Heroes Of The Storm May Be Your Perfect MOBA
Well, here we are – I’ve reached level 40 in the Heroes of the Storm closed beta, the current cap. Blizzard’s take on the MOBA genre is fast (games last around the 15-20 minute realm), accessible, and a blast with friends, which is a far cry from the rather rickety tech alpha that we saw a while back. When I’m discussing solid entry points to the genre with players considering taking the plunge, Heroes of the Storm is always at the top of the list. But it’s not just for prospective genre players taking a fun dip; the game has plenty of competitive aspects going for it as well – it may not be as technically challenging as some of the current big players in the genre, but solid teamwork remains a crucial factor. Let’s look at a few ways Blizzard has changed the formula to accommodate a wide range of players.
One of the first important factors is the concept of shared experience points. While your character in each game will level up, all experience goes to the team – you’ll never have a situation where some poor support is down in the dregs at level 2 while a crazy player on the other team with many takedowns is level 10, creating a terrifying discrepancy. Teams level up together, so all players on a side will be level 8 or 10 at the same time. This still creates meaningful gaps, as a two-to-three level difference in team experience provides a significant advantage to the leading team, and a reason for the lower team to wait for an opportune moment to try to shift the advantage back – generally by picking and choosing a defensive team fight, an ambush on one or two stragglers in the jungle, or a big map objective completion.
Another major factor is the lack of in-game stores to purchase weapons or armor – all upgrades are level based, taking a large degree of the complexity found in other MOBAs out of the equation directly. Players that have a tough time handling more abilities can stick to passive upgrades, but those more familiar with the genre may branch out into active abilities, essentially creating faux-items that can produce potent effects on cooldown.
Players are also eased into this system by only being allowed a few choices for skillups for a few rounds with each hero, as each character needs some account-level experience in order to unlock their full roster of upgradeable skills. This can feel needlessly restrictive for veterans of the genre, but it’s a welcome addition to get new players in and picking skills during a match without being overwhelmed with many choices when time is a crucial factor – they won’t spend much time at all sitting in base trying to decide which ability to pick.
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A factor that some other MOBAs are also using now to mitigate game length and promote pushing is the concept of tower ammunition. Generally in the MOBA genre, towers can output terrifying damage and keep players away from base buildings and charging past lanes for hero kills. In Heroes of the Storm, towers have limited ammunition (it does regenerate over time), so if you’re consistently pushing the forts and keeps with your minions, the towers will run out of their defensive payloads, making lane pushes considerably easier.
The final big factor is that of objective-based gameplay that promotes team fights. Unlike other MOBAs that may have one or two maps (with everyone gravitating toward the classic 5v5 DotA-style three-lane template), with Heroes of the Storm you never know where you’re going to end up before a round. Each map has its own special flavor and strategies, but most revolve around special objectives that incentivize players to team up in a more organic fashion than screaming over voice chat to get together for a push.
Whether you’re collecting bones to put together a massive lane-smashing golem, coins to pay pirates for cannonball barrages, or trying to keep control of obelisks to unleash laser beams on opposing bases, objectives are generally clear and laid out in a digestible fashion with bullet points on each map’s load screen. While it’s easy to engage in these structured objectives, some of the really enjoyable gameplay decisions happen when you and your team learn how to play around them, rather than with them, in various situations. For instance, it might be an interesting play to let the opposing team have one of the Raven’s sigils and instead use that time to grab a boss monster to push the lane, since you know the opposing team will likely all be gathering elsewhere on the map.
Heroes of the Storm has been an extremely compelling title to keep coming back to day after day, and it’s holding its own against the stable of MOBAs I typically play alongside Dota 2, League of Legends, and Smite. We’re still probably a little ways away from a full release, but things are polished and playable. If I do have one qualm currently, it’s that hero acquisition does take a long time via the F2P systems, but at least there’s a solid roster of rotating heroes to select each week which gets bigger as your account level grows.