Blizzard’s on the right path with Heroes of the Storm

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@pixeldynamo
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It isn’t going to be the new Dota 2, but that’s exactly why you’ll like it

As a long-time MOBA veteran with thousands of hours on both League of Legends and Dota, I scoffed at the core concepts that lay at the heart of Heroes of the Storm. Individual level advantage, economical differences and an edge in itemization are the main axes by which heroes_of_the_storm_alpha_vallaopposing teams measure their worth – the universal ideas that offer depth in all existing MOBAs – and Blizzard’s entry in the genre intends to take all those away?

Yet despite its genre heresy, I must admit that I spent far more time playing Heroes of the Storm than I ever would’ve expected, hitting 25 hours played in just over three days. I have to applaud Blizzard for what it’s done here. Heroes of the Storm succeeds as a refreshing new niche in the MOBA scene where many others have failed because it boldly chooses to reinvent the fundamentals of the genre rather than building itself around the existing ones.

An experience shared

The key to Heroes of the Storm lies in how well all of its design choices mesh. Blizzard has masterfully woven together every facet of the game to contribute towards a single goal: fast-paced, objective-driven gameplay. Players have no need to spend time farming gold to buy items because neither of these resources exist in the arena. Your team grows as one entity, experience is shared across your team and experience grants each hero ‘items’ every three levels in the form of hero talents, augmentations or additions to your skill arsenal. By eliminating intermediate lane activities and placing several points of contention on the map in the form of objectives with nary a reason to stop and sit in a lane, Blizzard has created an experience where players are always engaged in some sort of action, rushing from objective to objective and one bloodbath to the next.

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This is not the clone you are looking for

After years of bad DotA clones and half-assed cash grabs, I’m extremely pleased to say that Blizzard’s not only made a pretty game but also had the courage to try something new. Indirectly, the new system also greatly minimises this toxicity problem that’s been floating around in the MOBA scene for ages. Since players gain nothing from separating from their team and trying to do things on their own, the team is often always together and working on objectives which, so far, has been a fantastic experience. While I’ll admit I did come across the occasional angry bum who’d insult my mother and call me out to a local neighborhood for a fist fight, it’s easy enough to mute and the games are short enough that if he decides to drag the team down, the pain doesn’t last that long.

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Though I sing high praises for the basic concepts Heroes of the Storm lies upon, the game does have its flaws. Being in technical alpha, missing UI elements or inconveniences are to be expected, but it’s fine tuning the objectives and map elements that I think needs to be mentioned.A large majority of objectives currently present in the game involve the control over heroes_of_the_storm_alpha_etcmercenary camps – capturing one of these will send a wave of AI-controlled mercenaries to assist your armies in sieging the nearest enemy structures.

Imagine the Ancient Blue Golem of League of Legends or the Satyrs of Dota 2 rallying amongst your creeps in an effort to take down the opposing team’s towers. Planning proper use of mercenaries adds a great layer of depth to overall team play, but the problem lies with major objectives. On every map, there are at least two major objectives – the Grave Golems on either side. When captured, these hulking beasts skip over enemy creeps, ignore enemy heroes and go straight for the enemy structures, which is a problem because it offers no options to the defending player, other than try and kill it as fast as possible. These Golems, even with an entire team relentlessly beating on this, will usually take a few major base structures with them, even without intervention from the team that controls it. This is the case with most of the major mercenaries or map-based objectives where unavoidable damage will be dealt to your base and there’s little that can be done to prevent it, leaving you in frustrating positions where the opponent getting an objective means game over without question.

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Basic mercenaries can also inflict severe amounts of damage on your base, but the key difference is that the team that controls them must play to the mercenary advantage to utilize it fully. Attacking the top lane while your Siege Ogres assault their bottom fort means your team can fight at full strength while the enemies are forced to split up, but simply capturing and sending the Ogres without any support is just throwing away a mercenary camp.

One step forward

A great example of a wonderfully designed major objective is on the map Cursed Hollow. Tributes to the Raven Lord spawn every few minutes and once a team collects three, the opponent’s team is cursed, reducing all of their lane creeps to one health and disabling their defending towers for the duration of the curse. heroes_of_the_storm_alpha_arthasThe effectiveness of the Raven’s Curse ranges from inconsequential to absolutely devastating depending on how either side play the advantage, and when the onus is on the players to use the advantage properly, the game is more enjoyable and much more rewarding.

The game reflects the Blizzard polish we’ve come to know and love. The aesthetics of the game are very clean: the colours are vibrant, spell effects aren’t messy and character models are easily distinguishable, making for a very pleasant visual experience. The UI and HUD do have their issues – for example, not being able to resize the HUD elements resulting in lots of misclicks on the map – but nothing that won’t be solved over time.

If at first you don’t succeed

Less than two weeks ago, Blizzard introduced two new changes to Heroes of the Storm: Artifacts and talent gating. Artifacts are essentially the Rune system from League of Legends, out-of-game purchasable items that enhance your hero’s attributes or grant abilities like life steal – a questionable addition considering how much the League community hates the Rune system and as it turns out, the animosity carries over to the Heroes of the Storm fans!

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Talent gating is the restriction of a hero’s capabilities based on some arbitrary limit that Blizzard sets. For example, players used to have to hit player level 8 to unlock the full range of talents for every hero in the game. With the new changes, players need to hit hero level 4 – that is, a parameter individual to every hero – before unlocking all the possible talents for that respective hero. Think of it as not being able to pick up power ups in Mario Kart until you’ve completed at least 10 races on the kart you’re playing. Fans cried out across forums and social media and not two weeks after patch day, Blizzard has removed Artifacts from the game and greatly reduced the requirements to unlock talents in-game. This sort of responsiveness is something that we rarely see from the big name companies and I think it’s a major strength going forward for Heroes of the Storm. Of course, I don’t think Blizzard should bend to the community’s will, but the amount of feedback received and the willingness to respond is something that I think can only prove beneficial for Blizzard going forward in Heroes’ development.

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There’s quite a bit of refining to do before this game can match the polish of Dota 2 or League, but there’s no doubt Blizzard will pull all the technical stuff together. The real question is how will Heroes of the Storm develop as a game? The core concepts in Heroes of the Storm are so different from the other big MOBA titles that I don’t think Blizzard should be looking to take ideas from its competitors. Utilizing public testing early on in the development is probably the best thing Blizzard could have done for this game. We all know the character roster alone will give Heroes of the Storm a huge player base, but if Blizzard plays its cards right, Heroes of the Storm could make its mark on the market as the MOBA that the people really want.

Right now, though, Heroes of the Storm is a refreshing experience and a fantastic game. It’s unique in its swift pacing, clearly designated objectives and overall cohesive design. In a sense, it’s all the excitement and fun of other MOBA games without a lot of the tedious depth and steep learning curves, and while that may sound like a turn off, I suggest you reserve your judgement until you get a taste. I look forward to seeing how Blizzard moves forward with this one and heartily recommend to anyone – especially you Dota and League fanboys – that you give it a good shot. Heroes managed to win over a Dota elitist like myself and it may do the same for you.

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