It’s the way of the world for the games industry: one title makes it big and clones are sure to follow. Doom resulted in dozens of first-person shooters, eventually spawning Half-Life; Half-Life’s extensive scripting singlehandedly resulted in the modern FPS landscape. Super Meat Boy led to the rise of the frustration platformer. Dear Esther meant that, for a time, every other game to come out on Steam was a deep, introspective look into the (allegedly) fascinating corridors of a game developer’s soul. And, of course, we have to mention Defense of the Ancients. For awhile there you couldn’t spit without hitting yet another new MOBA out to change the genre.
Now, of course, many of those have been canceled as companies realize that splitting an income stream across hundreds of identikit games might not work out so well, but leave it to Blizzard to toss its weight around with its take on the genre: Heroes of the Storm.
Much like Nintendo’s combo-fun brawler Super Smash Bros the titular Heroes on tap run the gamut from all of Blizzard’s well-known franchises, except for Rock and Roll Racing because this is a MOBA and not the best game ever. There’s a couple characters with unique twists, like the parasite-wielding mastermind Abathur who never actually leaves his base, but for the most part it’s the usual archetypes we’ve seen before. Heroes of the Storm goes down the buy-to-play route when it comes to available heroes, with a weekly rotation ensuring that you’ll see plenty of the same faces each week.
Ingame currency gain is as laughably slow as we’ve come to expect, so you’d probably want to pay up for new heroes, and they tend to be on the expensive side for this kind of game. Blizzard knows where they stand in the market and they price their content to match. In the case of the Lost Vikings, at least, the price is totally justified because they’re awesome, but generally I prefer something like DOTA 2 where all the heroes are available from the start and you pay for cosmetics.
The most significant change to the standard MOBA formula in Heroes of the Storm is the way experience point distribution works. Unlike most similar titles, in Heroes of the Storm experience gains are split throughout your entire team. In other words, when you kill a creep, your whole team gets a chunk of the reward; another way to put it is that teams level rather than players. Leveling, meanwhile, offers talent points spent to upgrade existing abilities moreso than unlocking those that a hero already has.
You could see this in one of two ways when it comes to the common MOBA issue of players bringing down their teams with poor play: either Heroes of the Storm fixes the problem by offering those players a helping hand…or it compounds their mistakes by applying them to their entire team. Personally, I found that feeding is still feeding, and all the cuddly happy experience pool sunshine in the world won’t help a team with an especially poor player dragging them down. Oh, and Heroes’ contribution to the Dealing With Toxic Players suggestion box – namely not allowing you to speak to the enemy team – works about as well as expected, so don’t think you’re safe from angry nerds going off on you if you drop the ball. At least there’s no ingame voice chat.
The second quirk is the fact that there’s no gold and you don’t have to buy items. This helps make the game a little more accessible to new players, as there’s one less thing they can mess up and face nerd rage over, but I could see it being disappointing for experienced MOBAers looking for some excitement. I certainly found it did a lot to reduce my stress levels while playing, so it’s a nice twist. The idea is clearly that wins are intended to be based on teamwork and tactics rather than landing last hits or building just the right set of items, and your view on Heroes of the Storm is going to rely on how you feel about this. Talents serve as both skill points and items, in a way, and this allows Heroes to feel slightly different from other MOBAs…but only just.
I did enjoy the variety of gimmicks on the various maps. More MOBAs than not only have a single map, so it’s nice to see Heroes take a different route. One map allows you to curse the opposing team every so often, another has only two lanes as opposed to the usual three and features a unique Macguffin collection mechanic that allows teams to create a super-creep. Mixing things up a little is always appreciated, and the fights that result over gimmick points on the map make for some great battles.
Also nice: the presentation as a whole. This is still a Blizzard game and they know how to make ’em pretty. All of the familiar characters here sound, look and often even play like you’d expect them to in their home series. It’s an easy game to control as well, essentially playing like an RTS-lite as per most titles in this genre, and you certainly won’t have any issues hopping into a match even if it’s your first time playing a MOBA.
Heroes of the Storm probably makes the best effort possible when it comes to making My First MOBA without simply patronizing players or aiming to turn off veteran players. If you haven’t already gotten sick of the genre it’s certainly worth a look. Don’t expect a revolution, because you’re not going to see one here. It’s got the buy-to-play hero model, and this isn’t done especially well thanks to the high prices. The toxic players are still here, they’re just all on your team so you can’t kill them. As much as Blizzard would like to divorce Heroes from MOBAs at large, it’s just not happening.
On the other hand, it’s still got the old Blizzard polish, and gosh darn it a little effort goes a long way these days. I think I’m done with DOTA and their ilk (well, except maybe for SMITE) but I could see Heroes of the Storm being a great time for players looking for their next MOBA.