Developed & Published by Blizzard Entertainment. Released June 2, 2015. Available on PC.
Heroes of the Storm is the perfect MOBA game for people who don’t like MOBA games.
At least, that’s how others have put it, and I find it difficult to disagree. I’ve tried a number of MOBAs over the years, from the big names to more obscure ones, and simply couldn’t get into any of them. Yet here I am with around 500 games of Heroes logged – roughly 200 hours of play time – and I’m still having fun. But I know a number of hardcore DOTA 2 or League of Legends players who don’t see the appeal.
Now, I should clarify that Blizzard insists Heroes isn’t a MOBA, but rather a “hero brawler,” a term they coined themselves to describe their game. Heroes sees two teams of five players fight on a battlefield with multiple lanes in which waves of computer-controlled minions from both teams march inexorably toward the enemy base. Both teams’ bases consist of multiple towers, forts, and finally a central core, the latter of which much be destroyed to win the game. So… totally not a MOBA.
In-built mechanics that allow the losing team to catch up and even the score further promote an arguably “care bear” atmosphere, which again, can be seen as either a positive or a negative. Come-backs in this game are possible, regardless of how poorly the game may be going for one team. In one game, our team’s core was taken down to just 1% health – a single hit from a single enemy minion would have lost us the game – and the enemy’s core was still at 100% health. Yet we rallied, made a strong tactical decision and acted upon that decision as a team, and won. In another game, inexperienced players on our team were repeatedly feeding the enemy easy kills, which led to the enemy gaining a huge lead in the early- and mid-game. The level lead the enemy had on us seemed impossible to recover from, but by the late-game, we made a play that the enemy did not properly respond to – they made one very bad decision, and that cost them a game they seemed to have in their pocket.
A friend playing on my team was absolutely dumbfounded – and actually upset. As a hardcore gamer and experienced MOBA player, he was left disgusted that we could have won that game, and actively wanted us to lose so as to not reward the inexperienced players on our team for the mistakes they were making. In his opinion, the early- and mid-game in Heroes are completely meaningless, since the match’s outcome is ultimately decided by one or two final plays in the late-game, and that it’s absurd that a team can be winning throughout the entire match and then lose because of one team fight.
I argue, on the other hand, that if a team is truly dominating, the late-game won’t ever be reached (I’ve had my share of 13-minute victories, as opposed to the more typical 20-minute games), and that comebacks are only possible because the winning team isn’t performing as well as it appears to be. So yes, comebacks are possible, and that’s what keeps the game exciting for me, because it means the outcome of a match isn’t determined in the first five minutes. Had a rough start? At least you don’t have to suffer through another 15 minutes of slow, steady loss. Gained an early lead? At least you won’t grow bored as you spend the rest of the game slowly progressing to assured victory. The winning team cannot grow comfortable in its position and start to slack – the players must continue to play at the top of their game throughout a match to ensure victory, and I cannot see why that’s a bad thing.
But is that the reason I like Heroes and not other MOBAs? I’m sure it ties into things. Admittedly, the ability to instantly recognize just about every hero and have a fair idea of what to expect from them thanks to a familiarity with Blizzard’s franchises is a draw. Being presented with an enormous pool of characters in other MOBAs felt daunting – I felt I needed to memorize a Periodic Table of Champions before I could even start to consider myself ready to play and not drag my team down. I suppose Heroes may pose the same challenge for those unfamiliar with Blizzard’s other titles, but… let’s be fair – the majority of people playing Heroes have played another Blizzard game.
A game of Heroes also ends quicker than most other MOBAs, with an average of 20-minute matches. Teamfighting happens more often and sooner, without a prolonged period of what effectively is warm-up before the real game starts. Games feel faster and more action-packed. The different maps help keep things fresh. All of these are points in favor of Heroes, but really, I believe the greatest factor for me was the choice to drop itemization from the game. Managing gold as a resource – knowing how and when best to acquire and spend that gold – felt like a major hurdle to mastering a game and, simply, not a fun mechanic for me. You can argue that’s a defining characteristic of the MOBA genre, in which case, I suppose I don’t like MOBAs… I like Hero Brawlers.
Instead of items, Heroes has players start off at level 1 with an arsenal of abilities, and every few levels unlock a choice of talents they can use to customize their abilities or their heroes to different purposes. These talents effectively replace items, allowing for customization but without added headache. Is it as complex as the item system? No. But it still allows for more variety than some would have you believe, because the best way to play the game is to modify your talent choices in response to the game at hand rather than using a predetermined build.
As far as criticisms go, each game mode in Heroes has its own issues. You can play versus an AI team, in which case you are effectively assured a victory unless two people on your team are AFK or actively working to sabotage your efforts. You can play Quick Match, in which your random team composition may be lacking some vital team roles, such as healing or damage, leaving you at a significant disadvantage. Or you can play Hero League, which lets teams draft their heroes. The way teams are drafted, however, poses a problem: players alternate picks between the two teams, and if one team selects a hero, the other team cannot pick that hero. But depending on the map being played or the team composition starting to be formed, some hero picks are obviously superior to others. This results in scenarios in which, in order to play optimally, players are forced to pick certain heroes either to gain an advantage or deprive the enemy of an advantage. Even if you hate playing as a certain hero and it is your weakest hero, you cannot afford to let the enemy select the hero, so you have to scoop it up right away. The ability to swap heroes with your teammates before the game starts would largely resolve this.
This ties into a subsequent point: heroes aren’t currently balanced. Or rather… most heroes are fairly well balanced, but there are a couple outliers that are underperforming and overperforming. The win rates for most heroes are actually in a very comfortable place, but balancing those outliers should have been done before release, rather than pushing out even more heroes. “We can always balance after release” is a mentality that needs to go away. “Good enough for now” is another way of saying, “I know we could be better.” In fairness, this criticism is a little harsh; it is actually impressive that Blizzard managed to balance the vast majority of their heroes fairly well, given the immense variety. But that makes it that much more irksome that the final bit of effort wasn’t put to bring the couple outliers in line before release.
The game currently has 36 heroes, each fitting into one of the game’s four distinct roles, such as healer, tank, or damage-dealer. These heroes are pulled from Blizzard’s various franchises, and there’s a great variety to select from, both thematically and in practice. Some hero ideas are so original and unconventional that it’s hard to imagine how they could possibly be balanced, and yet… they work. Take Abathur, for instance, who sits in his base and deploys troops and buffs throughout the battlefield as though he were playing a strategy game, or The Lost Vikings, who actually consist of three separate characters that can either move together as one or split up all over the map.
But back to criticism. For a game so focused on teamwork and cooperation, it is surprising that Heroes lacks in-built voice chat. While you can coordinate reasonably well simply by using the minimap ping feature, there are often times that that doesn’t convey the degree of precision you need, and having to stop to type out something can be a disastrous time sink. Of course, voice chat leads to a whole new world of toxicity, which Blizzard has made an active effort to avoid, such as by denying you the ability to talk to the enemy team, but that’s what the mute function is for. Voice chat was a failed feature in StarCraft 2 because StarCraft 2 is not a team-based game, Blizzard – don’t let that failed venture make you give up on voice chat in a game where communication is vitally important.
Lastly, I’ll hit upon a subject that very much falls under the “your mileage may vary” category, but I’m not overly fond of Blizzard’s pay model. Heroes is free-to-play, but with microtransactions that allow players to purchase XP and gold boosters, cosmetic items, and heroes. Costs feel like they’re a little too high. While you can play Heroes without ever spending a dime by purchasing heroes with in-game gold or simply sticking to the half-dozen heroes on free rotation every week, there are a limited number of inexpensive heroes, and new heroes will sit around 10,000 gold for a very long time before being discounted. It would take roughly a month of play, at one hour a day (just enough time to complete daily quests for their high gold reward, since playing more than that has almost no further gold gain) to be able to accumulate that much gold, and heroes will be released once every three weeks, according to Blizzard’s plans – so the average player will never be able to afford to keep up with the amount of heroes being released without spending real money.
A 10,000 gold hero can be purchased for $10. You can argue that’s less than a monthly MMO subscription fee, but in an MMO, you’re paying for access to a huge amount of content – an entire game world with dozens, even hundreds of quests and events. $10 for a single hero feels steep in comparison. As for the cosmetic items, those can only be purchased with real money – an option to pay with gold, even a huge amount of gold, would be appreciated for those players who have no desire to purchase new heroes – and their prices range from $5 to $15 – again, for just one skin for one hero. I’m not opposed to the microtransaction model in principle, but when you calculate how much $60 can buy you in Heroes, it doesn’t feel like you’re getting your money’s worth relative to just flat-out buying a game for the same price. An option to unlock all (or most) content in the game for $60 would be welcome – the closest thing is a $40 bundle that gives you eight heroes and six cosmetic items, which effectively values the entirety of the game at about $180, given you’re unlocking roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of the content for $40.
All that said, Heroes is a quality product. The entirety of the game is delivered with typical Blizzard production values. It looks great, it sounds great, and it feels great, and in a genre that typically suffers from “you get what you pay for” production values, the higher costs may be justified for you.
Bottom Line: Heroes is perhaps the most accessible MOBA ever created – which can either be a good or bad thing for you. Regardless, you’re getting Blizzard-level production values – at Blizzard prices, if you choose to spend money. For what it is, Heroes is a great game with some room for improvement. Whether “what it is” appeals to you or not is a matter of personal preference.
Recommendation: If you couldn’t get into other MOBAs, Heroes may be the MOBA for you. If you’re a hardcore MOBA player, you may feel that Heroes is “dumbed down.” At the very least, it’s a game that all gamers should try.[rating=4]