Like many others attending BlizzCon this year, we had a chance to sample Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s first official foray into the MOBA (or as they like to call it, ‘Hero Brawler’) genre. The game has gone through a number of iterations, but Blizzard seems to have finally settled on what they want to do with this project and the results are fairly surprising.
I wondered whether Blizzard would look to lean towards the more digestible League of Legends approach or target the more hardcore audience who play MOBAs like Heroes of Newerth and DOTA2. The answer is neither. Heroes is taking probably the most broad-based approach possible. For example, there are no items to purchase in Heroes of the Storm and even experience is shared across all players on your team.
For my match, I picked StarCraft’s Nova, a ranged character who fulfills an ‘assassin’ role in the game, which basically means she focuses heavily on dealing damage. Picking your hero isn’t the only decision you’ll make before your match, though. I also had to select my character’s mount and appearance (skin). Your choice of mount is purely cosmetic, but mounts are an important element of Heroes of the Storm. Pressing Z in game while out of combat allows you to mount up and quickly regroup with your teammates to tackle objectives or respond to whatever is going on in the match.
While items aren’t available to purchase, that isn’t to say that Heroes of the Storm offers nothing in the way of character customization or progression. As your character levels up over the course of the match, you’ll be asked to pick from three different talents at each level up and these can radically alter the way any given character plays. In fact, you don’t even start with your hero’s ultimate or fourth ability on your bar. Instead, once the appropriate level rolls around you are required to pick from one of three of these abilities. For Nova, I selected a single target snipe ability that revealed and fired three shots at my target. However, I had other options, including the ability to select a more AOE focused ultimate.
The map itself felt like a familiar MOBA style map, except for the fact it featured two lanes and a jungle as opposed to the standard three lane configuration. Jungle camps function differently in Heroes of the Storm, too. Defeating a jungle camp not only nets your team rewards, but will also turn the particular spawn of creatures over to your side, and they will join in on the fight in your lanes. Sight towers can also be captured and they offer your team vision in the jungle, which makes sense, since items don’t exist and there would otherwise be no way to establish vision control.
The lanes themselves play out in a fairly typical fashion: your creeps vs. their creeps and towers along the way. Last hitting seems pointless as everyone gains the same experience and money isn’t earned. There are also a couple of differences to pushing down the lanes. Heroes of the Storm features “towns” with other structures such as healing fountains, forts, walls, and of course, towers. You can’t simply walk into the town as you progress down the lane. Instead, you’ll have to take out both the towers and the wall.
Objectives play an integral role, too. On the map I played, objects of tribute would spawn periodically and whichever team captured three tribute would then curse the opposing team’s minions and structures, severely weakening them, and thus making for an easy push.
I only played vs. AI for my demo, so it’s hard to say how the combat will play out when dealing with live players, but I found the gameplay thoroughly satisfying. Nova was fun to use and I really enjoyed the talent based progression. I had access to a line nuke snipe attack, a targeted slow, and a holographic decoy that explodes once it expires. At one point in the game, I spent a talent point to upgrade my slow such that my target would take 30% more damage while under its effects. There are a ton of other things you can do as well, but this system definitely went a long way towards making me feel like my Nova was unique to me and not just a collection of items conferring stats to my character.
I’m not sure how Heroes of the Storm will play to the League of Legends and DOTA2 crowd, but I enjoyed the quicker pace and the twists Blizzard are putting on the MOBA formula. My only concern at this point is whether the streamlined approach will end up making the game feel shallow after putting a couple of days or weeks into the game. One thing is for sure, however, I will definitely be keeping my eye on this one.