Friday, June 5, 2015

What Heroes of the Storm Gets Right

Img: Heroes
I'm one of those jerks who was granted access to Heroes of the Storm early on in the technical alpha. Now that Heroes is officially live, and having played hundreds of games solo and with friends throughout the alpha and beta, I thought I might explore why Heroes of the Storm is the perfect MOBA for me. If you can identify with some of my reasoning, it may be the perfect MOBA for you---even if you've not played one before.

Prior to Heroes, my MOBA experience was with League of Legends. There I reached summoner level 23 (aka still noob) before I decided I wasn't enjoying the game enough to continue playing. With Heroes, Blizzard offers their own approach to gameplay elements which up til this point have become signatures of MOBAs. It may be too much of a departure for purists, and this may be partly behind the reason Blizzard would like us to refer to the game as a "hero brawler" instead of a MOBA.

Still, as with what we saw with World of Warcraft over ten years ago, and Hearthstone more recently, this is what Blizzard does best. I feel their iteration of a MOBA gets it right.

Match Length

The shortest match I've played in Heroes of the Storm ran about ten minutes, while the longest match ran about thirty-five minutes. Quite a variance, I know! In contrast, the shortest League of Legends match I've played lasted around twenty minutes, while the longest dragged on for over an hour---an even larger variance! But it's not the difference between the longest and the shortest matches that attracts me, but rather the average length of each match. Generally, one can complete two matches in Heroes of the Storm in the time it'd take to complete one game in League of Legends. And this is important to me as it relates to the perception of risk vs. reward.

Risk in this case signals time-invested. Reward signals any number of things: a win, XP gain, fun had, etc. Being able to play two games in a forty-minute period vs. one increases the overall sense of reward. Even if you aren't winning, you're gaining experience, both in the virtual and literal sense. Matches in Heroes rarely feel like they're dragging along, even if your team is clearly behind, because they tend to be over so quickly. You generally have a decent idea where the teams stand in relation to one another by the twelve minute mark of the match, though, just because one team is far ahead doesn't mean the match is over.

Opportunities for Redemption

Heroes of the Storm requires teams to make intelligent choices throughout the game. Even the team who's three levels ahead of their opponent late into the game isn't guaranteed a win. Some might not see this as fair, but I think it facilitates exciting gameplay---or at least the potential for it---from match start until one of the team's cores is finally destroyed. One of the reasons League of Legends ceased appealing to me was the feeling of utter futility and uselessness when you and your teammates fell too far behind to win, yet the match carried on for another twenty-five minutes.

In Heroes of the Storm, the game's truly not over til it's over.

I've been on both sides of matches where one team has an 18 vs. 15 level differential only to have the leading team get cocky and blow the match. There's a built-in catch-up mechanism to help a team lagging far behind: they will gain experience at a slightly faster rate based on the level differential to prevent them from getting too far behind---which is nice, if not too dramatic. I've also been on both sides of matches where the winning team finished five levels ahead of their opponents, so the catch-up mechanism only goes so far.

With the increased length of resurrection timers after late-game deaths and the increased power of Heroes at high levels, a well-coordinated wipe (killing all players on the opposing squad) by the trailing team is enough to steal away a victory. Granted, it's something easier said than done.  

Emphasis on Teamwork

In League of Legends, there's a lot of emphasis on laning, which essentially means a player adheres to a single lane on the map to clear out minions in order to gain experience. The concept of last hitting---delivering the killing blow on a minion or champion--- is a big deal as that's how players gain experience and level up throughout the match.

While the concept of laning still exists in Heroes of the Storm, less emphasis is placed upon it. Experience is still gained from killing minions and champions, but the experience is shared across the team. In a sense, early game laning can be even more important in Heroes, as that's where teams can achieve an early level jump on their opponents if they're covering the map well. With players not gaining an individual bonus from kills (save for a few champions that can choose a talent to benefit from this), they're encouraged to be more map-aware and respond to the actions of the opposing team and their teammates alike.

Because of this, team fights tend to happen earlier and more often compared to League of Legends, something that makes the game feel fast-paced right out of the gates.

Random Maps with Objectives

To date, there are seven different Heroes of the Storm maps with another slated to be released soon. Unlike League of Legends, players don't choose the map they'll play on---it's randomly decided by the game. While everyone surely has their favorite and least-favorite maps, the variety staves off monotony I often felt while playing League of Legends.

Additionally, the difference between the maps goes far beyond window dressing. Each map has a unique, game-changing objective that must be responded to by both teams to secure victory; each of these objectives feels distinct compared to the others. As you can imagine with setup, overall team strategies from map to map wildly vary which keeps the games exciting and fresh, even when sitting down for a two-hour play session.

Champion Design

Easy to learn, difficult to master is something we hear Blizzard cite from time to time, and they've delivered here. Blizzard's champions are designed to fill one of four specific roles: Warrior (tank), Assassin, Support (healer), and Specialist. Blizzard clearly lists each role every champion fills on the character select screen, making it quite simple to choose a character you want to play, or better yet, assume a role your team needs.

While Blizzard very briefly played around with the idea of an in-game item shop to Heroes, they quickly decided it wasn't what they wanted. In reality, it adds a certain level of complexity to the game; a level of complexity that essentially requires some pre-game research to discern the most advantageous item builds for a given character. Another way to describe that level of complexity? A barrier to entry.

In Heroes, you don't spend talent points as the game progresses to unlock and increase the power of champion abilities as in League of Legends. Instead champions start the game with their three base abilities (sometimes a fourth, depending on the hero) and will select a Heroic Ability upon reaching team level 10. Every three levels players are given a talent choice that often results in augmenting or improving a certain ability. Generally, these are fairly simple to understand and select on the fly. Still, knowledge of the champion's overall toolkit and its options as it relates to the team's needs can provide opportunities to create an advantage---and can involve some research. While I do believe this setup runs the risk of creating cookie-cutter "best" builds, I feel the most competitive teams out there will choose their talents in a way that benefits the whole group.


It always feels like you're making progress in Heroes of the Storm. Even when you lose matches. Like League of Legends, players gain experience towards leveling up their account as well as towards leveling individual champions. There's a constant stream of unlocked rewards for the account up to max level, and there's a constant stream of unlocked rewards for leveling up individual champions as well.

On top of that, Heroes offers daily quests that reward gold. Most of these are along the lines of "Play 3 Games as a Warcraft Hero" or "Play 3 Games as a Support Character." The best part of the two examples I've offered is the word play. The game does feature one daily quest that requires players to win 3 games, but the gold reward is greater as compensation for the challenge. A new daily quest is offered each day, and players are allowed to have up to 3 quests in their log at any given time. Super cool, because if you're not playing every day, you can still reap some serious gold rewards. And I should probably mention that gold is how players can purchase new Heroes without spending real money.

Are you playing? How's it been thus far?

1 comment:

  1. Its not a game format i enjoy, but I need the WoW pet for getting to level 30 so am sticking with it. To be honest I can take or leave it - much the same with Hearthstone, despite owning a rather large collection of physical MTG cards t and having played that a lot in the mid 90s. I still prefer the Microprose MTG game (single player, but the AI was good and i learned a lot from it), to any of the other card games that have come along. Despite the dearth of content, i can't tear myself away from Wow for very long - and i'm not really sure why. Can't complain about that though.