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Why Heroes of the Storm is the MOBA for me

First and foremost, if that trailer from CarBot didn't even crack a smile, you have a heart of stone. This trailer, or tribute as CarBot calls it, was shown at BlizzCon to introduce gamers to Blizzard's newest offering: Heroes of the Storm. Anyone who's been keeping an eye on my Twitter will know that I was almost as excited about Heroes of the Storm as I was about Warlords of Draenor, so I took the earliest opportunity to go and play it. And then two subsequent opportunities to go back and play it again.

I've played a fair bit of League of Legends, and more recently quite a bit of SMITE, and I enjoy both games, and the MOBA genre as a whole. Blizzard is, I should mention, apparently keen to get away from calling this a MOBA, and move towards the idea of a "Hero Brawler". There are several important differences between the mechanics of Heroes compared to League, particularly, which I really think are fantastic shifts away from a bloated system.

Talents over Item Shop

Now I will not pretend for a second that I am a pro League of Legends player. Heck, I'm probably not even a good one. I got into LoL very late, very late indeed, and there are a couple of elements that have stood in my way as a newer player. The item shop is definitely one of those elements. Even since the introduction of the Shopping List system, and with the Recommended Items list, it's confusing when you're just getting started. Working out what you need and knowing what's good are second nature to a seasoned player, but tricky to a beginner.


And that's where the Talent system in Heroes of the Storm is so great. You don't have to work through pages and pages of items to figure out whether you want to take the Needlessly Large Rod or something with a less entertaining name. You don't even have to recall back, when you level up there's a choice of three talents that appear on your screen, in the bottom left, and you click one. Simple as that. This, to me, is an excellent system. You don't have to have a nigh-encyclopaedic knowledge of builds to get started, you don't have to constantly go back and forth to buy things, you make on-the-spot decisions about your traits and you carry on fighting. And that's what these games are really all about, isn't it?

There also doesn't seem to be any of the leveling up of abilities you get in League, which is just another simplification. Sure, there's an element of gameplay and build that might be removed there, but it's really no big deal, in my opinion at least. And what's more, you get to choose your hero's ultimate. Yep, that's right, there's a choice. The Lich King, for example, gets to pick between summoning Sindragosa, and summoning a platoon of ghouls to do his bidding. Others have more varied choices, but it's great fun.
What's more, Heroes is fast. There was a 20-minute time limit imposed on games at BlizzCon, just because the lines to play Heroes were so huge. This limit won't continue into the game when it's in Beta or live, but the aim is for short, quick games, lasting around the 20-minute mark. No 45-minute epics here, and the idea is that you can play Heroes like you play Hearthstone. Hop in on your lunch break and play a couple of games. No need to set aside hours of your day to get progressed and get ahead.


Team play, not solo play

One big difference between LoL and Heroes is the team play versus solo play thing. Now, bear with me a second here, this might get a bit deep. Looking at the previous section, there's no item shop. That means there's no gold. There's no last-hitting to ensure you shore up your reserves. Last-hitting isn't team play, that's solo play, that's working against your team-mates to steal last-hits rather than working with them to kill minions and heroes.

What's more, in Heroes, XP is team-wide. In League, you'll often see someone wanting to work a lane by themselves (mid!), and apart from the strategic considerations one advantage of doing so is that you'll level up faster. Not the case in Heroes, instead your kills, of both minions and heroes, will grant your entire team XP. You'll all level up together. So there will be some characters who are great at killing minions, who can blow up huge groups of them, and grant XP to the whole team by doing so. There will be some characters who are best at one-on-one fights against other heroes, and they will score XP for the entire team. There are also support characters, including one of the most interesting ones I've ever seen explained in Abathur. They're all working as part of the team. If you go off by yourself and die, you'll still earn XP, but you just got yourself killed, and gave the other team a headstart. You're not the solo hero, working to build up their XP and get ahead to score kills, you're working as part of a team.
Heroes also has a far higher number of objectives in the maps we've seen so far. Collecting items to gain temporary control of powerful NPCs, or grabbing CtF-style Tributes to put a curse on the other team for a short time. Or capturing groups of NPCs who'll undertake specific tasks for your team. All of these are done as a team. When you're gathering gold to gain the favor of the ghost pirate ship, the player holding the gold will drop it if he's killed. The team need to protect him to ensure that doesn't happen. In the graveyard, you need to work as a team to go underground and gather skulls and summon an NPC without losing too much ground up on the surface.

All of this is team play. Heroes is a game that not only encourages team play, but requires it. You won't get very far if you just play as a solo hero. Of course, this is potentially concerning for PuGs, but people will learn. People have learned how to do battlegrounds in WoW, strategies have developed, and the same will happen in Heroes. Personally, I love the team-play mentality. In League, you're almost working against your team-mates in many ways, in Heroes you are always working together.


We can build it

One of the best things I heard in the Heroes of the Storm Deep Dive panel was the repeated replies of "we can build it". Many questions were asked about different map styles, different games, different designs. Will you have Alliance versus Horde? Will you have ARAMs? Will you have this? That? The other? And every time the designers' response was "we can build it." They can, it seems, build almost anything. And what's more, thanks to how Heroes is based off StarCraft, so can you. If you want a Christmas special map, you can build one.

This flexibility, and willingness to be flexible, is something that hugely counts in the favor of Heroes. It's refreshing to hear that from designers who seem to be just as excited about some of the ideas in the Q&A as they are about their own crazy pirate ship cities. There was an overwhelming feeling of novelty and positivity from all the designers at the panel. Nobody said no.
And the art style is fantastic. Definitely Blizzard stylings, of course, as the heroes themselves demand it, but they have done an amazing job of blending together these disparate franchises without making, say, Kerrigan look totally out of place. There's a WoW-y feel to the maps in general, but the other heroes blend in so well that it doesn't feel artificial or clunky.


The Downsides?

Now, I appreciate that this has been an unapologetically positive review of Heroes so far. But that's just how I feel about the game. I'm excited. I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait for it to go into Beta so I can get more time playing it. I feel like I have to bring up some niggles, but they're so tiny as to be almost irrelevant to my enjoyment of the gameplay. One criticism that came up was the problem of snowballing. Once one team starts winning, they have such control that it's hard for their opponents to retaliate. This is a potential issue, but one that will likely work itself out with balance tweaks, and maybe some design changes. They're aware, and watching it very closely.

Other than that? Well, um, you have to play Raynor in the tutorial. I don't like him. If that's all I can think of to complain about right now, Heroes of the Storm is doing pretty well. Yes, it's early days yet, but I simply can't wait to play this game some more.

Filed under: Blizzard, BlizzCon, Heroes of the Storm

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