previews\ Mar 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Heroes of the Storm Alpha Impressions: The best of Blizzard in one place

Heroes of the Storm

Imagine Jim Raynor riding a mount to a mid-lane to confront Diablo, only to be interrupted by Tassadar. This can happen in Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s new multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA).

As an avid League of Legends player and a fan of Blizzard, I was eager to finally go hands-on with the game now that it’s in a closed alpha state. Let me emphasize: it’s in closed alpha, meaning what we are able to play isn’t complete by any means. But while heroes don’t quite seem balanced just yet, the game is certainly polished -- would you expect anything less from Blizzard?

From the get-go, Blizzard’s goal is quite clear: to take all of the best characters from its various game franchises and bring them all into one universe to duke it out? Why? Why the heck not -- that’s why. Though story is usually a major focus in Blizzard games, MOBAs are a totally different beast. It’s usually about the gameplay and mechanics with these fast-paced games, so I can easily overlook the reasoning behind these battlegrounds.

For those unfamiliar, let me give you a quick breakdown of a MOBA. Two teams -- usually of five players each -- battle it out on some sort of map in an effort to destroy the opposing team’s base while defending their own. Each player picks a unique hero or champion to control and waves of minions (weaker AI-controlled units) assist you in battle (tank the turret shorts for you). Most MOBAs are typically set up this way and Heroes of the Storm doesn’t stray too far from the norm; although it does slightly bend the rules.

Heroes of the Storm

For starters, Heroes of the Storm, in its current form, offers four different battlegrounds: Dragon Shire, Blackheart’s Bay, Haunted Mines, and Cursed Hollow. Each map supports two teams of five players but varies uniquely in both shape (not all maps are three lanes) and theme. Coinciding with the map’s theme is a main objective -- a mini game of sorts. On Blackheart’s Bay, for example, you collect gold from spawning treasure chests and turn it into Blackheart. He then commands his ghost ship to fire on the enemy team’s base. In Haunted Mines, a second map will open up underground where you can go to collect the skulls of dead warriors which are used to strengthen your team’s Grave Golem. At the end of the round each team spawns a Grave Golem and the one with more skulls will usually cause destruction.

From my experience, it seems that the team that wins the map objective battle usually wins the match. Unfortunately, I don’t know if that’s by design or if the game is just unbalanced at this point.

More important than balance at this stage, is the type of gameplay map objectives allow for. Balancing can always be tweaked later, but Blizzard has set up a system that supports action-centric gameplay. By creating all-important objectives, it skips the passive laning phase found in most MOBAs and encourages action early on.

The emphasis on action is also aided by the fact that there really isn’t “last hitting” or “farming,” killing the waves of NPCs for gold and experience. There’s really no need to since creeps (the spawning minions) don’t offer gold and experience earned is global. While I’m okay with the no last hitting thing -- as there aren’t items to purchase anyway (more on that later) -- the global experience kind of bugs me as I could be winning my lane, but still be outleveled by the opposing hero depending on how the other members of his team are doing. To that end, I can definitely see people raging at their team for losing a lane.

Heroes of the Storm

As for the no last hitting, I actually enjoyed it. It allowed me to focus more on harassing the enemy hero, which plays into Blizzard’s focus on action-packed gameplay. Again, I’m not sure if this is by design or imbalance, but most abilities require very little mana to cast, allowing you to spam them almost nonstop.

So if there’s no last hitting, how do you get gold? That’s the thing -- there is no gold in Heroes of the Storm. There are no items to purchase. Instead, upon leveling, you are granted your choice of two talents. These talents usually vary in effect, but almost always benefit an individual ability (or your basic attacks). Before you complain about no items, it should be noted that the talents themselves can result in great diversity. Even two of the same characters can be vastly different in play style based on the talents each player choose.

Speaking of characters, Heroes of the Storm boasts an incredibly strong initial lineup of heroes with an impressive history. Though they aren’t all balanced properly just yet, all of them -- at least the ones I’ve played -- have been fun. Even a hero whose abilities I didn’t enjoy, could be specced to my playstyle.

At this point, it doesn’t seem like Blizzard is aiming to create a DotA 2 or LoL killer. They aren’t trying to create the next big eSport. Instead, Heroes of the Storm -- at least in this stage of development -- is just a game that’s fun to play. I dig that -- I hope it doesn’t change too much (though I’d like to see some more balance between the heroes). I don’t need another competitive MOBA; I have that with League of Legends. I want a MOBA that offers a refreshing twist on the genre. Heroes of the Storm seems to be doing just that.

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