Heroes of the Storm, a -very- playable Alpha

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One would think that the MOBA genre is quite over saturated. You`ve got Dota, LoL, HoN, Smite and probably a dozen more similar games out there, competing in the same Arena. At least that is what I thought, and it seems I was wrong. Blizzard, one of the massive game development companies, known mostly for their Warcraft and Starcraft series, decided to push into the market, by bringing us “Heroes of the Storm”.

So far the game has been in the invite-only Alpha stages, so you might not have had a chance to give it a shot, but now we can finally see the beta sneaking up, just around the corner. If you are not lucky enough to get an Alpha invite, comes January 13th thousands of new players will join the fray as HotS finally hits the Beta stage.

Heroes of the Storm announcement of the weekend is one we’re sure many of you have been eagerly awaiting. In case you didn’t catch today’s Opening Ceremony live at BlizzCon.com, Mike Morhaime just revealed that Heroes of the Storm will officially enter Closed Beta testing on January 13, 2015!

 

Anyway, what is HotS? Its a MOBA game, that takes heroes from the 3 prominent games that Blizzard developed: the Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo universes. Right here, you could say that this is a smart marketing move, as it generates interest based on familiarity of the characters we already played with. And that is true, without a doubt, but I must say that as a feature in the game, it is something I find really enjoyable to see. For me, it is a lot more fun to take the role of Arthas or Tyrael as I go forth to slay my enemies, then to simply play as your Jakiro, Tiny or Lycan who I dont know much about, apart from their abilities.

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The heroes are divided into 4 groups – Assassins, Warriors, Supports and Specialists. Now you can probably just Google the classes and figure out what they do, but let me try to explain it what that means in gameplay.

Assassin – This is your Run-of-the-mill ganker.  These heroes have rather weak damage output in the beginning, with some decent survivability.  But as they acquire levels, it is really easy for them to pick off supports, or even other assassins on the map, if they get the right initiation.  Biggest problem you can have as an assassin is trying to play overly aggressive early game.

Warrior – or a Tank, as others call him, is something that I would describe as an Arms Warrior. They have decent damage output spells, as well as rather good protection or self heals. Their HP and mana are not lacking at any part of the game, and they are mostly ones who can both survive and dish out early game harassment on lanes.  Also usually the ones to walk away from a team fight 😀

Support – If you need healing, call a Support.  If you need a Shield, call a Support.  If you are losing the game, blame the Supports.  This pretty much doesn’t change from one MOBA game to the other, as supports are always the backbone of the team.  Some of them have heals, some shields, and mostly all have at least one either containment or pushing ability, which makes them rather versatile, and not at all easy prey during the first half of the game ( say lvl 1 – 15 ).

Specialist – Now this is something relatively new, as these are heroes that focus purely on one aspect of the game.  While the previous three can take different roles in a fight, these heroes are best when focusing on only one.  Some are great for pushing, others can empower minions and spawn more of their own, making it hard for enemies to find their bearing in a fight.  Zagara, is the best pushing hero I have found so far, being able to take full lanes in matter of minutes of left unchecked.

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When you talk about pushing lanes,  I find something rather troublesome with the game at the moment.  The buildings and towers, as they are right now, are rather weak.  They work on an ammunition based system, where after depleting all the shots they have, they are left rather vulnerable to pretty much get annihilated, as it takes some time to rearm.  Towers should be made more deadly, keeps even more so, at least against heroes, because like this if you can keep the enemy team occupied for a minute somewhere else, one hero can pretty much take a whole keep.

The way the map is designed, is that you do not only have towers between the two main bases, but they are small fortresses, consist of 3 towers, a gate to keep the minions out, a small fountain to restore your Hp/Mana, and a big keep.  Unlike Dota, certain abilities here can out-range the towers, and -everything- deals damage to them.  So pushing is rather easy, and its not based on where the creeps are at the moment.  Also there is no backdoor, meaning you can walk behind the enemy gate, and attack the keep directly – also something that might require a change in the future.

What is the main thing that differentiates HotS from other games of its genre?  Well first of all,  the fact there are no items or inventory what so ever.  Which means there is no last-hitting, there are no different builds to counter the enemy team, or is there a reason to farm.  This has both its good and bad sides.  It removes an aspect of the game that is one of the first to differentiate good from even better players.  Also it takes away from players when it comes to simply being different, trying to come up with different strategies in order to come out on top.  But, it does create balance.  As there are no outside influences on how much damage your hero can have, apart from your level, teams in the late game can win a 5v5 fight, even if the other team has won the previous 10.  The heroes remain equal from start to finish, and I have seen more then one game turned in the last moment, after being lost from the first minute.

As it goes for levels and experience, all heroes on one team share the experience pool. Which means they are all leveling at the same time, and usually are up to par with the other team.  Sometimes it can happen the enemy team is 4 – 5 levels ahead, and usually at that point the game is over. But often its just 1 or 2 levels between them from start to finish, which is… nice I`d say.  It does take away from the competitive part, but again it brings a new perspective to fighting in a Moba game.  So the only thing that makes you different from others, or the same hero you are playing but on the enemy side, are your talents.  Every few levels, you are allowed to pick a new talent, that gives empowers or shifts one of your abilities.  Apart from the ultimate ( lvl 10 ) they are all unlocked from lvl 1, and its with talents that you can focus them to go towards one aspect, weather it is pushing, killing heroes, healing your own or anything else.

The map itself, has no mode like a regular Dota would.  The goal is never to focus only on enemy heroes, even tho destroying the final base is still the standard of victory.  So far there are four maps, each with different goals that force players to focus their attention on those objectives, in order to gain an advantage over the enemy team.  I do not want to spoil anything for players who are excited to try them out, but I can just say – you better focus on those objectives, they do mean a difference between a sure win or a crushing defeat.

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With everything I have said so far, I am happy to play HotS for the time being, and I find it interesting, but since it’s fun, and it’s free, it must come with a business model that can claw away at all the  good features.  Unlike Dota 2, HotS does not give you the option of playing all heroes right off the bat.  There are a few ( 5, on lvl 15 – 7 ), heroes that are in the free fotation, but all the other ones, cost either ingame Gold or real life Money.  Now you`d say, well if you can buy them all for gold its surely fair- isnt it ?  Well yes and no.  Since you get about 15 – 30 gold per game, and need 2.000 – 10.000 gold for a hero, you are bound to invest either a few hundred bucks, or a few hundred hours of gameplay into getting them all.  I think its this feature, more then anything else, that will prevent HotS from ever finding a big spot on the competitive moba stage.  I think that every decision that you make as a developer in terms of balance, doesn’t mean anything, when others are given the option to simply pay more and enjoy 2/3rd`s of the game that casual gamers won’t have. I must mention there is a way to gain a bit more gold, like 200 from daily quests or 500 when each hero reaches level 5, and this might let you buy 1 or 2 extra heroes, but you are still months and months away from actually having them all.

But ah well, you cant blame on devs for wanting to make money when releasing a free game.  At least they are not charging you for it, and then charging even more for a new map, weapon or a mask (no I wont stop mentioning this.)  So far I found nothing that affects the gameplay directly that can be purchased by in-game money, so the game is Legit, and I do have fun while playing it.  It is greedy, but hey, its 2014, with EA, 2 A-Creeds released on the same day, DLCs costing more then the actual game – tell me who is not greedy.

As far as system requirements go, I do believe there is nothing -official- yet on this topic, but I must say my PC is a few years old by now, and I run this without a single frame lost. Pretty much if you can run Starcraft 2, you will have no problems playing HotS.

Heroes of the Storm won’t bring anything mind-boggling new and groundbreaking to the MOBA genre, but it does bring something fresh and, in my opinion, fun. So if you are lucky enough to get yourself an Alpha invite – I`m waiting to Cyka Cyka Blyat, and have fun together, under #Mordollwen.

About Aleksandar Markovic

A Game Design Student, Senior year, from Serbia. Gaming purist of the new Age, quick to judge but also one to let his hype grow and build up in expecting a new marvel. Mass Effect. Neverwinter Nights. Elder Scrolls. - tell me I am wrong ?
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