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.”

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4 Comments on Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard Moves MOBAs Past ‘Dota Clones’

mt

On June 20, 2014 at 11:45 am

You’re dismissing Dota2 outright as very similar to Lol though. For instance, the choice for itemization in Dota2 is not an ‘illusion’ as you pointed it out. Having complete magic immunity for a few seconds is miles different with powerful damage items and yet you are not forced to pick it up on a single hero in every match up. Nor does the skill builds stay static. Sure there are for some but there will be others who would have multiple viable ways of building. On the other hand, nearly all heroes in Heroes of the Storm has a blink ability for a talent which plagues Lol until now. To its Blizzard’s credit, the other talents provide equal or even better options so you wouldn’t see such an ability be picked up as much.

Supports in dota2 aren’t the same in Lol either, nor do they need as much farm as the carries which means they do not suffer when not as farmed because they were built to stay effective with just their spells, something you described HoTs does. But the way you described them seems to me, that you think they’re similar to Lol which isn’t true. Supports in Dota2 are as fun to play and not ‘weak’ as you put it even if they don’t farm at all and just level.

Like you said, MOBA is a young genre. Everyone should realize that comparing different Mobas at this point requires putting them in context as there isn’t a written rule yet what a ‘moba’ should be like. For instance, I shouldn’t compare how freeing it is to have all heroes unlocked at all times in Dota2, which makes paying 4-10 dollars per hero for Heroes of the Storm debilitating. That would be comparing apples and oranges. You could argue that unlocking them has its own reasons, etc……but it shouldn’t mean one is better than the other.

derek

On June 20, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I find it disturbing that a company as experienced as blizzard would make the mistake of designing this game to use click-to-move controls. After basically changing the face of PvP gaming forever with WoW battlegrounds release in 2005 then further taking design elements from games like guild wars and fury, you’d think they would have released that WASD movement is perfect for any online battle arena game.

I guess the HotS developers never had the chance to play Smite.

Sean

On June 21, 2014 at 12:34 am

They are adding the option to change keybinds. Its still in alpha. l2google, jeezus

Drizzt

On June 23, 2014 at 10:15 am

Just a (minor) note: please don’t use “HotS” (especially in THAT capitalisation) for Heroes from Blizzard. On a cursory reading, ie. before reading it’s about the MOBA, it might be confused with Heart of the Swarm, which has been going by the abbreviation HotS for a lot longer. I’d suggest using just “Heroes” which is almost as short and clear.