Sorry, but I’m not going to put “Part One” in the title. Not because I don’t want to do a second part, but because I have no idea when I’ll actually have the time. I mean, every time I glance at my desktop I see the League of Legends icon staring forlornly back at me, because I suddenly wind up being incredibly busy every time I even think about messing around with it. I’ll get there someday.
That day will not be today, though. Today I’m having a gander at Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s famously simplified and streamlined entry into the tangled thicket that is the MOBA genre. It’s free-to-play, but – as it’s still in beta – you either have to be lucky enough to get accepted, or you have to buy your way in for £30. I did the latter. Anyone who’s watched Peter and I playing Chaos Reborn will know that Lady Luck often glances elsewhere when I really want her favour.
So! One relatively small install later, and we’re good to go. Let’s fire it up.
Impressions after several botmatches
Initial impressions: I’m not impressed. I’ve done three botmatches now, and I haven’t managed to die once. I’m sure this comes down to the bots being aimed at total beginners, but come on: if I can suicide-rush into a group of enemies and still make it out alive, that’s not down to my amazing skill with a game I turned on an hour ago.
Bot skill aside, though, I’m still pretty unsure about Heroes of the Storm. I miss shops. I miss last-hitting. I miss creep blocking and denying. Basically, I miss the technical aspects that, over the course of nearly 2000 hours, I’ve trained up to… well, let’s be honest: I’ve trained them up to barely adequate level. Shush.
Heroes of the Storm dumps you and your four team members into a match, and then you run into lanes and splat creeps and attack enemy heroes (they are called heroes here, right? Not champions or anything? I mean, it’s called Heroes of the Storm, so… yeah, let’s say they’re heroes). All of which seems pretty simple.
Except you don’t get gold for this. You do get experience, but it’s equally shared amongst your entire team – the whole team is always the same level.
It’s the talents you pick when you level up that differentiate you. They are your “build.” You start with every ability (except for your ultimate), and every couple of levels you pick a perk that boosts something. Maybe your basic attacks have 15% lifesteal, or maybe your Q has a longer range. Up to you.
I do actually like this. It’s a permanent choice – or, well, as permanent as something can get inside a 30 minute match – and it does have pretty major repercussions. In Dota 2, pretty much everything is malleable. Sure, you have to pick which skill you want to upgrade at each level, but you’re never going to be completely locked out of something. Yes, you can spend all your gold on items, but you can always swap them out for different items later. There’s very little that can’t be changed or fixed later, in short, but Heroes of the Storm forces you into a decision that will permanently affect your role in the match.
So… yeah, that’s simplified. But it’s also sped up, because every single map (of which there are several, although they generally conform to “two or three lanes, with a non-lane bit in between”) has some sort of ridiculous gimmick that stops things devolving into a stalemate.
One map has “favours” spawn periodically, and whenever a team gathers three of these, their opponents are cursed. For the next minute or so their towers can’t fire, and their lane creeps have 1hp. Another has a pirate ship in the middle and gold available throughout the map, and getting a certain amount of gold to the ship results in it bombarding the enemy base.
Whether or not I like that design choice, it certainly compliments what Blizzard are trying to do. They’re going for a fast-paced, newbie-friendly pseudo-MOBA, and… well, that’s basically what this is. Each map has some sort of power-boosting gimmick that will almost certainly result in the enemy losing a structure, so games move quickly, and the balance of power moves with them.
But that gimmick sort of feels like it’s actually the entire game. That’s perhaps not fair as I’m judging that based solely on botmatches, but… well, that’s pretty much how it works. The stage gimmick is so powerful that you pretty much have to go for it.
Enough of playing with rubbish bots, though. Let’s see how things go with players.
Impressions after one Quick Match
what the fuck did I just play
Well, that wasn’t quite as expected. As soon as the match started my entire team made a beeline for mid-lane and a giant 5v5 fight erupted… which went on for pretty much the first five minutes of the game, as every time somebody died, they’d respawn and charge straight back in. Then people actually appeared to separate a bit more and go off to the other lanes, or wander the jungle areas punching monsters.
I have no idea if this is the current meta, or if my first match has put me with people who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. I’ll say this, though: it was infinitely more fun than playing with bots.
I went for Malfurion, one of the current free rotation of heroes. He’s very support/utility, with abilities to help others regen both health and mana, a disable, and some talents that can either make him a potent healer or a slightly more dangerous team-fighter. I quite like him. And obviously, I was the only support on my team.
Which is a point I should probably bring up now: we choose our hero before even searching for a game? I’m… not sure I like that. This means you’re relying on the matchmaking system to create good team composition – or, more worryingly, it implies that team composition doesn’t matter. Obviously this is great for newbies because they can join a game without worrying that the only hero they can play has already been chosen, but… I really hope that one of the other modes actually has proper hero selection, of some sort. Or maybe that’s just for anything but pub games. No idea.
I do like the lunatic, hectic pace of Heroes of the Storm itself, though. Because you can basically ignore creeps unless you’re deliberately pushing, it quickly becomes a game about harassment, ganks, and teamfights. A lot definitely feels like it’s missing – I mean, this is a massively cut-down entry into the MOBA genre, by design – but it’s been replaced by a tenfold amping of the speed of (and focus on) conflicts.
Impressions after two Quick Matches
Blizz, I get that you’re trying to keep the game simple, but I’d really love to be able to click on enemy heroes and see their abilities. This is cropping up a lot with the stealthy heroes, because they’re not in the free rotation and I’m not paying £7.50 for them (seriously – £7.50 for a hero?!), so I have absolutely no idea what sort of damage they can inflict, or what the limitations are on their stealth. Even if I can’t see the specific talents they’ve picked, it’d be nice to click on them and go “Oh, they have these four abilities; now I actually know how that hero works.”
Yes, this is mostly coming from stealthers hanging around the pirate ship in Blackheart’s Bay, waiting for people to start handing in coins, then shooting them once and running away. And seriously, fuck Nova.
This match didn’t have the same insane start, at least, as people actually separated out into different lanes. There was still a lot of early combat and ganking, but it wasn’t accidentally a MID-ONLY match or anything. As such, I’m going to assume that my first match was like that solely because it was my first match, and nobody really knew what was going on.
I repeat my previous thoughts about the stage gimmicks, though. It’s certainly a good idea in terms of what Blizzard are trying to do – I can’t really complain about it from a design standpoint yet – but from a personal standpoint, I’m not quite sure I like it.
But I’m still playing, because holy shit, Blizzard know how to make hyper-playable games.
Heroes of the Storm is very hard to put down. It’s fast and furious, with matches usually ending before the 30 minute mark, and the constant out-of-game levelling up and unlocking of new abilities and talents to try in my next match is the sort of thing that digs its claws into my brain and stops me from going off to do something else. Blizzard have clearly learned a lot from Hearthstone, too, as Heroes of the Storm shares that game’s obsession with daily quests that get you to move out of your comfort zone. As a light MOBA, it seems to work pretty well.
But! I’m considerably less impressed with the pricing of heroes. I’m hopeful that this is something they’re still fiddling with because beta, but… game? If any of your heroes are £7.50 come launch, I’m going to laugh in your face. I’ve nearly got the 10,000 in-game gold required to buy one of those £7.50 heroes without actually paying anything out of my wallet, but gold appears to come in fast and thick in the early levels. I’m going to guess that’ll slow down, the more I play.
There are a lot of little things that bother me, too. Like: I want to choose my hero after I know what map I’m on, and maybe in coordination with my team. Stealth heroes are an absolute nightmare on Blackheart’s Bay because of how easily they can disrupt your attempts to give money to that bloody skeleton pirate. And while the “entire team is the same level” simplifies things, it also means that you get a sudden advantage if you hit level 10 before your opponents. Next teamfight, you’ll have five ultimates ready to go, and they’ll have zero.
But I’m still playing it. I mean, I’ve nearly got the 10,000 gold I need to unlock one of the pricier heroes, so…
Was it worth £30?
For a headstart in a free-to-play game? You’re kidding, right?