Biomassed won’t just cover DUST 514 and EVE Online, we’re committed to exploring games that players may be interested in. We’ll categorize games outside of CCP’s properties as “Elsewhere”.
Recently, I remembered to update my “Beta Opt-in” settings on my Battle.net account, and shortly thereafter was gifted a beta key to Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s latest title to remix their historic characters and titles into a giant free-for-all. It’s somewhat of a homecoming for the MOBA genre, as the genre started out of mods to StarCraft II (Aeon of Strife) and Warcraft III (Defense of the Ancients) respectively. While Riot Games’ has very much led the genre since the release of League of Legends, and Valve has taken their own crack at it with DOTA 2, Blizzard has come back with a game, that to me, has redefined what a good MOBA is.
At its core, HotS (not to be confused with Heart of the Swarm or Hearth (of the) Stone) is your basic MOBA. Five players, symmetrical map, minions, lanes, towers, etc. The varied origins and types of heroes, and their reason for fighting there, makes little sense. Blizzard makes light of this in the tutorial, when Raynor asks why they’re doing this, the response is “Don’t think about it too much.” But to me, where Blizzard has truly nailed the genre is both in simplifying and removing mechanics that served little to no purpose, and adding variety of gameplay through a selection of maps with varied mechanics to help your team press forward.
Blizzard has removed major elements of LoL design such as independent XP, gold, and items, and transitioned all of the in-match progression to a straightforward team-based XP and level, along with talents that unlock for your hero as your team levels upward. This removes a lot of concerns about kill credit and removes a lot of unneeded complexity to in-match progression. Heroes have Q, W, and E abilities to start with, and usually has two options to select between for their R ability, unlocked partway through the fight.
In any given game mode of League of Legends, only a single map is available, however Heroes offers players seven different maps. While all of the maps are symmetrical, they vary in shape and size. Most maps have a relatively standard three-lane design, though some only have two lanes. And each one carries a mechanic where your team can gain favor with the patron of that domain. For example, collecting tributes for the Raven Lord will curse your enemy team, weakening their minions and towers for a period of time, or controlling shrines that will allow you to release the Dragon Knight from it’s stone imprisonment. These objectives often carry more weight than simply clearing minion waves and pushing towers. Certain heroes have abilities that make these game modes easier to deal with, though you have no way of knowing which map you’ll play on during hero selection.
One of the biggest advantages of the game, however, is pacing. You’re rarely more than ten seconds from a fight in Heroes. They’ve added mounts to the game, and the game starts quickly, and ramps up fast. Most matches will be finished in about twenty minutes. In light of this, Blizzard has elected not to provide a surrender option, as they feel it is easy to turn around a match even very late in the game, and surrendering (or desiring to) can cause players to lose hope, and increase toxicity among a team.
Heroes of the Storm follows a model familiar to DUST players, which is well at home in the MOBA genre: Free-to-Play. Blizzard sells both heroes and skins, as well as a Blizzard original, mounts, for real money. They also sell heroes, select skins, and select mounts for gold, an in-game currency you earn for completing sets of daily quests and progression achievements, as well as a small amount for every match completed. The gold gain rate is decent enough that people should comfortably be able to buy heroes without spending any real money, though you can obviously speed along to a larger variety with a small amount of cash. You can also buy stimpacks which increase your XP (progression, not in-match) and gold gain from matches, though there is effectively no way to gain real in-game benefits from purchases.
The skins and mounts are varied and colorful. They range from relatively in-character alternates (Tempest Regalia Jaina and Festival Li Li), to near opposites (Blood Elf Tyrande and Demonic Tyrael), to off-the-wall fun ones (Kandy King Muradin and Pajama Party Lost Vikings). Mounts are similar, and include my personal favorite, the Rainbow Unicorn.
Heroes range from about $3 to $10, as do skins. Mounts can be as high as $19.99. However, Blizzard also has weekly sales where a hero and a couple of skins will be half off for real currency. Gold prices are not discounted. Blizzard also sells two bundles, the Starter Bundle and the Nexus Bundle, for $4.99 and $39.99 respectively, which contain a selection of heroes, skins, and mounts at a relatively steep discount.
One of the things MOBAs are well known for is their
helpful and considerate extremely toxic communities. Blizzard has tried to stem this through keeping games short and removing reasons for players on a team to get into a disagreement. Lane placement isn’t assigned like in other MOBAs, your entire team will need to shift and move as the game progresses. The lack of individual XP means that kill stealing doesn’t have any effect on gameplay, or even stats. Blizzard combines kills and assists into a single statistic, so everyone involved in a kill is counted equally. Blizzard also keeps the game streamlined to the point that the game quickly ends once a match has reached the point of no return. And there’s no surrender option in the game so that players do not have a reason to ‘give up’ before a match is concluded. There is also no all chat for heckling the opposing team.
From personal experience so far, the Heroes community is fairly polite. “GGs” are common, and people who complain about teammates are rare. Maybe one in twenty matches might have an unpleasant comrade. Generally the topic of conversation with such players involves the game’s dissimilarities to League, as they seemed to bring their playstyle… and attitude… with them. Currently Blizzard’s “Report Player” option lacks adequate categorization for toxic players or AFKers, though I hope that is something they address in the near future, as a harsh initial crackdown on such conduct will ensure Heroes remains a more pleasant experience.
Heroes of the Storm is still in beta, but it is one of those which feels like it is already ready for primetime. Sure enough, open beta and release are only a few short weeks away (May 19th and June 2nd, respectively). Blizzard has promised an aggressive cycle of new content going forward, and the game already differs from established MOBAs enough to provide some much needed variety in the genre.