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Heroes of the Storm

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: June 2, 2015


PC Review - 'Heroes of the Storm'

by Adam Pavlacka on June 11, 2015 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Originally called Blizzard DOTA, then Blizzard All-Stars, Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard's own free-to-play take on the Massively Online Battle Arena genre, featuring heroes and villains from the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo franchises.

In many ways, Heroes of the Storm is a homecoming of sorts for the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre. Games such as League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth wouldn't exist without the original Defense of the Ancients (DotA) mod for Warcraft III. It is only fitting then, that Blizzard itself would eventually try its hand at designing a MOBA game from scratch, and with Heroes of the Storm, it's safe to say that Blizzard has succeeded.

First off, for fans of the genre, Heroes of the Storm is not DotA 2. It's also noticeably different from League of Legends in how it plays. In designing Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard has stripped down the genre to its bare essentials, throwing out many of the mainstays that players have gotten used to over the years. There are no items. There is no "last hitting," and the experience is shared by the whole team.

In practice, this means that it is impossible for a single player to carry a team. It also forces teamwork since you can't have players running off and trying to do their own thing. If my time over the last week is any indication, the tweaks that Blizzard made to the MOBA formula seem to be working. Playing more than 100 games in quick match with random teams, I can count on a single hand the number of games in which I encountered a player who didn't want to play as part of a team. Unsurprisingly, those same players were also the ones who complained the loudest about how their team "sucked" and they hated playing with "noobs."

Because of the way Heroes of the Storm is designed, even "noobs" can have a great time if you're willing to communicate over chat and work with your teammates. In most matchups, a team of average players who are working together will best a team of great players who are all trying to play their own way. Now, if you have an experienced team that knows how to work together, it's going to blow away the competition, but thanks to the matchmaking servers behind the game, you shouldn't run into situations like that very often, if ever.

An ideal matchmaking system always places you with similar players, so you should be just as likely to win as to lose every game. Looking back at my stats over the week of play, that pretty much bears itself out. My win/loss percentage is right at 50%, give or take a percentage point depending on the result of the last game or two. It might nudge a little higher or a little lower, but it always comes back to that middle. In this regard, it seems like Blizzard has gotten it right.

For those unfamiliar with MOBA-style games, the basic idea is that you have two teams, each with a base. The goal is to destroy the opposing team's base while defending your own. Maps generally have three "lanes" of action, with the forest area in between holding creeps that can be fought for experience, or in the case of Heroes of the Storm, hired as mercenaries. Players have to make strategic decisions about how to confront the enemy, as every attack potentially exposes you to counterattack.

Heroes of the Storm is very forgiving in that regard, at least in the early rounds of play, as low-level heroes respawn within seconds and are back out on the battlefield. There is very little risk (aside from your opponents earning experience) to taking a risk and dying within the first few minutes of a match. As the game progresses and heroes level up in power and abilities, the respawn time quickly grows to a minute. This means that you need to be more conservative when playing in the late game, but the reward for taking out an enemy hero in the late game is also higher. "Benching" all five players on the opposing team back-to-back can be a great advantage, though it does take a great deal of luck or skill to do consistently.

One noticeable departure from genre standards by Heroes of the Storm is the object-based gameplay on the individual maps. Each of the seven maps has the MOBA fundamentals, but each also contains a specific objective which, when obtained, grants one team a short-term advantage. This could be a temporary super-strong player character, a weakening of the opposing team's base defenses, or a free attack on the opposing team's towers. The objectives are integrated into the map design, and they keep gameplay fresh by posing a strategic question in every game.

For example, on the Haunted Mines map, there are only two main lanes instead of three on the map. Instead, the third lane is replaced with a mine that spawns undead creeps. When the creeps become active, either team is able to enter the mine, kill the creeps and collect the skulls. Once all the skulls have been collected, two computer-controlled golems spawn on the main map (one for each team) and attack the opposing base. The strength of the golem depends on how many skulls your team collected.

This may seem like a necessary objective at first, but it's not because teams are fighting it out in the mines, but they're not fighting it out above ground. You have to decide if it's worth the risk to clear out the mines, or if your team would be better off hiring mercenaries at ground level and pushing into the opposing team's base while they're down below. We've won more than a few games because my team ignored a late-game objective and instead used the opportunity to push an attack and win while the other side was distracted.

All of the map objectives in Heroes of the Storm are like this. Yes, they give an advantage, but they aren't mandatory. Every move you make is like moving a piece on a chessboard. Low-risk moves are low reward but have a predictable outcome. High-risk moves are high reward but can also mean an unfortunate setback.

Heroes of the Storm is also similar to chess in that it is easy enough to learn but difficult to master. In order to do well, you'll have to play a lot. If you just want to jump in and goof around, you can, but to win against other players, you need to know how to play the game as well as how to play your character.

Each of the 37 characters (at the time of this writing) has different strengths and weaknesses. Which character you choose to play determines your role on the team. Just as you wouldn't have a quarterback try to play a linebacker position in football, you aren't going to want to play as an assassin if getting up close and personal as a melee fighter is your thing. Choosing a character that fits your play style will have an impact on how much fun you have with Heroes of the Storm.

Picking a character is also where you get to start spending money with Heroes of the Storm — if you want to commit to one. Since it's a free-to-play game, anyone can download Heroes of the Storm at no cost. Each week, seven different heroes are available as part of the free-to-play rotation. When the week is up, those heroes rotate out, and a new set rotates in. It's a good way to try out different heroes and find out which you like, but if you want to keep them in your roster, you have to pay up, either in real money or in virtual gold.

Heroes of the Storm grants you a small amount of in-game gold for winning matches. You also get gold for leveling up characters and your profile. Due to the way the game is structured, you'll get a large rush of gold at the start, and it slows to a trickle after a few weeks of play. This is by design. The initial rush of gold makes it easy to purchase a hero or two. The slowdown is a way to encourage impatient players to spend real money instead of waiting to earn.

Thankfully, there is no real requirement to spend money or gold in Heroes of the Storm outside of the ranked play (Hero League) qualification requirement. In order to be ranked, your profile must be at level 30, and you must own a minimum of 10 heroes on your account. If you don't own 10 heroes, you can play in unranked quick match games as much as you like, but you won't be able to enter league play. The reason for the requirement is because league games have a mini-draft before each game, and players need to have a stable of available heroes.

Even here, though, you don't need to spend real money, assuming you plan ahead. Each character you play grants you 500 gold once he or she is leveled up to level five. With seven free-to-play heroes each week, that is 7,000 gold already. Add in the bonus gold for leveling your profile, bonus gold from daily quests and match wins, and it all adds up quickly. Daily quests are random requirements (play three games as a support hero, play eight games today, etc.) that offer a set amount of gold (I saw as low as 300 and as high as 800) each day.

My first week of play was split midweek, so I earned 7,000 gold for leveling up the freebies. Adding in everything else, by the time I hit level 30, I had just over 28,000 gold in the bank. There are six heroes available for 2,000 gold each and six available for 4,000 gold each. Buying the cheapest six meant spending 12,000 gold. The remaining 16,000 purchased four of the 4,000 gold characters, which meets the 10 heroes requirement. One of the 2,000 gold heroes, Valla, is available for free if your account has the PC version of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls attached. Then again, if you've put that much time into the game, you're probably going to get your money's worth out of the occasional $5 or $10 spent on a hero purchase.

Performance-wise, Heroes of the Storm scales well, playing nicely on both a desktop and a laptop machine. Because of its competitive nature, the game is highly reliant on a stable internet connection, so if you're going to play, stick to a wired connection. When playing via Wi-Fi, I noticed a jump in the number of server de-syncs. When on a wired connection, a server de-sync was rare.

A competitive, online-only game is a difficult thing to design, as it is as much reliant on an active player base as it is on the game. With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard seems to have succeeded on both fronts. The game is appealing to both casual and hardcore players, seamlessly splitting them into different player groups. If you've never given a MOBA a try, Heroes of the Storm is the perfect entry point.

Score: 8.5/10

Reviewed on: Intel Core i5 3.10GHz, AMD Radeon 7500, 16GB RAM

Editor's Note: Want to show off your love for Heroes of the Storm with style? Be sure to check out our Heroes of the Storm contest! You can win one of five Heroes of the Storm-themed shirts, courtesy of game clothing company J!NX.

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