Heroes of the Storm Preview

Blizzard's new MOBA feels like its on its way to doing for the genre what Hearthstone has accomplished in the CCG space.

Blizzard Entertainment announced last week that its Heroes of the Storm technical alpha is expanding around the globe with invites soon to go out to international regions. The game that these new players will be getting is quite a bit different than what Blizzard started out with back in March, but I suppose that’s the nature of a technical alpha. I was lucky enough to get an invite early on, and I’ve played the game before and after the massive UI and gameplay changes implemented with the May 22 update.

The game will likely see additional changes made before heading into open beta, but after a month of playing with the latest version of the game, I feel like I have enough experience in the Nexus to share my thoughts.

HotS Gives Hope To Players Like Me

First things first: I am terrible at MOBAs. But it’s not from a lack of trying. I’ve played League of Legends. I’ve played DotA 2. I’ve actively followed the eSports scene on Twitch and enjoyed watching the action in elite-level games. I even bought into the idea that MOBAs can take dozens if not hundreds of hours of memorizing item combinations and the abilities of the various heroes before you can be successful. But no matter how many hours I dumped into the two previously mentioned games, I only showed marginal improvement at best.

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My biggest problem with the genre has always been the complexity of things like the in-game item shop in titles like DotA 2. If I need to tab out and look at a spreadsheet to figure out the optimal combination of power-ups for my character, you’ve already lost me. I realize of course that there are plenty of gamers who enjoy this level of detail in their gaming. I’m just not one of them, and I’m letting you know up front, dear reader, as this background will color the rest of this piece.

Heroes of the Storm got my attention from the start when I heard that there was no in-game item shop. If your character is going to grow in power, it’s going to be solely from farming enemy players and the enemy’s minions as well as tackling each map’s PvE goals.

Team-Focused Play

Leveling in Heroes of the Storm is team-based. No longer will you get destroyed by that one player who managed to repeatedly wreck the entire opposing side and gain three levels on you. The game puts a much greater focus on working with your teammates instead of allowing one individual player to carry the entire squad.

This is also evident in each map’s PvE objectives. If you’re one of the millions of people who has queued for Alterac Valley in World of Warcraft, you’ll have at least a little bit of an idea of the overall concept Blizzard is going for. PvP is of course the central focus of the game, but tackling PvE objectives across the map are a required part of any victory. Sure, other games like League of Legends have PvE objectives like killing Baron, but in most cases they are just one other objective players can strive for if things aren’t going well on the leaderboard. In Heroes of the Storm, you can’t just stay in your lane and grind out kills all day. Each player has to keep an eye on the overall PvE picture or it’s a lost match. All the minion or even player kills in the world won’t save you if your opponent grabs every raven tribute or repeatedly builds a golem from the haunted mines that is three times the size of yours. Good PvE play in HotS is what allows players to obtain dominance in PvP.

Want to know the best and least advertised part of this greater focus on team play compared to other MOBAs? I noticed a significant lack of toxic banter from my teammates compared to other heavy hitters in the genre. Yes, I know it’s still the alpha and yes, I certainly did encounter a few trolls here and there, but the laser focus on team play means that you have to repeatedly communicate with your fellow players. There’s not really an opportunity to just start farming opposing players while repeatedly spamming the rest of the team about how much they suck… at least not if you want to win.

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I’m well aware that all of these new ideas have ruffled some feathers in the League and DotA crowds. I’ve seen forum posts accusing Blizzard of dumbing down the genre and/or making a MOBA strictly for casual players. To those people I say, you’re absolutely right. Heroes of the Storm is remarkably easier to get into than any other MOBA out there. But let me tell you why that’s a good thing.

Lessons From Hearthstone

I’ve written before on the reaction many people had when Blizzard’s other free-to-play game Hearthstone was first announced. A CCG? I hate CCGs. It’s such a niche area of gaming and even the more mainstream franchises like Magic: The Gathering have complex rules that can take a while to understand.

Blizzard turned the entire world on to a genre that most people had no idea they were capable of enjoying. They did it by distilling the genre down to only the most fun aspects, throwing all that extra complexity out with the bathwater. Sound familiar? Hearthstone also triumphed because while it is possible to get better cards and gain better knowledge about how to play them, technically even a rookie player has a fighting chance if they get the right match up and card draws.

I have immensely enjoyed my time with Heroes of the Storm and the reason is largely the same as what led me to fall in love with Hearthstone. By removing some of the MOBA genres complex requirements and allowing even novices to jump in and immediately make an impact thanks to the team-based play and focus on PvE objectives, Blizzard may very well be on its way making yet another genre of video games immeasurably more accessible and fun.

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