Heroes of the Storm: Gotta do those dailies!

I consider myself a player of a broad range of games, but of all the types that exist, games belonging to the relatively new genre of MOBA have never held my attention for more than a match or two. The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre doesn’t appeal to me for a variety of reasons, but almost everything that Blizzard creates does appeal to me (except for  WoW , because I like my free time), so I find myself oddly drawn towards Heroes of the Storm .

Maybe it’s the signature Blizzard art style, the excellent presentation, or the fact that I can slay Diablo with Raynor, or Zeratul, or a Murlok (named Murky, no less). It’s probably more the last bits than anything else: the sheer oddity of combining all “Blizzard Universe” (which wasn’t really a thing until now) characters into a single game is incredibly appealing. It smacks of Blizzard’s renowned haughtiness, and it’s delightful because of it.

While it shares the genre staple of 5v5 combat across a number of lanes (usually three),  Heroes of the Storm  breaks the MOBA mould in a few significant ways. For one, you’re not stuck with a single map: there are seven available in the current beta (with an eighth due soon), each presenting its own challenges and layouts for the players to grapple with, in addition to the normal actions of fending off enemy heroes (or chasing them down), dealing with waves of AI-controlled units, and ultimately attacking enemy fortifications.
“These objectives, collectively called mechanics, are likely to be the biggest cause of divide between those who enjoy and those who dislike Heroes of the Storm”
The challenges in each map vary by appearance, but they come down to one of two things: collect more skulls/coins/seeds/etc. than your opposing team, or hold certain positions on the map until something important happens. These objectives, collectively called mechanics, are likely to be the biggest cause of divide between those who enjoy and those who dislike  Heroes of the Storm. Some believe that they’re an unnecessary distraction from the purity of a MOBA (especially for already bewildered newcomers), and they certainly can be, but personally, I like the idea. I’m more of an objectives-based player in most team games anyway, so having a temporary focus (mechanics are only active about a third of the time) is a good way to keep things interesting.

In addition to mechanics, there are neutral monsters on the map that can be temporarily incorporated into your army when you’ve bashed them up enough useful for tipping the scales of battle if you want to make a concerted push or need to make up for being too far behind your enemy team in level. This further enforces the concept that Blizzard’s playing with here: distracting players from the core gameplay of a MOBA, possibly forcing them to deal with other menaces or risk taking unnecessary damage. There’s a constant risk/reward exchange staring you in the face; it’s up to you to figure out how to fit in with it and keep your play style dynamic during matches.

Another break from the norm is  Heroes of the Storm’s complete exclusion of in-match item shops, inventories, or item combinations. That means no recipes to learn, no messing around back at base (the only time you’re likely to return to your base is to perform a recharge of health and mana (or, you know, if you die)), and very little time spent out of combat. There aren’t even potions to fiddle with; instead, characters can collect Regeneration Globes that are occasionally dropped on the battlefield to provide a small boost to HP and MP for all nearby allies, just like in  Diablo III .

To replace in-match shopping sprees, HotS  (which I guess no longer refers to StarCraft II ’s expansion  Heart of the Swarm ) provides character customisation through its Talents system. As you play a character, you’ll permanently increase their level (not in-match level, just “hero level”... it’s not as complicated as it sounds), granting access to new Talents. Then, as you level-up your character during a match, you’ll be able to select from those unlocked Talents. Some Talents provide access to new skills, and some boost your base attack, but most improve or change your existing skills to allow you to structure your character as each match progresses. It’s a bit like the Talent tree from World of Warcraft , although this version doesn’t have prerequisites or branches.

This system is a bit confusing at first (although arguably less so than in-match shopping in other games), but once you’ve played a character a few times you’ll have an idea of what sort of skills you enjoy using, and how you’d like to see those skills changed. The variety of skills is currently quite impressive but I do wonder how long it’ll take before one grows bored of a certain hero. I guess the intention is to keep players switching up their preferred characters.
“That means no recipes to learn, no messing about back at base, and very little time spent out of combat”
Talents and experience points come naturally as you play, but the other two currencies of in-game gold and real-world cash also need attention. Like League of Legends , HotS gives you a selection of free-to-play characters that rotate in and out of availability (on a weekly basis here). Other characters can be acquired at no cost (like the Demon Hunter named Valla, who’s free with the Reaper of Souls collector’s edition), but most of them cost money or gold to unlock. The average cost is about €8 (R110) for a hero, or about 8,000 gold pieces. Gold is earned incredibly slowly from normal play (20GP for completing a match, another 10 if you played with friends), but there are large rewards that come fairly quickly as you raise your player rank and the persistent levels for your various characters. There are also randomly generated daily quests like “Play three matches as a StarCraft character” that provide 300-600GP a piece. All said it seems like a fair enough system, but you do have to play a number of games, and change active characters often, to earn the gold you need to avoid spending any real money on this game. Of course, betas can change a lot during their lifetime, so don’t get too stuck on any ideas just yet.

Blizzard’s entry into the MOBA wars is gathering steam. Fresh out of its alpha phase, this is a game that has presence, polish, and plenty of charm. Speaking as someone who’s generally avoided this genre for a long time, I’m impressed. For everyone else, there’s definitely potential here, but just how much you’re prepared to relinquish your MOBA staples might determine the amount of enjoyment you get out of Heroes of the Storm.

If you’re a fan of Blizzard and all their games, and have always been intrigued by the MOBA genre, then Heroes of the Storm is a great introduction into this world. In a nutshell, it’s a simplified and less overwhelming experience than starting out in League of Legends or Dota 2. Hardcore MOBA players may not find enough complexity in Heroes of the Storm, but the appeal here lies in the fact that game times are a lot shorter and action is almost immediate. Some of the quest objectives on the different maps do feel a little frivolous and pointless at times, but it adds a dollop of diversity, if you like that kind of thing. Having spent the last two years playing League of Legends incessantly, I’m mildly intrigued by Heroes of the Storm, but not entirely hooked. Perhaps when my current zombie obsession (Dying Light, Infestation: Survivor Stories and The Walking Dead) has been sated, Heroes of the Storm will secure its place on my games-I-love-to-play list.

So I played Raynor in the training videos and liked how the game introduced concepts and skills in a nice controlled way for my brain to absorb. I had already tried League of Legends and hated it the learning curve was way too steep for me. I don’t like having to study for seven years just to play a game and then be faced with hundreds of choices I don’t understand just to get started.  Heroes of the Storm  has all the usual Blizzard polish and, if like some people you’ve been avoiding getting into MOBAs due to their complexity or just because you’re a n00b that doesn’t want to face aggressive players, this is a great place to kickstart your career. In much the same way that Hearthstone lets you effortlessly slip into the world of card games the same appears to be true with Heroes of the Storm. Another bonus is knowledge from other Blizzard games will help you feel more at home with the character pool these are people/beasts/entities you know and should have a general idea of where their abilities are derived from.

To further help newcomers there are tutorial missions that explain everything nicely and hold your hand (albeit a little too tightly) through the first few experiences. All this attention to detail and accessibility should leave you feeling confident and able to contribute in a meaningful way in your first proper game against real people. Just be careful, if you do end up having a good time, you’re going to join the ranks of players that have become obsessed with these types of games. Remember there’s only so much time in the day, and don’t you have work to do?

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