Art by Luke Mancini, Blizzard Concept Artist
Heroes of the Storm Review
Full Disclosure: I dislike MOBAs!
Let us start by examining the game category that some people call MOBA.
Before going over the features of the game itself, I would like to briefly mention my own history with Blizzard games to reveal some biases that may be present in this review.
I played the original Warcraft, but the game that really got me interested in real-time strategy (RTS) was Warcraft 2. I loved it so much! It was really fascinating, especially in some of the last missions, where you start with just a small group with no buildings and on a tiny island in a corner against a huge force occupying most of the map. Winning such a battle was particularly gratifying and exciting!
Following Warcraft 2, I played Starcraft 1 extensively, especially enjoying the balance and diversity of the playstyles. Protoss remain my favorites to this day.
Then, I started college and most of the gaming was put on hold. I didn’t play World of Warcraft, didn’t play Warcraft 3, didn’t play Diablo, and went through the initial Starcraft 2 campaign only recently, but I do not enjoy RTS as I used to. Thus, although I do have a history and some familiarity with Blizzard games and lore, I can’t say that I am a huge fan.
What is so exciting about the game then? Well, the list is long, and to really get a feel for it, you need to try it! Nevertheless, let me try to give you a brief overview of the aspects I enjoy the most.
Guild Wars 1 turns 10 years in a couple of months. I have many good memories from this game, but one of the most interesting features that GW1 had were Guild vs Guild and Heroes Ascent PvP modes. In these past 10 years, to my knowledge and experience, no other game of the similar setting came close to allowing the level of teamwork and gameplay complexity as GW1.
Although Heroes of the Storm is not as complex as GW1, it is certainly more balanced and does capture the teamwork aspect quite well, requiring the team to work together on key objectives and help each other, while allowing individual skill to shine in being able to change the flow of the battle by making critical timely decisions.
For the best experience, play with your friends and with a voice communication. However, even if you play alone with a group of random people, it can still be very fun. You can get a particularly good chemistry with some members in a relatively short time because the rules are simplified, and it is relatively easy to figure out what one should do, once you are familiar with the key mechanics. Thus, finding someone you work well with is relatively easy, even if it is a total stranger! As Pallytime mentioned, “The fact that teamwork is so important, has led to some of the most gratifying wins I have ever had in an online game.”
Although it is a team-focused game, an individual can make a substantial difference. This can be induced by several means
– Voice / Chat communications. You can actually say what is a good general strategy on this particular map or whether you want to take a certain role, etc. Just please, avoid negativity and focus on what can be done going forward.
– Ping on the map (voiced by your hero) to let others know what you want to do. For example, your hero will say, “Let’s take this mercenary camp” when you click on the camp, and this message will be audible to everyone on your team.
– Key decisions. Where to move, defend or push, when to turn in coins, when to capture camps, etc. Some of these objectives you can do on your own, but with others you can request for help.
– Timely skill activation. A timely heroic ability activation can have a huge impact on the outcome.
Doubtless, in some games your team will be terrible and you may feel like you can’t make any difference, but it will be in the minority. If you actually know how to play and communicate, you’ll be able to turn around even such games. Bad things happen – just never give up! I recall one time when my team won a game with only 8% left on our core (game is lost when the core’s health is at 0%).
Customization in terms of looks, mounts, and builds. Instead of items, you can select several talents as you level up during each match. The talents you choose may substantially change the playstyle of any hero.
Variety of Game Modes and Maps
You can play this game entirely in PvE mode: your team consists of real people, but you are playing against A.I.-controlled heroes. Or you can even play with A.I. against A.I. Of course, the most fun is playing with people vs other people, but, at this time (March, 2015), the matchmaking system is not performing well due to a limited number of people in the system. However, look at the Hearthstone – that system is working quite well now, after the full release.
Maps themselves are also very diverse and each one feels unique, offering interesting mechanics and objectives. More maps are in development, but they will not be adding maps at a very high rate to prevent overwhelming the players in learning all the special features of each map.
Ever wanted to play as StarCraft’s Kerrigan or Zeratul? What about WoW’s Sylvanas or Jaina? Perhaps, even Diablo himself or Tyrael? Now you can do all that! You can even be in-character and speak like your hero in teamchat! Try it! haha Note that not many people know Protoss language though 😛
The music is amazing! Not only do you hear a very uplifting, epic-sounding themes that prepare you for the battle ahead or play just at the right game-changing moment, but also some nice ambient relaxing pieces.
One of the fun features of the game is character interactions. When you heal someone or defeat another hero together, a hero will personally thank you or comment on your valor. That’s very fun to listen and makes the game more pleasant.
Variety and Uniqueness
Each hero is unique. Blizzard takes a very long time to make coherent, lore-appropriate heroes. Here is a nice presentation of the design process.
Easy to Pick Up, Hard to Master
The game is deceptively simple, but relatively deep with a high skill ceiling. Certainly, some heroes are relatively straightforward to play, but others require both domain knowledge and some execution proficiency to excel at the highest level. In case you are wondering, no, the execution requirements are nowhere near some fighting games 😛 After playing for a while, you’ll even be able to enter the Flow state! 😀
One of the main problems with GW1 PvP was the lack of balance. They tried to improve, but balance remained a problem – not a surprise, given the flexibility of the system. Blizzard takes a more careful approach…
Well, joking aside, they do take it seriously, and, even for the so called “top-tiered” heroes, the winning percentages are only by a couple percent above the average. The game is currently in CBT, so it will be even more balanced on launch.
Staying Up-to-Date is Easy
Another recent hugely successful game from Blizzard is Hearthstone. We can’t really compare Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm directly, but I would like to point out one important aspect.
Hearthstone is releasing new cards periodically. Those people with more money and time will be able to acquire the newest cards and more cards in general faster, giving them an edge, even though it may be slight. Somewhat subtle pay to win aspect is not the main problem though. The “problem” is that you have to be current. You need to play the game and be familiar with the new cards as they come out and update your decks accordingly. Thus, stopping to play for a few months may make it much more difficult to get back into the game and even more difficult to play at a competitive level. This is not the case with Heroes of the Storm.
Since it is a hero-based game, as long as you know how to play your favorite heroes, you are set! If you take a break from the game, yes, there might be new heroes and new maps, so you may benefit from learning how to play against these new heroes and the mechanics of these new maps (maps will not be added very frequently though), you still know how to play your hero and will have a good time. Well, yes, it will take a few games to warm up, especially on the more execution-heavy heroes, but the key is that you know how to ride a bicycle.
How to play right now?
Founder’s Pack is a way to go. I didn’t get in this way, but, in my opinion, I can certainly say it is worth the money!
Never Judge a Book by Its Cover
I never enjoyed MOBAs, primarily because of all the items, and never thought that I would enjoy Heroes of the Storm, but, after actually trying it, I absolutely love it, and can see myself playing this game for many years! 😀 I plan to post guides and news about the game in the near future! 🙂