The Heroes of the Storm open beta came out this week, and like millions of other gamers, I decided to download it and give it a try. For those who haven’t heard of it, Heroes of the Storm is what’s called a MOBA, a “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.” The most popular MOBA is League of Legends, one of the biggest games in the world with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year. Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard Entertainment’s attempt to get a chunk of those millions.
I played League for several years, racking up thousands of games and becoming moderately good at it. But over time I drifted away from the game, without really knowing why. A lot of my friends have had the same experience. It wasn’t a bad game by any means, but something just stopped being fun.
An hour with Heroes of the Storm made me realize everything that League was doing wrong. Every part of League that was frustrating, repetitive, or made players act like jackasses is fixed. I can’t speak to how it plays at the highest levels, but for a casual to moderate player, Heroes of the Storm wins hands down. Here are just three ways it improves on League…
1. No kill-stealing
In League of Legends, whoever kills an enemy player gets additional gold and bonus experience. But there are usually multiple players attacking any one enemy, and the way the game decides who “got the kill” is something that no one really understands. If you blast the enemy with a satellite laser and take away 98% of his health, and 20 seconds later another player pokes him with a stick to finish him off, is that your kill, or his? The game seems to decide randomly.
This means that players are constantly accusing each other of “kill-stealing”: getting the credit for an enemy kill that rightfully belonged to another player. To avoid being called a kill-stealer, it’s common for you to back off and let another player get the killing the blow, but this can mean letting an enemy escape, so nobody gets anything. So the arguments are never-ending: one player thinks that an enemy would’ve gotten away with their intervention, and the player who was fighting them earlier thinks the first is kill-stealing, because “I totally would’ve had them.”
Arguing with another player is no fun, especially when you’re supposed to be playing a game to relax. And it’s very common for a player to get so upset over a stolen kill that they’ll simply quit the game, which means their team is going to lose. It’s a minor issue, but it’s a source of constant frustration and another reason the League community is known as one of the worst around.
In Heroes, credit for kills is shared between all players. The game does keep track of how many kills you score, but it provides no benefits beyond a minor ego boost. Even better: the definition of “getting a kill” is extremely loose. Did you give a teammate a speed boost that let him close in on the enemy and hack them apart with his sword? That’s a kill. Did you put down a trap that slowed the enemy’s escape? That’s a kill for you.
What this means is that there’s no more fighting, and no more arguing. When any member of your team gets a kill, it’s something to be celebrated no matter who got it. It’s a little thing, but the effect it has on the game community is amazing. The game is so much more fun when you can fight the enemy instead of listening to somebody who’s supposed to be on your side scream in your ear.
2. No last hitting, no gold
League has a system called “last hitting,” and it’s freaking obnoxious. It works like this: as you duke it out with the enemy team, there will constantly be little minions running around and attacking each other. They don’t do much damage, and can only hurt you if you’re not paying attention. If you land the killing blow on one of the little guys, you’ll get a small amount of gold. But since all the minions are constantly damaging each other, this can be very tricky. This is called “last hitting,” because you need to get the last hit to win. (Click here for a two-thousand-plus word guide with two spreadsheets and an accompanying YouTube video.)
Because over the course of the game this gold can easily mean the difference between victory and defeat, a huge part of the game is about trying to land the last hit. Elaborate strategies are used that involve moving back and forth around the field and striking at the perfect time. When you start learning a new character, you have to spend hours getting a feel for how they attack so you can get good at last hitting with them. And if you screw it up too much, expect other players to scream at you.
I always thought this was stupid. There’s no strategy in last hitting. It’s not about out-thinking your opponent: it’s just executing a repetitive, annoying task, and having other people get mad at you if you’re not good enough at it. If I wanted to do that, I would go work at a fast food drive-through. At least I could get paid there.
Heroes of the Storm does away with gold altogether. No gold means no last hitting, which means your focus is strictly on the other team and how you’re going to fight them. More strategizing, more big plays, less getting aggravated because you hit the attack button a quarter of a second too late.
No gold also means no items, which is another thing I’m finding I don’t miss. Heroes has plenty of ways to customize your character’s fighting style, even more than League. (Characters have two ultimate attacks to chose from at level-up, for instance.) And items in League offered very little interesting choices: you either read a guide and learned the magic build that was optimized for your character, or you picked a few standard items and got whomped by someone who did.
3. More interesting levels
League of Legends has three levels: the one that people actually play on, that weird map with the crystals on it that nobody ever plays, and the ARAM map, which is a big long corridor where you beat each other up for 20 minutes. Oh, and I guess there’s that weird 3 versus 3 map that no one ever plays, also.
In practice, this means it has one level. Sometimes the level will have a Halloween theme, or a Christmas theme, but it’s always the same thing. There are three lanes to fight in, a river, and two identical bases, each with some towers defending it and a big core at the end.
It’s not a bad map. In fact, it’s very well-tuned to allow for a balanced game. But it’s dull. It has zero personality, no interesting features, and nothing going on. It took them three or four years to finally update the color scheme on it, and it ended up looking even worse.
Heroes of the Storm has a bunch of maps, and they’re all different. On one level you’re fighting in a haunted mine. You can go deep into the mine and fight the undead enemies within to summon a huge bone golem that will batter down your enemies’ fortress. Another level is set in a bay, and you have to gather tribute to a local pirate so he’ll blast your enemies with cannons.
Each level is different, with its own quirks and intricacies, and none of them feels similar to the other. Some have two lanes, some have three. Each has a different announcer and a totally different color scheme. And since they seem to be determined randomly, you never know what you’ll get.
League of Legends Is In Big Trouble
After only a few hours playing this, I’m not sure there’s any reason to ever play League again. The game is set up to encourage player cooperation, so the whole thing has a friendly attitude. Games are faster (15 minutes as opposed to 45+). The environment is more colorful. The whole thing feels fresh and new, while League has barely changed since 2010.
I have no idea which is the better game to the hardcore player, who likes the lengthy, involved nature of League games. But for the casual to moderate player, Heroes is vastly superior. And since there are far more moderates than hardcores, in two years I’d expect Heroes to be the standard, and League to be mostly forgotten.