MOBAs, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, are the new hot trend in the MMO market. This becomes very apartment when a certain fabulous website dedicated to MMO's would post three reviews of very similar games in a sub genre within a few weeks of each other. Based off the “Defence of the Ancients” fan made game type from Warcraft 3, MOBA's such as Heroes of Newerth involve teams of players attacking each other’s base while waves of NPC units run to their deaths. You choose a character, level them through combat by being near skirmishes, buy armour and items, place skill points, and once the battle ends you do it all over again from the start. With the market quickly becoming over saturated, does Heroes of Newerth have what it takes to stand out?
Released in spring 2010 as a downloadable retail title, a bit over a year later HoN switched to the free to play cash shop model of its peers. I did not play HoN during its original inception so this review will only cover my experience during its F2P run. With 85 heroes, HoN comes with a massive selection of heroes that you are not allowed to access! Not allowed that is, without unlocking them first. At all times 15 heroes are rotated weekly for access for basic and verified accounts. Those who bought the game before it went F2P have Legacy accounts, and have access to all heroes at all times. If you do have a favourite hero and would rather not wait for it to come back into rotation, you can always buy it for permanent access with “goblin coins”. There are two ways to get goblin coins, the first, and quickest, is by paying real money. Heroes constantly go on sale and waiting around for the one you want may be the best choice, but there is no way to know when you're hero of choice will show up on the list. 420 coins will cost you $10 and will get to one to three heroes depending on their price and how the sales are at that moment. You can also get 1575 coins for $30 or 2415 coins for $40. There is another slower way to get coins which simply involves playing. As you play games you will accumulate coins, which does make the game truly free to play, but don't count on unlocking everything any time soon this way.
Even if you pay the massive amount of money to unlock every hero, depending on your game type you may still not be able to play your favorite one. Forced experimentation with heroes is one of the core principals of HoN with only one game mode, All Pick, allowing you full access to choose from all your available heroes. 15 random heroes are available in each rotation, plus any you have bought. There are also two different draft types, Banning Draft, where teams take turns selecting heroes that will not be allowed to be used this out of a random selection of 10 (3V3) or 14 (5v5), and Single Draft where one hero of each type (Strength, Agility and Intelligence) is randomly allowed for each player to pick from. Rounding off the game modes is Banning Pick, which involves removing heroes from a much larger pool than Banning Draft, and All Random, which of course randomly assigns heroes. All the game types work well together allowing a little bit more variety, plus is a great way to force players out of their comfort zone. Banning Pick does feel a little redundant with Banning Draft being a very popular option.
Setting up or joining a match is easy enough, with a quick play like option labelled as a big green button, “Play Now” will give you a bunch of boxes to check or uncheck so you may quickly find a match that suits your play style or mood for the night. From the map, to the number of players to what game type, everything needed is neatly laid out in this menu and easy to go through. Alternatively you can look at public games and scroll through a list of all unfilled games currently looking for players, or create your own game, making it public or private depending if you want it just for you and your friends, or are fine waiting for random people to join. In the create a game menu you can also set up a practice match, which will be covered more later in the review. If you want a quick summary though: I find the game very lacklustre, if not completely pointless in its current form.
Well set up and easy to navigate menus are always a good thing, and while the menus in HoN can load a bit slow at times, the initial presentation is very good and doesn't leave much to be desired, at least when it comes to the look and feel. Once you are into the actual game though, it’s more of a mixed bag when it comes to aesthetics. Even though there is a massive amount of heroes, there is a great deal of variety and creative design between them. Along with that the animations for each hero is very good also. Every movement and ability is fun to look at, and a skirmish can be quite a joy to watch, however, that is juxtaposed by the fact that anything that isn't a hero just doesn't look good.
The maps are small and uninteresting with no imagination behind them a problem made even worse by there being only a few maps to choose from. There is a map editor, but the created maps can only be used in practice mode and in the end it makes absolutely no difference in the game. While a lack of maps isn't always a bad thing (TF2 launched with three maps and obviously did very well), the fact that they are all basically the same, with only very minor tweaks can cause one to grow bored of the visual aspects of the game very quickly. The game has sound, but there isn't much more to say about it besides that.
If you have played a DOTA type game before, you have played Heroes of Newerth. The fundamentals are there, and they work well. If you have not played a DOTA type game before, then be ready for a steep learning curve, especially with the half baked tutorial and lack of bot-matches. The basics are easy to pick and play; you click to move, use your four skills with hot keys or clicking, and try not to die. It’s the final part that is hard without someone there to hold your hand. The practice mode is useless because the lack of other heroes does not accurately represent the game as a whole, and the tutorial does not tell you anything about the met- game that feels like 90% of the player base has already mastered.
There is also a casual mode in the game, but not much is changed in it. You start with your hero at level three and gain experience and money faster, but besides that it plays the same as the normal game type. It is really only there to save people five to fifteen minutes, but seeing as no one ever plays it, you can take that long wait for a match to start at times.
The original DOTA came out over 8 years ago in the form as a fan made mode from Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne. HoN has many more heroes with many more abilities than was in Warcraft 3, but besides that not much else has changed. Again, griping on the lack of bots in Heroes of Newerth, Warcraft 3 had bots. HoN just doesn't do anything that hasn't been seen before, and some missing features really hold it back from shining in a quickly crowding genre.
Though Heroes of Newerth is not a graphics-intensive game, good luck playing it on an older machine. Heroes of Newerth uses over 1.4GBs of RAM while running. For comparison I booted up Mass Effect, which used half that at about 800MBs. The game runs well, frame rate stays high and S2 works very hard to keep balance between heroes as smooth as possible. The fact remains though that the optimization is terrible and if you have less than 3GB's of ram, good luck having back ground programs running while you play.
Heroes of Newerth is over a year old now and still has a strong fan base, so any arguments about the longevity of the game are moot; its longevity has already been shown. The rotation of heroes is a nice touch which can give more reason to keep playing, just to see that hero you haven't tried yet show up, but the lack of maps and their repetitive nature can grow tiresome. The amount of hardcore players allow you to dig in deep to really find the community to play with discuss the meta-game, but as a hop in and play experience for casual players it leaves much to be desired. Besides unlocking new heroes, or new costumes for the ones you have, there isn't really anything to drive the compulsive playing either with the trickle of reward being so slow.
You can join clans, chat in game, and make matches to play with specific people, but ultimately, the social aspects of a game like this are what you make of them. Most of the clan involvement will take place outside of the game, and taking to random players in matches could go either way. Mileage will vary. In terms of what the game offers to facilitate a social environment, the basics are there, but nothing that really goes above and beyond.
Value will vary with HoN. If you want access to all heroes at all times get ready to drop a lot of money into the game. However if you are happy with the random selection that comes for free you can go a long way without paying a dime.
Ram issues and lack of casual options severely hurt what could be a very good game, but in its current form, unless you want to dive head first into the meta-game Heroes of Newerth does not offer much in the way of casual player satisfaction. There is a new patch on its way though, with map customization to boot and there has been talk of bots thrown in with that also. If that is the case when it lands on the live servers then Heroes of Newerth will elevate its standings with everyone just a bit higher. It’s a shame that over a year had to pass before the game caught up with the options offered in Warcraft 3.