Heroes of the Storm: Not the game fans are looking for...
Blizzard's new MOBA-style game has been out for a week now, and since it is no longer in its beta stages it seems like there is no better time to compare it to other games in the genre. So how does it fare? For the lack of a better word: horribly.
The Storm Begins
Heroes of the Storm - like many other MOBAs - centers itself around a simple premise: five heroes set out across one to three lanes to aid their minions in destroying the enemy's core.
What Blizzard has done to separate their game from the crowd is add a set of objectives to each of their seven maps. These maps generally divide themselves into one of two subcategories: get the big weapon that shoots at the enemy base, or take control of a super-powered creature to obliterate the enemy's defenses.
The objectives that teams must complete to gain these advantages over your opponents vary depending on the map, but the results are generally the same. What's more is that Blizzard has planted various mercenary camps - similar to the 'jungle' from other MOBA titles - that allow you to recruit extra forces such as siege, mercenary, or boss creeps that will aid you after defeating them. These elements give players a fresh new spin on MOBAs; the only game to do something similar to this would be the third-person shooter MOBA Super Monday Night Combat.
Overall, Heroes of the Storm is a beautiful game. As seen in the image above, the game sports a great art style that manages to seamlessly blend the three universes that Blizzard has developed over the course of their company history. Heroes look polished, and the attention to detail is amazing.
Furthermore, the menu screens give off a first impression that the designers knew what they were doing, artistically speaking. Considering this is a Blizzard title we expect no less; however, the game's presentation during gameplay is not so well executed.
What is lacking in Heroes of the Storm - when compared to a competitor like Valve's DotA 2 - is a sense of energy. While maps, NPCs, and heroes are well detailed, the hero skills rarely have noticeable visual effects that make you feel like you are contributing anything to a team-fight. While some characters (like Starcraft 2's Nova) have flashy 'heroic' skills like an orbital cannon that brings down a gigantic beam of energy, heroes like Sonya (as seen below) have nothing more than a barely visible particle effect at the end of her blades. This is a severe downgrade for fans of the Diablo series who expect Wrath of the Berserker to change the character's model completely.
What is also disappointing - and visible in the same image - is the missed opportunity for inspiration from Blizzard's other games. Maps are generic and range from a pirate bay to three garden locales, as well as several Egyptian-themed maps. What could have been done - and was demonstrated in the earliest stages of Blizzard DotA's development - were maps inspired by Starcraft, as well as other games such as Diablo or Warcraft. While the garden stages do have *some* resemblance to Warcraft III's town centers, it is somewhat of a letdown for fans of Blizzard games.
Character dialogues range from lore-heavy rivalries to humourous cross-universe one-liners.
This lack of ingenuity is somewhat made up for by Blizzard's in-game dialogue and music. Much of the music in the game borrows inspiration from other titles, with heavy Terran-like guitar rifts, to trumpet and horn numbers that are reminiscent of Warcraft's RTS days.
Character dialog is believable, with many of the characters able to interact (at the game's start or after team-fights) with lines that make you feel like there are genuine rivalries between characters. While this is a nice touch, it only serves to highlight the missed opportunity to do the same with the maps.
Unfortunately, what little praises I could sing for this game in terms of presentation are completely overshadowed by the gameplay. What first comes to mind in terms of Heroes of the Storm's gameplay failures is the lack of diversity in hero builds. While all characters are given a choice between 3-4 skills every 4 levels or so, and a selection of one of two 'heroic abilities' at levels 10 and 20, many heroes are only functionally sound when using one of two builds that can be found online.
While using your own makeshift build will not completely ruin your experience, it can leave you at a major disadvantage if you select an ability that is typically 'useless' in comparison to the others. Combined with the game's poorly executed ability visuals can leave many players wondering if they contributed anything at all in a battle.
To make matters worse, the only way to tell what the opposing team - or your allies - have set as their skill build is to open the scorecard (as seen above), select "show skills" and then hover over each icon to see which skill has been learned since many skills share the same icon if it is an ability upgrade. This is not only a major inconvenience in a game where real-time multiplayer gameplay is involved, but also criminal in-game design for a MOBA where counter-strategies rely on knowing what your opponent might have planned.
This issue also carries over to team-fights where your inability to see how much health your opponent has makes your tooltip damage descriptions feel like nothing more than arbitrary numbers.
While the map gimmicks (such as the ability to commandeer the Garden Terror) are fun, they are only enjoyable if you are on the winning team.
Another problem comes from the game's map objectives as well. In several of these maps certain team builds have a distinct advantage, an example being the infamous "Haunted Mines" map where heroes with greater area-of-effect abilities and damage-per-second can easily clear the map's objective and get a 100 skull lead, which typically results in a less than 10 minute victory.
While this would be excusable if team compositions were discussed in a planning phase before the game started, the maps and heroes paired on each team are completely random as players select their characters before entering the queue for the game's Quick Match mode. This is also a problem for players who are just getting used to the game as even the 'Training Mode' uses a completely randomized map order, leaving some players completely unexposed to some maps if they have not played more than twenty rounds.
One final problem is the game's profile-leveling system. Reminiscent of League of Legend's profile level-up system, players have certain skills for their heroes restricted until they have leveled up their character or their profile to a certain point. Profiles must be leveled up to 25 before players have access to all hero skills, or each hero must be leveled up to 5 before they have access to that specific hero's abilities.
While it is understandable that Blizzard likely did this to allow players to get a feel for the basic gameplay of a hero before using what they call 'advanced skills' it actually hinders players.
Many efficient skill builds require these unlocked skills to function, and without them players are left at a severe disadvantage. Furthermore, players need to unlock at least 10 heroes and a profile level of 30 to play in ranked matchmaking modes, a feat that many players likely will not achieve for several months unless they invest many days into the game.
If you are a hardcore fan of Blizzard Entertainment's various universes and wanted to have your favorite heroes battle it out in a DotA-style MOBA, this is not the game for you. Blizzard's new MOBA is more reminiscent of Mario Party meets DOTA, but in all the wrong ways. The game is horribly designed, completely unbalanced when compared to Blizzard's usual track record with games like Starcraft, and does not offer much beyond a shiny coat of paint.
While the game is undoubtedly still playable and can give you some form of enjoyment, only hardcore fans of MOBA and Blizzard games will be able to find any redemption for what is nothing more than a fan-service-heavy cash grab. But hey, at least it looks nice.