Heroes of the Storm – Review
The MOBA genre (or multiplayer online battle arena for the uninitiated), is beginning to get a little crowded. A lot of that space is taken up by behemoths such as League of Legends (LoL), or Day of the Ancients (DOTA). It seems like many developers are trying to get their MOBAs into the global gaming arena, making the games easily missed. But when a company with the success rate of Blizzard Entertainment gets into the game, it is worth sitting up and taking notice.
For those that have only heard the term, MOBA (and even for those that haven’t), there are a few basic principles that define the genre. Players contest matches in one of two teams. Each player gets to pick a champion or hero, which has a special role and varied abilities, as their avatar for the match. Each side protects a base structure that must be destroyed by the opposing team to win the match. The teams’ battle takes place on a map which has one or more lanes connecting the bases, as well as some off lane areas (E.g. jungles) which contain other objectives. It’s like a really complicated game of chess.
The heroes are quite important in MOBAs; not only because they are the player avatars, but they are the face of the game as well. Additionally, most MOBAs require players to earn new heroes with freemium purchases, or by spending a lot of time in the game. Coming with up new and interesting heroes can be quite a challenge, but this is where Blizzard have a great advantage over their competitors. They already have a number of rich, detailed game worlds from which to draw their characters. These include the likes of Kerrigan (Starcraft), Diablo and Uther (Warcraft). The concept story behind Heroes of the Storm (HotS) has these characters from different universes brought together in “The Nexus” to compete in a series of never ending battles. Perhaps not an inspiring story, but certainly a good enough excuse to get a bunch of cool champions together for an all-out brawl. Heroes are grouped in four categories. Assassins can deal a lot of damage, but don’t have the health or armour of other types. Warriors have the strength and endurance to dive right in to heat of battle. Support characters abilities concentrate on assisting their teammates with heals or buffs. Finally, Specialists excel at non-standard approaches to battle, such as providing siege attacks or other battle changing abilities. All four classes are also classed as melee or ranged based on their attack type and distance.
HotS is free to download. All you need is battle.net account, and then once you’re signed in, you can start with a tutorial. HotS is generally quite easy to jump into. You direct your hero and activate their target abilities with your mouse. Keyboard hotkeys are available to access those important skills quickly. From then most of your time will be focussed on killing enemy minions or troops, sieging enemy structures along the path to their base, attempting to kill enemy heroes and trying to complete special objectives on the map. Managing your hero is simple as there is no equipment to buy. Upgrades are provided by selecting from ability upgrades or “Perks” as your hero levels up. This in turn can affect how the play the hero during the course of the match. For example you may have to choose between improving your heroes damage output compared to their healing ability. You may base this decision on the abilities of your teammates, or perhaps if the tide of the match is going well (more damage, maybe) or poorly (more healing, maybe) for you. Some perks have to be unlocked by levelling heroes against your profile, over time. The more you play a hero, the higher that hero’s level will be on your account, and the more perks you will unlock.
I found the controls to be quite responsive and felt quite comfortable after a few practice matches. The mounts in HotS are nice addition to the game. Every hero can summon a mount to move quickly across the battlefield. This lets you and your teammates get to objectives (or each other) quickly. The standard ability to teleport back to base is also available.
HotS places a lot of emphasis on the special themed objectives of the various available themed maps. For example, BlackHeart’s Bay is pirate themed map. Players can collect “dubloons”, which can be traded with the ghost pirate, Blackheart, in exchange for some bombardment of the enemies’ defensive structures. These objectives can often turn the tide of battle. Or, as I learned, be the cause of your downfall if you ignore them to concentrate on killing minions in the lanes. One nice thing about the different maps is that they all have their own look and feel. Each map provides its own themed minions and structures as well. All of it rendered in a wonderful cartoon style that has a definite Blizzard feel to it. I thought the graphics looked OK, until I realised the game had defaulted all my video settings to low. Medium settings looked much better. I then skipped High and Ultra and went straight to Extreme. That didn’t go so well but I’m guessing Extreme would be really impressive on a proper gaming Pc.
There are several different types of game modes on offer, although some are restricted by your profile level and the number of characters you have unlocked with gold or real world cash. Practice games put you on the map with AI bots only. It’s a good mode to try out new things without affecting other players. A.I. mode matches you with other players against AI opponents, while Quick Match is unranked match with all human players/opponents. Hero League games (ranked matches) require a profile level of 30, while Team League requires a profile level of 40. After playing 49 games my profile is at level 14. This setup provides a good way for new players to ease into the game without affecting players who are trying for ranks. While this many modes splits the number of players available for a match type, I never had to wait very long at all for a match-maker to find other players to start a game. The matches seem to complete in about 15 minutes or so, which is quite a lot shorter than other MOBAs.
As with all MOBAs (as far as I’m aware), you can pay to unlock heroes and get cool cosmetic items, such as character skins and different mounts. The game store also sells packs heroes and/or mounts and has specials on various selections as well. Finally, booster packs can be bought (or earned via levelling) which increase the amount of experience and gold you can earn while playing.
This is only the second MOBA I have ever played more than a handful of matches. The first is Vainglory (just so you know where my comparisons come from). I liked that I could complete matches in a relatively short amount of time. The lack of a shop and hero equipment makes the game simpler to get into, perhaps at the expense of some depth. The ability perks do make up for this, but equipment can provide more build versatility. The special objectives on the maps definitely mix things up, but sometimes feel like a necessity rather than a strategic objective you may choose to take at particular time. Hero balance is always an interesting and important aspect of MOBA and I don’t think I have a good feel for HotS characters just yet. As far I can tell, they seemed reasonably balanced; at least in the skill level I was playing at. I tried each of the classes and decided my favourite was the melee assassin, Kerrigan. I also enjoyed playing E.T.C; a warrior bull described as a “Rock God” with rock music themed powers.
Overall, I have been enjoying my time playing Heroes of the Storm. It is a fun and accessible MOBA, with enough variation in heroes and maps to keep things interesting. Although the grind might discourage some people, I don’t think MOBA fans will mind. It is free to try, so it definitely worth the download and some of your time.