Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to get alpha access to Blizzard’s next blockbuster title, Heroes Of The Storm. Being both a long time player of many Blizzard games and their series (Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft, World of Warcraft), I predict HoTS will become one of Blizzard’s top 5 most played titles, perhaps even top 3.
Why do I feel this way? Imagine playing Defense of the Ancients, except without items or farming in lane for 10 minutes before the action starts. In HoTS, teamfights happen within the first minute of game. The average game length is 15-20 minutes. Experience is shared with your other teammates, so you only need one player in each lane to get the farm. There are no items, and leveling up does not unlock new abilities but instead talents, which allows for customization of your hero but does not fundamentally change the hero.
The end result of simplifying of gameplay concepts, something Blizzard has always excelled at, is a MOBA that will have huge mass appeal: women, children, and even hardcore gamers alike will be drawn to this noob spamfest game because it is fun. It’s even more fun with friends for a game or two. No matter a player’s skill level, they can enter a game, use skills that generally take no effort to hit with and feel like they’ve accomplished something.
This gameplay is balanced by the fact the enemy team can do the exact same thing. So the game comes down to good timing and good teamwork, which is why playing with friends helps tremendously. Although even without friends, the level of teamwork for your average pub game is still quite high, since each map has objectives that appear every 30 seconds to 1 minute and these objectives are extremely important.
Thus what happens is when the objectives appear, everyone zergs to a point on the map and a huge team fight ensues. So even though you’re playing with a bunch of pub scrubs, everyone generally goes where they need to be since it couldn’t be more obvious.
As you can see, map design is a big part of HoTS gameplay. Whereas most MOBAs only have one main map, HoTS has several and it looks like Blizzard will add more in the future. The maps are very creative and offer many possibilities, and this helps a lot to make up for the simplistic hero design and combat system. Ultimately it is easy to see the approach Blizzard is going for here—endless variety. Lots of heroes, lots of maps, and lots of ways to play each hero without being too complicated thus offering great replay value.
Yet at the same time, what HoTS offers in terms of casual pubbing it loses in competitive potential. All of the little map differences and hero abilities aren’t so substantive that the game feels truly different on each playthrough, and therein lies the biggest flaw of HoTS: there’s no depth.
In the final analysis, the gameplay is very superficial. After 20 hours of HoTS, it’s pretty easy to know what to expect on any given map against any given heroes. On top of this, there are serious balance issues with some heroes completely outclassing others, and although this is just an alpha release, I’m not holding my breath on Blizzard ever fixing the balance. I’ve been playing Blizzard games for decades, and most balance issues aren’t resolved for nearly 1-2 years after the release of any given game. So it’s pretty certain that HoTS will remain imbalanced for a very long time.
Finally, on top of these problems is the game’s business model. HoTS is the most expensive free-to-play game I’ve ever played. As I am typing this, it costs nearly $200 to buy all of the heroes! There is also the option of grinding out heroes, but grinding is so slow it would take the average player two years to unlock all of the heroes. Although this cannot be held against the gameplay, it does affect the prospects of competitive play. Why play HoTS competitively when you could play DOTA competitively, which has all of its heroes for free, has 10x the depth and complexity, and a huge existing competitive playerbase to begin with?
That said, a game does not need a competitive scene to be successful. And although I’m sure there will be plenty of rich losers who end up playing HoTS competitively (after shelling out $100 just to participate, most likely), HoTS will never have the same level of competitive action as other MOBAs do if the game remains as it is now. But it doesn’t need to, and by going after casual players I’m sure Blizzard is going to rake in billions more. Rather than compete directly with many other MOBAs for the competitive crowd, Blizzard is going in the opposite direction and ignoring the competitive aspect altogether.
As for the rest of the game—the controls are excellent and are super easy to use. There are great in-game options that help out newbie players such as a camera auto-follow option, and holding down right-click has the character walk in the direction of the mouse without needing to spam right-click all the time. The sound is wacky and zany but inessential. The graphics are colorful and cartoony and will keep their appeal for a long time to come. And the story is a joke—the in-game tutorial makes this clear when Raynor asks Uther, “What’s the point of all this?” and Uther responds, “It’s best not to think too hard about these things.” Which pretty much sums up the entire game.
As per the rating system:
Gameplay – Superficial MOBA variety with lots of replay value but ultimately lacking in depth. Major balance issues. Not very good for high level play. 30 out of 45.
Controls – Rock solid. I’m no RTS pro but I have zero problems moving my hero or using abilities. 25 out of 25.
Graphics – Cool artwork, copies it all from other Blizzard games. Personally I like it. A bit more effort could have been put into animations. 13 out of 15.
Sound – Just whatever. The music I turn off, the voices can get annoying as well, but having sounds of enemy attacks helps. 6 out of 10.
Story – Nope. 0 out of 5.
Total Score – 74%. Engaging free-to-play MOBA. Although it is still an alpha and could change drastically, I have a feeling the core gameplay is set in place and so the final review of this game will not have a significantly different score from this review.
If Heros of the Storm sounds interesting to you, then you should go sign up for the beta. Looks like Blizzard will be giving out millions of invites given the way they are promoting this game.