After roughly 10 months of alpha, Blizzard officially moved Heroes of the Storm into closed beta yesterday, and the update included a couple of new features and pieces of content among the expected round of tweaks and bug fixes. We spent some time with the beta version of the game and today we’re offering our first impressions of all the new goodies.
The iconic Orc warchief, Thrall, joined the Heroes of the Storm roster with yesterday’s closed beta update and I’ve been looking forward to crushing my foes with the massive Doomhammer for some time now. Thrall isn’t the first shaman to be added to the Heroes of the Storm roster, however. Blizzard previously added Rehgar, based on the generic Warcraft 3 shaman unit, to the game as a melee support character. Rehgar is a quite fun in-your-face support, but now we get to experience the destructive force a shaman can bring to bear and let me tell you, it’s really something.
Thrall can utilize Chain Lightning as a ranged nuke with some additional AoE potential if you build for it, but he’s ultimately a guy that wants to get in your face and stay there with Doomhammer. Thrall’s passive, Frostwolf Resilience, builds stacks (up to 5) when abilities are used on enemies. Once the stacks have filled, the passive triggers an automatic—and substantial—heal. Combine Thrall’s passive with Windfury, an attack and movement speed buff, and it’s pretty easy to see how he can lay down some pain while sustaining himself through the fight. It feels sort of like playing Illidan, only with seemingly even more sustain. Thrall is also an incredibly sticky character with Feral Spirit, a line nuke that roots the first hero it hits. With the right talents, it’s possible for Thrall to reduce his cooldowns such that he is able to consistently move and attack faster with Windfury while continuously rooting a target if you can land your Feral Spirits. In my experience so far, this build is only limited by Thrall’s mana pool, but it’s possible to mitigate that some as well with the correct choice in talents.
As for ultimate abilities, both of Thrall’s options can have an incredible impact on a team fight. Sundering creates a massive fissure that knocks enemies aside and stuns them. This is probably your more go-to ultimate as it can be used for anything from simply catching a fleeing target to splitting up the enemy team in a team fight. Earthquake is great ultimate for more coordinated teams or teams with a lot of AoE/AoE CC. Earthquake creates an area that periodically pulses out a massive slow and can also be talented to grant your team a fairly sizable shield. If you can properly take advantage of it, I can see this skill doing some work.
Sky Temple is a massive three lane battleground that draws heavily from ancient Egyptian themes for its visual style. As its name would imply, Sky Temple floats above the clouds, though the entirety of the map is tethered to something unseen via an array of gigantic metal chains. If you angle the camera just right, it’s possible to see beneath the map and observe some excellent detail added by Blizzard’s artists, such as NPCs riding by on flying magical carpets, as well as a number of other smaller, floating platforms.
The map takes us to the deserts of Luxoria, an entirely new locale for Heroes of the Storm, and the temple itself serves as center of worship for the snake god, Ka. There are five mercenary camps (two bruisers, two siege, and a boss) scattered throughout the Sky Temple, but the real name of the game is securing control of three temples.
The temples are located in the north, center, and south of the map, and these are activated for capture at what appears to be random. Sometimes two temples will activate while other times only a single temple will be available for capture. Once a temple is captured, it will begin firing bolts of energy at enemy structures while simultaneously spawning guards that will attempt to drive you (or your enemy) from the platform. In order to get the full barrage of attacks, your team must defeat the guardians while maintaining control of the point until it has run out of ammo and deactivates. If the enemy team takes back the platform at any point during its activation, the temple will switch to firing its remaining ammo at your structures instead.
So far, I’ve found Sky Temple to be the most enjoyable of all the maps I’ve played in Heroes of the Storm. The temples are essentially super mercenary camps that periodically activate and contesting them often forces team fights. This keeps things frenetic throughout most of the match, but it’s also possible to play around the objectives and apply counter-pressure through control of the map’s standard mercenary camps. If your team is behind or your composition isn’t best suited to a team fight, it’s possible to play around the enemy team, who must be fully occupied with the control of a temple, or fight you down a man or more. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to some other maps where objectives often feel do-or-die. Having your structures hammered by a temple sucks to be sure, but committing resources to its control often opens up other plays on the map for the enemy team and this keeps things interesting.
Hero League is Heroes of the Storm’s competitive ranked mode. It’s possible to queue solo or with up to a full team and the mode will attempt to match you with players who have queued together with the same amount of people (or solo if you’re queuing solo). In order to jump into ranked play, you must have an account level of 30 (out of 40) and own 10 heroes (this excludes those on the free rotation). There are 50 ranks and players all start at the bottom at rank 50. Winning games earns you points towards your next rank while losing enough games can end up demoting you. It’s a straightforward system.
What’s curious, however, is Blizzard’s particular implementation of draft mode into ranked play. Draft mode is used for Hero League (also available in custom games) and it follows your typical snake style draft picking (no mirror matches) with a coin toss to determine who goes first.
The difference between Heroes’ draft mode and what you’ve seen in other MOBAs is the omission of bans entirely. I’m not sure if this is a deliberate design decision on Blizzard’s part or something it’s leaving out for now due to the size of the roster, but it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I learned bans wouldn’t be included in draft pick. Whether you like it or not, Blizzard (or any developer for that matter) will never achieve perfect balance and there will almost always be characters on the roster that are egregiously overpowered. This can be especially true around the releases of new heroes. Bans are simply crucial to dealing with heroes that need to be knocked down a peg and I hope Blizzard has plans to introduce the feature to Hero League at some point.
Other than the lack of bans, Hero League looks to be fun and I’ve already had some good experiences with the mode. It would be nice to have a ladder of players and stats to check out, but perhaps that will come later. Additionally, Blizzard will be expanding ranked play sometime down the line with a team centric ranked mode called, you guessed it, Team League. This isn’t my cup of tea, but if you’re looking forward to ranked fives as an established team, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.
Have you played the closed beta? What’s your take on all the new changes and additions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!