Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s real first foray into the exciting and intricate world of MOBAs. Long ago Blizzard’s own Starcraft helped spawn the genre when the map mod Aeon of Strife was released – from there, the other juggernauts of the modern-MOBA age have spawned.
Some MOBAs have come and gone with a small glimmer; impressing little on the gaming community at large. Some have come along sweeping up the market as roaring titans – each bringing their own inflections and changes – such as Dota 2, League of Legends and Smite.
I’ve been lucky enough to participate in Heroes since the early Alpha, and I’ve come to appreciate the mindset that Blizzard have taken with this venture. I don’t think anyone in their right-mind could have approached the idea of Heroes and said “This is going to be a Dota 2 killer” or “We’re going to snatch up the League esports base”. Those tasks are nigh on impossible – but Blizzard have taken a great standpoint on this – why bother trying?
Why not build a game that creates it’s own little niche – featuring radical changes in some areas, and minor adjustments for quality of life in others. Seemingly, that’s what they’ve done, and I think it works very well.
Heroes goes down a different path from Dota 2 and League – whereby there’s a far greater focus on skirmishes between the player combatants on the field, as opposed to excessive farming or particular itemisation requirements. One thing that runs nicely alongside this is that the heroes themselves aren’t as rigid in their speciality on the field. In Dota 2, a Phantom Assassin will never really be a true support hero – she just doesn’t have the skills and there’s no way to really augment her as such without crippling your team makeup.
In Heroes, you can play slight variations of each character – not necessarily a completely different role per se – however you can be a tanky version of Arthas, or a more damage-centric version. Depending on your team lineup you can make these changes on the fly and it can feel a little liberating, compared to the somewhat static makeup of a hero in other MOBAs.
The small quality of life changes are there too – and it’s not just about making the game more casual – some of them are just “nice to have” in a MOBA that isn’t aiming to be the cream of the crop. Things such as the easy access to teleport home to heal, the ability to mount up and roam around the map quicker, and the critical but somewhat simple change of removing items to purchase, means that the flow of the game relies far more on play versus player action. Sometimes, you just want to play something a little simpler and less stressful than a 90 minute, buyback-filled, Roshan slamming, Baron contested, grinding spree of a match – and Heroes can provide that outlet.
When talking to friends sometimes I like to compare it to TV shows – and I’m going out on a limb here with one of these admissions, so keep it to yourself. It’s similar to how the show Hannibal is an incredibly deep television series with an immense breadth of complexity and understanding, that requires every neuron in your mind to properly comprehend each segment of the show. Then… sometimes after a hard day at work… a little Jersey Shore can be relieving and relaxing. You don’t have to expend every wheel and cog in your brain as such, however it’s still fun and entertaining doing something that is easier to wrap your head around.
Friends at Blizzard are now reeling and writing emails berating me about comparing their game to Jersey Shore…
But that’s just a way I like to compare it – your mileage may vary. I’ll sometimes want to play a game of Dota 2 and have a challenging match that involves careful forward planning and some intrinsically rigorous coordination with teammates. Yet on other occasions, I’d like to have a game where I can have some fun with friends, enjoy some cool characters that well up nostalgia from years gone by – and still have an entertaining time without it been as stressful – all within a neat package within 15 to 25 minutes.
One big point I want to note – by no means do I think the game is expressly “casual” which has of late gained such a venomous connotation. Heroes still has it’s complexities, it’s strenuous and stressful moments and of course a lot of strategic play that goes into it’s DNA – we’ve seen that already with the rise of the competitive scene and the myriad of wonderful matches going on in the professional circuit. It instead goes about the MOBA style in a fashion that lends itself more towards those just looking to have a big royal rumble – if you’ve played World of Warcraft – it’s somewhat like playing the older Battlegrounds.
When playing Heroes there’s certainly a different vibe to it; and I’d say many Dota 2 veterans will feel that the tempo of the game is quite strange – the ebb and flow seems to mutate depending on not only the map, but also the action that is going on. This action relates to the objectives on the map you’re playing on – varying from controlling a small area, or collecting certain items. When these ‘objective points’ are in effect – the game escalates at a rapid scale, with frantic team fights erupting and dissipating at an incredible pace. Once the objectives aren’t active, you seem to glide back into the lane to ‘soak’ (acquiring the team-experience) and things are extremely chilled out. This does of course depending on the style of play you’re going for – sometimes you might not be soaking as much, and you may be diving into a battle head-on.
I think Heroes is in a very intriguing place at the moment, sitting in this little area where it’s not like Dota 2 where it’s hard to learn, and hard to master – but it’s also not just about rolling your face across the keyboard. There’s some great short-term depth for when you’re looking for a light edition of a MOBA. Perhaps Diet-Dota maybe? I’m not too sure. But the community and the pro scene for this game is still in it’s infancy, and I think it has a great future ahead.
Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm is available now.