Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard Moves MOBAs Past ‘Dota Clones’
Maps that matter
Every MOBA player knows the traditional DotA five-player, three-corridor-style map, and breaking away from this formula has proven to be the hardest hurdle the genre has faced. League of Legends tried twice (with Twisted Treeline and Dominion), and arguably failed in both attempts, as Summoner’s Rift is still by far the most preferred map, and literally the only choice in high-level play.
On the other hand, each of the four maps in the HotS alpha feels like it invokes fun variations on the core game play, in the same way different Team Fortress 2 maps or World of Warcraft battlegrounds do. The map is no longer essential to the game, which opens up a new way to extend the game’s life post-launch, aside from just bloating the champion roster.
The four maps in the Alpha — Dragon Shire, Undead Mines, Blackheart’s Bay and Cursed Hollow — all have their own unique map objectives that can seriously alter the course of a game. Of course, LoL and DotA players are no strangers to map objectives, with the Dragon and Baron Nashor in LoL, for example, being powerful objectives for your team to take. In HotS, though, the focus of the match from start to finish is almost entirely on its objectives.
In Dragon’s Shire, for example, controlling the two dragon shrines allows one hero on your team to morph into the “Dragon Knight,” a powerful hero with unique abilities — allowing you to rally your team together to focus fighting down a single lane. The Cursed Hollow, on the other hand, “curses” an enemy team (causing their minions to have just 1 hit point and stopping their towers from firing) upon gathering three randomly spawning “tributes,” allowing your team to put pressure on all three lanes at once. Each of the map objectives force your team to work together to take them, and as a reward, helps teams surmount what is traditionally the most difficult obstacle of MoBA type games: destroying enemy towers.
As well as the map-specific objectives, each map has a set of “mercenaries” for each team to capture. Mercenaries are kind of like the jungle creeps in LoL, but instead of simply granting gold and experience, defeating a mercenary camp causes them to fight for their conquerors, pushing down the nearest lane towards the enemy tower. It’s a great way for heroes who choose to focus on their minion killing powre, rather than their ability to squash champions, to put pressure on enemy lanes.
A couple of other nerfs to towers — such as the fact that towers have a limited quantity of ammo, and always prioritize minions of champions — make pushing lanes feel more like a gradual tug-of-war that a single champion can achieve, rather than having to have your entire team push down a lane to take down a tower. It means that games never drag on too long; most games usually top out at 25 minutes, with the average length being around 20. This is great for people like me, who only have small chunks of free time during the day and find the prospect of committing to a 40-60-minute League of Legends or DotA 2 game somewhat daunting.
Familiar heroes, fresh champions
The vast majority of playable champions will feel pretty familiar to MOBA veterans. There are your ranged carries, your melee tanks, your stealthy assassins and your supports. It’s great to see familiar Blizzard universe heroes slot into these roles, and the absolutely gigantic backlog of Blizzard lore means the company will always have a pool of fresh champions from which to choose.
Most of the champions are very nicely fleshed out, and are fun to play in their respective roles. Support characters, which typically feel very weak in MoBAs because of the minion-farming meta-game, and who tend to be pretty boring, were actually where I had the most fun, due to the aforementioned team experience and lack of gold. Playing Uther, for example, actually made me feel like the mighty paladin warrior he is. He selflessly sacrifices himself to protect and support his allies, but is still capable of dishing out some respectable damage and stuns, rather than just being delegated to a ward-dropping heal-bot.
“Specialist” champions are where you’ll find HotS’s most unique characters. They include champions like Gazlowe, who is somewhat similar to League of Legends’ Heimerdinger, using stationary turrets to hold down a lane against several heroes at once and gaining increased damage against minions and mercenaries.
Abathur, who is probably the strangest champion in the game, also fits into this category. Abathur is so different because he doesn’t actually fight as himself. His preferred combat method is to hide somewhere in his team’s home base, while he jumps between friendly champions with his “parasite” ability, and plants explosive traps all over the map at key objectives. Taking on Abathur almost changes the entire play style of the game, from a MOBA to an RTS-lite, and crazy unique heroes like him are certainly what I want to see more of in Heroes of the Storm.
Another incredibly welcome change is the ability to enter the matchmaking queue with your champion pre-selected, rather than joining a team of five randoms and bickering over who gets to be “solo top” and who is delegated to the support role.
While DotA 2 and League of Legends are content to butt heads at the very top of the MOBA ladder, offering just-different-enough-for-the-fanbases-to-constantly-be-at-each-other’s-throats gameplay, Blizzard has taken a step back, said “let’s do something different,” and opted to create a game that can co-exist together with the old guard.
Is Heroes of the Storm more “casual” than the other MOBAs on offer? Perhaps, but it’s not quite as simple as that. The MOBA genre is one of the youngest in video games, and just like the first-person shooter before it, it has some growing up to do — remember when everything was a “Doom clone?”
It’ll take some drastic innovations on the formula, much like what Blizzard is doing with HotS, to move MOBAs away from simply being a genre of “DotA clones.”