Heroes of the Storm - Introduction
In comparison to my good colleague, John Hoskin, I’m late to the party when it comes to Heroes of the Storm. I joined late due to playing far too much SMITE and Guild Wars 2 and when I did finally jump in several months ago, I pretty much abandoned all my go-to games. I think it’s fair to say that Blizzard make incredible games and they have a knack of not only delivering a polished product but one which somehow manages to scratch an itch you didn’t know was there. Heroes of the Storm is draining every free minute of my time and as someone who thought he disliked the clickiness of DOTA 2 and League of Legends in favour of SMITE and its telegraph system, Blizzard have somehow managed to create a game that not only matches its peers, surpasses all of them and still appeals to a spectrum of the gaming audience.
Heroes of the Storm - Positive Marks
Despite the undeniable popularity of DOTA 2 or LoL, I think it’s fair to say that MOBAs as a whole are a niche that many gamers avoid. As a genre it has a reputation for toxicity and there’s a huge amount of weight placed on itemisation, skill choices and understanding the META of the game. To enter into playing a MOBA is a confusing affair and I fondly remember my first game of DOTA 2 and being told to “fucking kill myself”.
Where Heroes of the Storm is concerned, Blizzard - as they always do - have removed barriers, rewrote the rulebook and streamlined what many understand in the genre. It hasn’t all been changed, but I think the end result is much smoother play experience for new and battle hardened players. There’s no itemisation, balance is strictly determined by the talents you choose and the Hero you pick: objectives also play a major part of the games tactics.
By removing itemisation and implementing key objectives, Heroes of the Storm offers a much quicker pace than its peers. There’s an urgency to not only lane and soak experience points (because experience is shared as a team - hurrah!) but to also split your resources accordingly based on the map you’re on. No map objective is the same and each requires a specific approach to successfully overcome what is always a heavily contested area. Whether it’s descending into the mines to destroy a golem in order to harvest its bones or to take control of coins that you use to buy favour from a pirate (who then proceeds to bombard enemy lanes) there’s no doubting their power and the need to utilise them.
Unlike some journalists that have entirely missed the point of these objectives, I think they offer a tactical layer to the genre that we’ve never seen before and one that has many intricacies that at first, are easily overlooked.
If we take a single objective as an example, Black Heart’s Bay requires players to collect coins. Once they have a certain amount they can turn them into Blackheart who’ll accept them and attack lanes with his ships cannons. Throughout the map there are skeletons that hold 2 coins, or two chests that spawn which hold 5 each. The onus is on players to battle over these coins to capitalize on the power of Blackheart. The brilliance in the design of this objective is that you can skirmish for the coins, risk a death and lose them all, or you can skirt around the edges to hoover up two at a time. There’s a nervousness to collection and loss, and they present a myriad of choices for teams:
Should we rush chests, force a fight and hope we win?
- When should we turn in?
- Should we play the Skeleton camps or should we attempt to steal coins?
- How many bombardments can we survive before turning in?
- Can we use the time they’re handing in to steal a boss?
Unlike in a traditional game of conquest where a match is purely decided on laning effectively, Heroes of the Storm provides the need to not only do that, but to also fit in your objectives as well. Neglecting them will see you lose - heavily - but in a match that’s largely balanced, they create an amazing tug-of-war which leads to some nail bitingly close matches.
What I love so much about the addition of objectives as well as the removal of itemisation and team wide experience is the fact that it allows players to concentrate much more on lane play and successful team fights than worrying whether one individual is being left behind or if one Hero is becoming fat through a series of early kills. Certainly in SMITE, if an individual or individuals die early game, it can have serious repercussions. Not to the point where it’s a guaranteed loss, but it makes laning much more difficult. In HotS an early death is minor but towards late game, it can be make or break.
Like all MOBAs composition is still incredibly important here and while I’d argue healing is more prevalent than in, say, SMITE, it’s still possible to win without them if you weight your composition for maximum damage. Interestingly and because of the objectives, you also have to factor this into your picks. On Haunted Mines? Two specialists is great. On Dragon Shire? Heroes with survivability is what you’re after. That isn’t to say the unconventional can’t work (I once won Haunted Mines with 4 Specialists) but a balanced team tends to yield better results.
Where game balance is concerned, I’m actually really impressed with HotS so far. I’m not suggesting there aren’t some minor balance tweaks here and there, but for the most part I haven’t yet felt that my team losses or individual deaths are as a result of one particular Hero being too strong. Even with the introduction of Kael’thas, who’s arguably very powerful in the right hands, has never left me salty. As with all Heroes, there are clear strengths, limitations and counters.
If there’s any other positives to Heroes of the Storm (and there are too many to list) I’d have to say it’s in its presentation and how each battleground is designed. Heroes are beautifully rendered with brilliant animations for their skills. The battlegrounds still utilise a two or three lane layout but are packed with well designed jungles and small graphical touches that typify Blizzard. Whether it’s a light swinging if you bump into it or crows milling around the dirt roads, it all goes to make Heroes of the Storm one of, if not the best looking MOBA on the market.
Finally and before this list of positives gets any longer, I’ve got to say that the pace of HotS is what has me hooked. Investing over 40 minutes in every SMITE Conquest match is exhausting and a play session can result in only a handful of matches during the day. Matches tend to last around 15 minutes in Heroes of the Storm and that’s awesome. Some do go on longer (the maximum I’ve ever had is 25) but that’s usually because one or both teams are playing cautiously or have wiped each other equally.
Heroes of the Storm - Average or Neutral Marks
If there’s three things I’m entirely neutral about when it comes to Heroes of the Storm it has to be its store, pricing and talents. I’ve heard various reports that people consider it expensive or that there aren’t enough Heroes and in all honesty, both complaints are nonsense. Heroes of the Storm is free and Blizzard have to earn revenue. At around $10 for a Hero, some might consider it expensive. In comparison to other MOBAs, it’s reasonable and gold gain from playing is fairly quick. If you’re completing dailies and leveling up, it’s even quicker. Any suggestion that you have to spend lots of money is untrue and while I’ve parted with around £50, it was primarily on skins and a couple of Heroes I couldn’t wait to try. For a game offering so much longevity (as any MOBA does) I think that’s a fair investment.
As for talents, I have to say that it’s a mixed bag at the moment. There’s some brilliant ones and all Heroes have some excellent builds but with 40 Heroes (a perfectly acceptable launch amount) it isn’t entirely unsurprising that there’s some duds. I don’t really see this as a “negative” because it’s potentially too early to say with any certainty what are below par. Those that jump out may have their niche, we just might need to find it.
Heroes of the Storm - Below Average or Negative Marks
The worst thing about Heroes of the Storm is the perception of snowballing. I’ve heard many claim it and I originally thought that snowballing in the game was pretty bad. After playing for many more hours, I think Quick Match is partially to blame here and a lack of player understanding around objectives and minion camps. Finding a truly balanced game in Quick Match feels like a needle in a haystack and you’re likely to fall heavily on one side or the other. More often than not, I seem to end up on the losing side, finishing the match with a bloody nose and raised blood pressure. Of the many hundreds of games I’ve played, I’ve only found a handful of well balanced matches in Quick Match. In contrast, Hero League is a much better experience. It certainly isn’t perfect and as I pointed out here, I’ve also had my fair share of players who leave much to be desired. Thankfully Blizzard have gone some way in alleviating snowballing for teams that are behind, by implementing small things such as making a kill worth more experience.
Having said all that, I don’t think the objectives cause any greater amount of snowballing than seen in other MOBAs, simply because a good team wipe can turn a match on its head. I’ve played on teams that were 4 levels behind only to wipe the opposition, clean up an objective and be back level. Up to that point, we were being bombarded time and again.
Perhaps the reason why snowballing is perceived to be heavier in Heroes of the Storm is because of the newness of players and the newness of objectives as an addition to the genre. If you neglect camps, your lane will be pressured. If you neglect objectives, you’ll take a heavy hit. You need to simultaneously do both and that isn’t something that’s always seen and it’ll take time for new players to adapt.
Other than the above, there’s only a few other negatives I have. The first is a lack of tutorials which teach the game and its differences. There must be huge swathes of players who don’t know things such as:
- Cloak shows you as a shimmer on the map
- What exactly each minion camp does and when you should activate them
- What each objective does and its value to your team
- How to lane and exhaust the ammunition on towers
- What specific roles are for, especially Specialists
A greater amount of tutorials, I suspect, would alleviate many bad habits.
I mentioned at the start of this review that MOBAs are known for their toxicity and Heroes of the Storm is no exception. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by in Hero League where I don’t witness another player spouting profanity at another. It’s already so hostile that I spend more time muting players than making friends with potential team mates. I must stress that I’ve met some brilliant people in Heroes of the Storm who are all too keen to help and support each other but at the moment, I’d say it’s 60/40 in favour of those with potty mouths intent on belittling and berating others. I’d like to see Blizzard swing the banhammer on these individuals.
Finally, HotS desperately needs greater feedback from the user interface. A lack of buff indicators informing of specific states is incredibly frustrating. I appreciate that a length list of buffs under your Hero might be daunting for new players, but it’s important to those of us who are experienced in this genre. On top of this, I’d really like to see clearer values when it comes to Hero abilities and states. If we take Chen as an example, one of his talents (Brewmasters Balance) allows him to gain movement speed and improved regeneration if you have exactly half your Fortifying Brew. At the moment you have to time when to stop drinking, while looking at a tiny resource bar.
In SMITE all Gods have a unique UI specific to their mechanic on the left hand side of the screen. It’s clear, quickly readable and often numerically incremental in its design. In Chen’s case, he should take 4 gulps of his Keg with each gulp providing 25% of his Brew. That way you’d know, through animations and actions, when to stop.
Conclusion and Final Score
Heroes of the Storm is an exceptional game that’s thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in this rigid genre. There’s every chance many DOTA 2 and League of Legends players won’t like it because it strays too far from the formulae. In contrast, there’s likely many players who will flock to it for that very reason. There’s a few things they need to tweak but nothing groundbreaking. As the Hero rosta begins to grow (Johanna has just arrived) the game and its Meta will continue to go from strength to strength. I’m glad I managed to get past my dislike of click based movement and have found a game that provides so much fun and long term potential.