As part of the Diablo III: Reaper of Souls launch event, members of the media were invited to try Blizzard’s upcoming multiplayer brawler, Heroes of the Storm (HotS). Naturally, I was extremely sceptical about this particular game; and I wasn’t the only one to express some concern about what we were about to see. It was fortunate that this happened to be a preview of a game from a company that likes to take its time building a proper game, because Heroes of the Storm turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
Despite Blizzard referring to this game as a multiplayer brawler, it easily falls within the same Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) category as Dota and League of Legends. The fact that it is also a free-to-play title doesn’t help this lack of distinction.
That being said, HotS manages to bring some new ideas to the genre. These differences may end up dividing players, but it does provide for a more unique experience.
For those who are not familiar with the game, it involves a mashup brawl with characters from all of Blizzard’s games, allowing people to settle those questions about who would win in a fight. Is Diablo stronger than Arthas? Can Nova kill things better than the Demon Hunter from Diablo III? And just how long can a Siege Tank survive fighting Archangel Tyrael?
Blizzard has introduced a couple of minor changes to the regular MOBA formula. These differences alter how the game is played, and produces a completely different metagame.
Notably, there is a lack of items to be purchased. It shouldn’t work, but it creates a very strange kind of sensation when there is no rush to buy items to start building your character. On one hand, it makes the game very beginner friendly as there is no need study all the possible combinations and recipes required to fulfil a certain role. Conversely, there is the feeling that it reduces flexibility and creativity when playing the game.
Instead of using items to customise heroes, Blizzard has introduced talent trees. Borrowing heavily from World of Warcraft, these talents offer a different sort of playing experience. Although it may convince MMORPG players who do not play these kinds of games to at least give it a try.
Another aspect from World of Warcraft that has made its way into HotS is the extra emphasis on team coordination. Most MOBA games already require a massive level of co-operation to play, and Blizzard has taken this to ludicrous levels. Gone are individual hero levels and experience points. In its place is team experience and levels. Every kill goes to a collective pool, and the entire team levels at the same time.
This creates a kind of game where every little bit contributes to the whole and prevents teams from boosting one player beyond everyone else. On the other hand, a single player having a very bad game will end up dragging the entire team down with them.
Adding to the need for teamwork is how the maps work. Each battlefield features a different theme, and optional methods for crippling the opposing team. One map allowed teams to bribe a pirate ship to bombard enemy towers, while another featured controlling shrines in order to summon a giant Dragon Warrior. The features aren’t merely cosmetic either. They are capable of doing quite a lot of damage to the opposing team and can easily swing the momentum of the game.
However, there is a greater need for battlefield control in HotS. It is a very strange game that somehow discourages players from bunching up, and yet allows for some very interesting ambush possibilities. As none of us at the preview were competitive MOBA players it was difficult to say if this will catch on with the community as a whole.
Heroes of the Storm will inevitably draw comparisons with Dota All-Stars. After all, the entire genre started from a mod to Blizzard’s own games. Playing HotS at some points felt like playing Dota due to the similarities in character models. The reduced aspects of the game such as removing items greatly lowers the learning curve, which may introduce the game to a more casual crowd.
It is unlikely that this game will manage to unseat the top two of Dota 2 and League of Legends. But that is unlikely to be Blizzard’s goal. Instead, this looks to cater to the mainstream gaming community: those who want a quick pickup game without having to constantly keep track of new items and rebalanced recipes.
Also, it allows us to charge into the battle as Diablo while riding a regular sized horse.