Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard Moves MOBAs Past ‘Dota Clones’
“So, does it feel more like DotA 2 or League of Legends?” my MOBA-inclined friends will ask me of Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm.
“Neither,” I find myself replying, “It feels more like … Team Fortress 2.”
Let me explain. Defense of the Ancients 2 and LoL place a fairly equal emphasis on two distinct aspects of MOBA skill: individual micromanagement (lasthitting, denying, efficient farming) and teamwork (working together as a team to take objectives and win “team fights”). In Heroes of the Storm, the balance is skewed much more in favor of the teamwork skills, meaning it plays out more like a game of Team Fortress 2; while a single, skilled player can make a difference, he can’t exactly turn the tides of the battle by himself, and there’s much more opportunity for a losing team to come back from assured defeat.
Blizzard, rather than making another game that was simply derivative of the original DotA, has tried its best to shake the genre up a bit. If you asked most DotA 2 or LoL players and spectators what the most interesting part of the game was, few would say “the laning phase” (the period at the start of the game where everyone goes to their lanes to farm gold and experience), and most would probably tell you it was the epic end-game team fights. So Blizzard decided to just base its entire game around that.
While HotS games do actually start with a laning phase, it is often measurable in seconds, as it’s not long before players are running all over the map to try and take out enemy heroes and capture objectives. The reason why “level 1″ team fights in other MOBAs, those player-vs.-player battles that take place early in the game, are usually so dull is because champions only have one level of a single ability. HotS gives everyone access to three out of their four abilities right off the bat, meaning there’s a lot more incentive to get into a fight, rather than wait to become stronger.
Blizzard also makes three major changes in HotS that set it apart from the traditional MOBA.
Shaking up the formula
In HotS, there is no gold. There are no items. There is no pool of individual experience points. Each team has “team experience,” meaning that all players on a team level up at the same time, and you don’t have to worry about “farming” experience or falling behind your teammates (as is often the case for those poor support classes in other MOBAs).
Character customization is based around a set of “talents,” or upgrades and abilities, that you can choose every few levels. While on paper they don’t seem too impactful, over the course of the game they start to make a difference in tailoring your champion to a specific play style. I actually find the talent choices a lot more meaningful than item choice in LoL or DotA 2, because each of the talents available are equally viable choices. For example, one tier of Jim Raynor’s talents has a choice between increased range, increased damage, receiving life when he connects a successful hit, or reduced cooldowns. Do you want your Raynor to be a little more tanky? Or maybe you need him to deal more raw damage?
The other major customization option is that players can choose between two “ultimate” abilities at level 10. To again use Raynor as an example, his two ultimates allow him to call on Terran space ships from Starcraft 2: the battlecruiser Hyperion and Banshees. The Hyperion does large area-of-effect damage, while the Banshees will focus on the same target Raynor is attacking — again letting players choose if they want to be an AOE powerhouse or a ranged assassin.
Pretty much every hero has an interesting, viable choice between his or her two ultimates — I never came across a situation where I felt like one ultimate was “better” than the other.
In LoL and DotA 2, on the other hand, apart from a handful of minor variations, there is pretty much a best build for every single champion and situation, meaning that the “choice” of how you upgrade your character with items is pretty much an illusion. Blizzard has applied the valuable “less is more” lesson it learned with its World of Warcraft talent system to HotS: Having fewer choices that actually make a difference is much better than having a lot of choices with only one or two viable paths.
Another interesting twist in Heroes of the Storm: Dying isn’t a big deal. No gold, no items, and the fact that you still earn experience when you are dead mean the only real penalty to dying is that … well, you’re dead. You can’t help out your team while you’re dead, but that’s it. This led me to a greater number of cool “blaze of glory” moments when I played, in which I was more willing to try and take out a key player or stop an enemy from gaining a key objective, without fearing my death and granting the enemy team a whole bunch of gold (and having my team yell at me).
This also allows the meta of the game to shift from entire teams trying to “gank” a random hero to frequent, frantic team fights based around the map’s various powerful objectives. These changes also allow Heroes of the Storm to successfully pull off what so many other MOBAs have tried (and failed) to do — multiple maps.