting is absolute and there are no other ways for a team to compete. If you get stuck in a bad pub group that can’t fight well together either due to skill or chosen heroes, you will not win, period. While you don’t have to worry about a bad player giving the other team gold like in other MOBAs, you are still going to be down an effective player without any way to compensate.
The different heroes are all varied in terms of utility and abilities but discussing whether or not they are great is for someone who is an expert MOBA player. Like Hearthstone, I can see myself playing this when I have time to kill as it is inviting for someone who is not skilled in the genre.
But just like Hearthstone, I can see that there is a short ceiling when it comes to depth and the rest of the game is just leveling up heroes and buying content. I just don’t see enough progression outside of someone going for expert competitive play to keep them invested in the game for the long run.
But again, Hearthstone did turn out to be a massive winner for Blizzard and I think Heroes of the Storm will do well with the crowd of people looking for a MOBA to play that isn’t as hardcore or difficult as Lol or DOTA 2.
What Blizzard has going for them with Heroes of the Storm compared to other competing MOBAs is that they are not aiming for the same play as LOL or DOTA 2. Just like with the MMO craze and World of Warcraft, Blizzard is aiming for a streamlined experience that features the best mechanics refined into a game that is uniquely from Blizzard: Something that can be played by novices, experts and everyone in-between.
With the F2P angle, I would give Heroes of the Storm at least a few tries if you are a competitive MOBA player to see what you think of it. As whether or not you’re a fan of MOBAs, this is still a game from Blizzard and their brand is one of the best in the industry.