Heroes of the Storm: We go hands-on with Blizzard’s long-awaited MOBA

Heroes of the Storm

By on March 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Blizzard are calling this a “technical” alpha, otherwise known as the “really really early stages guys please don’t be too harsh on us build”. All it means to me, and probably everyone else, is that this is the first playable bit of HotS – which is Heroes of the Storm, not Heart of the Swarm.

It finally answers some questions: what Blizzard thinks players want in a MOBA, what holes they think are missing and what direction they’ll take in the future. Some of the decisions are refreshing. Others – not so much.

Let’s start with the obvious. Heroes of the Storm is a standalone game built on the StarCraft 2 engine, with the in-game options and settings ported from the RTS giant. Many features, such as replays or group sounds, aren’t relevant yet, but at least it gives us an idea of what the game will be capable of closer to release.

Uther Lightbringer and James Raynor walk you through the tutorial, with Uther cheekily brushing away any plot concerns about heroes dying and respawning over and over again. It’s a surprisingly simple take on a MOBA; there’s no denying, no items to purchase or recipes to combine. Experience is shared globally, no matter how close you are to the minions, and skills have a relatively low mana costs and cooldowns.

It’s a setup that will appeal more to League fans than DOTA lovers. The hero model mimics League too, with heroes permanently unlocked through the use of in-game gold, which is either earned through levelling up and quests or through hard-earned cash. There’s 23 heroes playable at the time of writing, with the most expensive like Nova or Kerrigan costing US$10 (or 10,000 gold) and the cheapest, like Raynor, going for US$4 (2,000 gold).

It’s an alpha, so expect prices to change. They’ll probably drop to fall more in line with League champions. But no matter the cost the rotating free-to-play model will be the final nail in the coffin for most DOTA fans, who fervently cherish the added difficulty of things like creep denying and are staunch opponents of any structure that requires payment for non-cosmetic items.

The funding model aside, there are some interesting ideas here. The global experience makes it possible for creatures like Abathur to exist. Abathur’s a pure support hero who essentially plants baneling-like bombs around the map, creates copies of other heroes and attaches himself to teammates, boosting their capabilities. There’s little reason to actually leave your base; you just need to be close enough to a lane to make sure the swarm host knows where to go. It’s a creature that couldn’t exist in rival MOBAs and it’s a really unusual, interesting character to play.

Blizzard’s take on neutral creeps makes for a faster game too. In most circumstances, neutral creeps are mercenary camps that can be killed and converted to join the fight. But each map is different, with some offering tributes instead that can be collected to cast a global curse on the enemy. Others have buccaneers holding coins that can be given to a nearby pirate who then bombards the enemy base. And one map has an entire subterranean level full of undead and a giant golem. Whoever kills the most undead spawns the stronger golem. Honestly, I can’t tell you how much fun it is to finally play a MOBA with more than one playable map.

It’s really too early to comment on balance issues, although the ability of some creatures, like Falstad or Abathur to quickly fly or tunnel to any point from almost half a map away seems exceptionally powerful. Falstad in particular can open up a lot of ganking opportunities; it’s also really handy for jumping to and from mercenary camps. Every character has a mount that offers a 20% boost to movement speed, but it doesn’t come close to matching the ability to switch between the top and bottom lanes in less than ten seconds.

Cursed Hollow, the map with the mother of all curses, will no doubt come in for some tweaking. Having an entire minute where your towers and buildings don’t fire, have their HP reduced by half and your minions’ HP cut to 1 is broken in the extreme. The XP gained from killing the minions isn’t affected when the curse comes into effect. It’s essentially the snowball effect on speed: if you’re a level or two behind and you lose the fight for that curse, kiss the game goodbye. If you’re a few towers down and you’re stuck defending at your base, then forget about any positional advantage you might have had.

There’s no high-ground advantage, just like StarCraft 2, and, buildings and towers have a limited supply of ammunition. Some hero abilities, or talents, can reduce that ammo further, and it’s worth knowing that towers automatically target any minions in range.

That brings us to the final major difference with HOTS: hero abilities. Rather than a fixed set of abilities, HOTS offers a range of talents as you level up. All of the talents are available every game (provided you’re level 8) and the variety is plentiful. There’s a good balance between passive and active talents to suit a range of play styles, although there are some talents that are blatantly necessary, like the improvement to Abathur’s toxic nests that allow them to be spawned anywhere on the map.

The only other thing that’s worthy of note at this stage is the lag. It is there, and it’s about the same as what you’d get playing on any other Blizzard server in the US. It’s stable and, if I didn’t have years of experience playing on sub-30 pings in countless other games, I probably wouldn’t care. But in a game that essentially comes down to pure micro and precise timings, lag does matter — and the other free-to-play rivals on the market do have local servers. It’s highly likely that Blizzard will use their new server space in Australia to slot Heroes of the Storm alongside Diablo 3 — and they’ll need to, because not having that local support will be fatal.

So by the time this “technical alpha” nears, say, beta, that problem might have been neutralised. But a local server is just the first in a line of challenges facing Blizzard if they want to stop League and DOTA 2 players from returning to their respective folds.

MOBA fans demand competition, and while some will enjoy their time with Heroes of the Storm more than others – League players especially – it’s ultimately just an entertaining novelty from the real competition.

14 comments (Leave your own)
Artful-dodgeR

…it’s ultimately just an entertaining novelty from the real competition

I think you nailed it there. Hearthstone is like a dumbed down version of MTG, now HOTS is just a dumbed down version of LoL (which is a dumbed down version of Dota).

Filthy casuals will love it, and you can clearly see that is what they’re aiming at.

Nothing says serious MOBA like having Diablo ride into the battlefield… on a rainbow unicorn.

 

I guess it’s possible they don’t want HOTS to directly compete with LoL/Dota 2 in terms of players picking one and sticking with it, could be something to play alongside them when you want a more “casual” break.

The map variety sounds great, and is certainly appealing to me (Who doesn’t really care to get that far into lol/dota), I’m certainly keen to give HOTS a go.

 

Sub 20 minute game times is what’s appealing and probably why it will be massively successful.

 

20min games is a gimmick.

Whether you’re playing the last 5 minutes of last game or 5 minutes of the next game, its still gameplay.

 

stryker3216:
20min games is a gimmick.

Whether you’re playing the last 5 minutes of last game or 5 minutes of the next game, its still gameplay.

If you’re time poor, short games can be quite a good thing. Being able to smash out a game in 20 minutes makes it easier to fit in around other things in your life.

 

The multiple map types sounds fairly interesting. The quick casual games is appealing – I’ve played 2 or 3 games of DotA2 and about 30 LoL – so I’ll no doubt give it a shot.

buildings and towers have a limited supply of ammunition. Some hero abilities, or talents, can reduce that ammo further, and it’s worth knowing that towers automatically target any minions in range.

Is this in DotA2? I don’t recall seeing it in LoL… could lead to some creative resource management.

It’s highly likely that Blizzard will use their new server space in Australia to slot Heroes of the Storm alongside Diablo 3 — and they’ll need to, because not having that local support will be fatal.

This is what I was alluding to in the Australian D3 server thread. In my opinion, D3 is the trial run of their tech allowing them to have a regional server talking back to the US servers (instead of isolating the region like the SC2 SEA server). Without a local server, I don’t think this would take off as well as LoL and Dota2.

 

I’m going to play it because “Jim Raynor”. He’s favourite Blizzard character. Hopefully with a more casual feel to it, maybe the community might be nicer and not a bunch of filthy, screaming tards.

 

artfuldodger:
Nothing says serious MOBA like having Diablo ride into the battlefield… on a rainbow unicorn.

Angry Joe seemed so drunk in that vid!

 

artfuldodger: Filthy casuals will love it, and you can clearly see that is what they’re aiming at.

I must be a filthy casual,it looks and sounds great to me… honestly a less serious MOBA sounds so go I’m sick of the type of super angry blame everyone-else in the world for their failures DOTA/lol players. Also not having to sit through a 50 minute game would be nice.

Heroes looks like the first actual attempt to do something really unique with the genre rather than the usual straight clone of DOTA.

As for calling things Alpha builds when they’re not (Alpha is a build that only developers/people working on the project have seen Beta is when someone outside the dev team plays with it). I think it’s partly to make people feel special Mostly so that every-time someone says something negative about it a legion of other people can say “give it a chance it’s in alpha”.

 

mugsy: Angry Joe seemed so drunk in that vid!

Was still a very good vid though. I was laughing with him all the way.

 

spooler: honestly a less serious MOBA sounds so go I’m sick of the type of super angry blame everyone-else in the world for their failures DOTA/lol players.

Hehe, if you think a less serious game will stop that you’re mistaken. The best way to stop that is stop playing pub, find mature people and be mature with them.

 

That was a good vid, thanks for making it!

The game actually looks quite enjoyable. If it has anywhere near the level of polish of Hearthstone (which is pretty typical with Blizzard) then it’s an almost guaranteed winner for them I think. It wont topple LoL or DotA2 – but I think they might be onto something if they can pull it off with varied and interesting maps. One thing pretty much all MOBA’s have failed to do to date has been to get people away from that tried and true famous tri-lane map. Not that I want to see that map disappear, it’s a superb design – but hey, variety is the spice of life.

I didn’t like the alternate map options of either LoL or HoN. Demigod was fun for a while, but hey, that game was crazy going with everything being completely 3d modelled – killed themselves right there by not being able to add content and heroes like MOBA’s so need.

 

I think you nailed it there. Hearthstone is like a dumbed down version of MTG, now HOTS is just a dumbed down version of LoL (which is a dumbed down version of Dota).

This comment is hilarious.
Dota2 is like the slow boring amateur version of LoL.
I did notice one of Dota2′s major tournaments almost had as many viewers on Twitch as one of LoL’s regular streamers which surprised me.

I’m certain this won’t surpass LoL for player base but it’s fairly likely to gather more players than Dota2. Been out for ages and has 800k active players. I think they mentioned 3m accounts created but like me most are not active.

This looks like it might have a requirement for some real mechanical skill with champs like LoL which could make it a bit more interesting that Dota2.

 
Artful-dodgeR

Oh that’s too cute jwreford, why don’t you keep telling yourself that, maybe one day it’ll come true ;)

 
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