Ever since I played League of Legends to try and understand what a MOBA is I’ve been dying to play Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm. I’m hardly the biggest Blizzard fan in the world, but I couldn’t ignore the appeal of playing the role of some of my favourite heroes from the developers games – Warcraft in particular. Besides a base level of brand awareness HotS had me intrigued because it promised to be something no MOBA before it has been: casual. As a genre MOBA’s have been intrinsically hardcore, born out of a mod for Blizzards own Warcraft 3 games like DoTA 2 and League of Legends exist as hugely popular e-sports.Now I’ve managed to play Heroes I can say that Blizzards approach isn’t hardcore at all.
Heroes of the Storm is far less a sport of fine tuned measurements, well practised routines and slickly oiled skills and far more a ‘game’. That’s it, Heroes of the Storm is a game where other MOBA’s aren’t. Heroes is a playful jaunt as opposed to far to serious battle. I jumped in both feet forward not having a clue what I was doing, and I had a great time. When I played LoL I had to research how to play before I dared started: which skills do I pick and what items do I buy? It was a tense, almost professional setting. Heroes is nothing like that, primarily because it does away with the some of the awkward traditions MOBA’s have self perpetuated. It cuts away the fat leaving a simple but fun meaty sculpture anyone can enjoy.
Let’s begin by discussing conventions that Blizzard have changed or done away with completely. Firstly levelling. Unlike most MOBA’s in HotS players do not level independent of one another, instead the whole team share one experience pool that they all contribute to. Naturally it’s not possible to power level one player into super status like a traditional MOBA. The shared bar does however inspire players to work as a team, but negatively if one team levels ahead it’s difficult to fight back. Another part of the levelling process Blizzard has done away with is itemization. Typically in a MOBA players can spend gold to upgrade their currently equipped items. Better items means more damage.
In Heroes when players level their character becomes stronger automatically – in effect Blizzard chooses how your hero progresses. This is ultimately a more fair system, everyone is on equal footing. There’s no chance for players to become ridiculously acquainted with the range of items giving new players no chance. Personally I always found itemization a complete pain and welcome the change. Blizzards response to the missing customization items is to bring in talent points. A charming Blizzard tradition every few levels players acquire a talent point. Players can choose where to spend their talents which results in the move set of their hero altering. Hardcore fans are bound to min-max what’s there, but for the casual player picking talents to suit them is really fun.
Champion design is integral to enjoyability of an MOBA. In League I found myself liking the art direction on many champions, but equally found many to be pretty uninspired. The same could be said of Heroes of the Storm, but there’s something to be said for seeing iconic characters duking it out. Sure other MOBA have a base of lore, but you really have to seek it out, and to understand it you have to read reams of out of context synopsis of peoples lives. Not so with HoTS. The moment you see the Lich King on the field you instinctively know who his and roughly what sort of skill set your looking at. The same could be said of Starcraft’s Kerrigan, Diablo’s Diablo and Warcraft’s Illidan. Besides that even the Lost Vikings are involved! There’s something innately satisfying about knowing who all these heroes are, and even more awesome to watch them fight.
With the success of WoW it’d be easy to Blizzad to just ram in a load of Warcraft heroes and call it a day. Thankfully they don’t. Each of their other two pillar franchises Diablo and Starcraft are well represented; it’s hard to see a future where Overwatch doesn’t get involved either. The roster is diverse, each hero feels unique. Impressive costume changes can alter the entire aesthetic of heroes; not just there basic look but the way their attacks look too. There’s some really cool ones in here, Hellhammer Thrall in particular is completely badass. There’s even palette swaps for each outfit. I can see a future where I keep coming back to Heroes simply to see new fighters and costumes. Could I have either of the Hellscream’s please?
Where other MOBA’s focus is on tactics and repeating the same plan over to try and execute it with perfection Heroes is more interested in variation. As I say this is far less an algorithm and far more a game. In the current Beta there’s a few maps and each feels distinctly different. Each is suited for five players at a time, but nearly all of them have a gimmick. For example rather than just fighting in the traditional lanes during the ‘haunted mine’ map players are periodically encouraged to go into a separate dungeon. When the gates to the mines open players need to rush in and kill AI skeletons. Each undead your team kills they gain one point of power for their spawning siege engine. If a team can kill a significant number more than the opposite side they gain a powerful advantage. Each map has it’s own unique hook, as such Heroes feels very varied.
Heroes of the Storm might well be exactly what the MOBA genre needs. A game which defies the idea that MOBA’s need to be completely methodical, that there can’t be a bit more fun, a bit more ‘game ‘involved. The inclusion of Blizzard characters is just a bonus. Who better to reinvent the MOBA than the company who initially created the tools for the genre inadvertently in Warcraft 3?