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Heroes of the Storm Previews: PAX East Panel Recap

By Michael Bitton on April 14, 2014

In a refreshing turn of events, Blizzard was out in force at this year’s PAX East and that presence at the show included a panel on the upcoming free-to-play hero brawler (MOBA), Heroes of the Storm.

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The panel featured Heroes game director Dustin Browder, senior producer Kaeo Milker, and senior artist Phil Gonzales. Things kicked off with a short trailer that gave fans a look at the stuff Blizzard has been working on for Heroes in the intervening months since the game’s unveiling at last year’s BlizzCon. Check it out for yourself below:

The second order of business had Dustin Browder giving all in attendance the bad news and crushing their dreams: there’s no set date for beta. Blizzard is focused squarely on the game’s ongoing technical alpha, which Browder explained serves a simple purpose in stress testing out the game’s servers and other systems. Still, if you’re looking forward to joining in on the alpha, Dustin did remind fans that Blizzard is slowly adding new people to the tech alpha every week. He also took this opportunity to put out a bit of a PSA: there are no beta keys. Blizzard is simply flagging accounts, so don’t get yourself phished or scammed with offers for keys, guys!

Dustin continued with a recap of some of the things the team talked about during its BlizzCon presentation. He touched on the game’s focus on pitting Blizzard characters against each other, the emphasis on completely different experiences from map to map, and how Blizzard’s particular implementation with Heroes allows the team to create unique and interesting characters.  The latter point was demonstrated with a brief discussion on Abathur, a character who cannot fight on his own, but must instead rely on infesting his own allies to contribute to a fight. Blizzard’s use of global experience gain in Heroes of the Storm allows characters like Abathur to exist because they don’t need to be in lane or even fighting to gain experience and level up.

Things then moved onto some new efforts by the game’s art team to ‘up-rez’ Heroes’ character models. Senior artist Phil Gonzales elaborated on some of the upcoming changes that should lend well to creating the immersive experience Blizzard is looking for in Heroes. Players can expect to see subtle things like blinking eyes on characters, but also some more noticeable stuff, with characters fully emoting when they speak. Words are fun and all of that, but Phil had more in store for us, treating fans to a couple of slides showing off comparisons between the original and updated models for a number of characters. The differences were night-and-day in most cases.

More art related additions included a look at some upcoming skins. We saw skins such as the disturbing Bikini Stitches, Infested Tychus, Countess Kerrigan, the weirdly cute Pajamathur Abathur (not so April Fool’s after all!), Explorer LiLi, Harlequin Witch Doctor,  the badass looking Spectre Illidan, and Candy King Muradin, The new skins ran the gamut from incredibly silly to cool as hell, offering something for everyone.

The aforementioned skins will all be available for purchase, but Blizzard is also offering players some neat skin opportunities that won’t cost them a dime. Senior producer Kaeo Milker showed off the skin variant slots that players can unlock for free in Heroes. These slots will basically allow for palette swaps of the base hero skin as well as existing skins that players own, including for mounts. Palette swaps are great and all, but what Kaeo had in store for us next really got fans in the room excited. In addition to the freely unlockable skin variant slots, players will also be able to unlock ultimate skins for heroes simply by playing them. These aren’t crappy skins either. We were shown a couple of examples of these ultimate skins and they definitely looked the part.

Finally, Dustin moved to highlighting the new heroes coming to the game in the near future while also giving us a sneak peek at some of the characters that may be a bit further out.

Brightwing: a faerie dragon support character. Brightwing can heal players and polymorph enemies into various animals, but what really makes Brightwing stand out on the battlefield is her ability to teleport to any other ally on the map.

Zagara: a zerg ‘siege hero’ or ‘lane bully’ hero designed to destroy enemy armies and fortifications while also summoning armies of their own.  Zagara’s goal is to infest the map with creep and she’s also got incredible map mobility via the use of her Nydus Worm network. She’s not a great character to have in a straight up fight, but she can be all over the map controlling objectives.

Murky: the “weirdest hero” Blizzard has ever done in Heroes of the Storm. As a Murloc, Blizzard didn’t want to make this character tough enough to stand toe-to-toe with most of the game’s incredibly powerful cast, so they designed Murky to be a character that can succeed in defeating his enemies simply by wearing them down. Murky can lay an egg anywhere on the map and when he dies (and he will die often) he will respawn almost instantly at his egg’s location if it hasn’t been destroyed. This means you can attack someone, die, and come back and slowly wear them down if they don’t find your egg and take it out.

LiLi: a Pandaren support character that is extremely easy for players to pick up and play. She doesn’t need a whole lot of babysitting. LiLi moves quickly when she gets hit and can protect herself in a variety of ways.

Coming Later’ Hero Reveals:

  • Kael’thas Sunstrider
  • Sylvanas Windrunner
  • Chen Stormstout

Q&A Highlights:

  • Other platforms (such as mobile)? Mobile unlikely, but they’ve messed around with testing the game on consoles and it was ‘pretty fun’.
  • Hardest heroes to add to the game? Really huge characters, such as Deathwing or Ragnaros. Blizzard would like to add them, but due to their size and implications on balance, their plans often fall apart. They still talk about it and want to try and figure it out.
  • Run out of hero ideas? Dustin says the “library is really deep” and they have plans for tons of heroes. No shortage of ideas, including more minor characters. Stitches (already in game), Deckard Cain, and Leah were mentioned as examples.
  • Talents? Rapid iteration on talents. Lots of changes happening there. Goals are to give players more customization and choices in battle.
  • Heroes based on StarCraft II editor? Some changes, but mostly based on the SC2 editor’s technology.  They want to give players the tools to make maps in Heroes, same as they can do now in SC2.
  • Older Blizzard characters? Lost Vikings? “Cannot promise, but we will certainly work on it.”
  • Balance? Dustin makes no bones about it, balance will be tough, and they’re committed to working on it. Talents system allows hero-by-hero balancing, making things easier for them.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB

 

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