With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard is hoping to redefine a genre they inspired
“A team brawler of heroic proportions” is the official description of Blizzard’s upcoming multiplayer online battle arena title Heroes of the Storm (also inviting the inevitable shortening to ‘HOTS’), but the developers aren’t ready to quite classify it as a MOBA just yet, choosing instead to refer to it as their take on the hero brawler genre. The reason? For a MOBA, it’s pretty unconventional, with attempts being made to lower learning curve while introducing more traditional RPG elements, and Blizzard sure seems to be throwing the word ‘fun’ around a lot.
Heroes of the Storm first made an appearance at BlizzCon, Blizzard’s annual game convention, in 2010 as ‘Blizzard DOTA’. After several legal disputes, out-of-court settlements and acquisitions between the holy MOBA triumvirate that is Blizzard, Valve (who now own ‘DOTA’ as a property) and Riot (who sold DoTA Allstars to Blizzard), we’ve now got HOTS in its current state. The interest levels for the game at BlizzCon were massive, and the game has undergone several evolutions over a period of three years, and HOTS at release promises to be a free-to-play hero brawler that fans of Blizzard’s franchises such as Diablo, Warcraft and Starcraft are sure to love, but core MOBA fans might quite possibly disapprove of its very existence.
DOTA 2 and League of Legends are the world’s most popular MOBA games today. Both enjoy huge player bases with League currently edging DOTA 2 to the top spot (nearly 3-million active players per day versus around 500,000), but the latter is closing the gap pretty quickly. Both games are played competitively with sponsors pouring in for international tournaments (it certainly helps that both Riot and Valve are hugely involved in the competitive circuit). Both games have also managed to divide fan bases — League is generally considered more accessible (while regular players will argue that it is very, very difficult to master), while DOTA 2 is simply unforgiving to new players. Heroes of the Storm is probably not going to throw down the gauntlet to either of those games any time soon, but it is going to offer fresh perspective on a genre that hasn’t seem to have evolved significantly in ten-or-so years, with new gameplay mechanics, dynamics and emphasis on quick 15-20 minute games.
The biggest changes come in the form of last-hitting mechanics and itemisation, or more specifically, they’re both practically non-existent (as is jungling). The emphasis on champions/heroes getting the last hit on an enemy minion (a MOBA mechanic which yields gold that in turn can be used to purchase items) has been removed. Teammates are equally rewarded for a hero’s exploits, with shared experience points gained from minion and enemy hero kills being used to level up abilities. Since there is no gold (and as a result, no items), players on levelling up will be given a range of abilities to choose from via a skill tree — for example, Arthas from Warcraft will have a choice even for his ‘ultimate’ (a hero’s most powerful ability), where he can choose to summon an army of the undead or a frost-dragon. Dynamic map elements are another interesting addition — objectives, for instance. In one of the game’s maps, teams are tasked with collecting loot for the captain of a pirate ship, and once sufficient loot has been gathered, the captain joins the team and offers the services of his ship in the form of off-map bombardment support. Another map requires players to gather bones to create a skeletal monstrosity, which will aid in the ravaging of an enemy camp (which are whole towns in HOTS, and not just turrets and a nexus).
It’s all interesting stuff for sure, but the sustainability of the simplified mechanics and its impact on the game’s longevity and skill ceiling remain to be seen. But Blizzard is hoping that the incentive of playing as Diablo, The Butcher, Tyrael (from Diablo) Kerrigan, Raynor (Starcraft), Arthas, Illidan, Malfurion (Warcraft) and more of your favourite characters (18 confirmed at the time of writing this article) from its other games will keep you coming back for more. If you’re a Battle.net account holder, you can sign up for the beta on the website — there’s no word on an official release of the game as yet.