PREVIEW: Heroes of the Storm [PC/Mac]

Heroes of the Storm is many things. It is Blizzard venturing again into the world of free to play, and it is the studio’s attempt to somewhat belatedly stake a claim in the MOBA genre, amid giants like Dota 2 and League of Legends. It seems odd that Blizzard should now decide to recreate a mod originally created with its own tools, but such is the popularity of the genre.

Pages have already been written about the many things Heroes of the Storm is. But what about some of the things it is not?

First: It is not funny. Blizzard is a company talented enough to have created 3 stunning universes. Three universes rich in lore, that the company works hard to protect. But in Heroes of the Storm, developers throw caution to the wind and instead shoehorn all that lore into a game that doesn’t allow for it. Angels and demons alongside space marines and aliens, next to orcs and humans. Run the game for the first time and you’re treated to the most over the top, credulity-stretching tutorial I’ve ever seen. Sure, it explains how Heroes of the Storm works, but unfortunately it tries to explain how the game came to be, in terms of lore. It really shouldn’t have.

Next: it is not an anti-Dota, or (necessarily) a MOBA for people who don’t like the genre. Heroes of the Storm takes the parts of MOBA games that Blizzard thinks are best, and cuts everything else away. In fact, if you look back a year, to the last year’s Dota 2 International, and remember how the meta was back then, you get a pretty good idea of what Heroes of the Storm has become. TI3 was characterised by ‘rat’ play – pushing lanes and avoiding fights – and enormous, sprawling fights around Roshan, the neutral enemy that spawned every 10 minutes, and granted an extra life to whichever team killed him. In Heroes of the Storm, every level has a periodic event that gives whichever team wins a large advantage. Those events generally devolve into multiple minute fights – brawls, really – where the last man standing generally wins by default.

Unfortunately, Heroes of the Storm is also not going to be easy on the wallet. Blizzard has removed the economy in matches, but outside the game? Not so much. Yes, it’s free to play. Dota and LoL both have tried different models for this, and Blizzard seem to have fallen on the LoL side of the fence, but in a more aggressive way.

Players start with a few heroes unlocked. These heroes rotate week by week. Other heroes may be permanently unlocked for cash, or in-game gold. You earn 2000 gold for levelling up your account as you learn to play, but heroes (unless they’re on sale) cost anywhere between 4000 and 10000 gold. You can earn more gold, but it’s at the rate of 200 per daily quest. That’s 20 days play before you’ll be able to unlock a new hero. Of course, if you’re willing to pay $7 to skip the grind, be my guest.

Skins and mounts are more expensive ($10.99 and up), and can’t be purchased with in game currency, as far as I can tell. I was also presented with the option to spend gold or money to unlock all my hero’s abilities without having to level up that character by playing him. You are never short of ways to burn money.

[img_big]center,8588,2013-11-09/Arthas__witch_doctor__Diablo__and_Illidan_showcase_some_heroic_abilities.jpg,Heroes of the Storm[/img_big]

Thankfully: Heroes of the Storm is not badly designed. Blizzard is clearly trying to address some of the problems in other MOBAs. My favourite example: pick your hero before you even search for a game. League of Legends is trialling a similar system, and I think it works well here, so it will be interesting to see if Dota follows suit. It definitely helps fix team composition, and improve relations between teammates. Leaving composition in the hands of the game means that you should end up with a balanced team, instead of five carries scrambling for mid lane.

It is not going to fix all the things you hate. There are still trolls here, there are still leavers, there are still assholes. The game is still a bit of a slippery slope if you’re losing – perhaps more so. With levelling up happening across the team instead of individually, it’s harder for one star player to haul things back from the brink. Additionally, the importance and power of the world events means that a losing team is generally punished for losing. On the bright side, at least this means matches are generally much shorter.

Finally, Heroes of the Storm is not finished. I can’t make predictions about the game’s popularity, or its feasibility as an eSport. I hope it is popular, and I am sure with Blizzard behind the game, I have nothing to worry about. I would be interested to see Heroes as a competitive game, but my instincts tell me it probably doesn’t have the depth, and doesn’t wish to, either. I hope instead that Blizzard focuses on building a community around the game. I also hope that the current aggressive free to play model is toned back a bit.

I will definitely keep playing Heroes of the Storm. If nothing else, it’s nice to have another, less time intensive, less stressful MOBA around. Blizzard’s games are always of the highest quality and you can see that here. Heroes of the Storm is not half baked. I can’t wait to bring my friends along and let them see all the wonderful things this game can be.

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