Heroes of the Storm is the highly anticipated free-to-play MOBA released by Blizzard this past Tuesday. Even in beta, it had already spawned tournaments and has opened its doors officially to a significant amount of fanfare. The game gives players the opportunity to play as heroes from Blizzard’s pre-existing franchises, and while the champion pool seems small now, there is a lot of room for expansion, as with any MOBA. Unlike League of Legends and DOTA 2, Heroes introduces a completely team-based leveling system, where experience is pooled and all players on the same team level up at the same rate. Instead of buying items, you level up your skills, passives, and actives throughout the game, which unlock as you play a hero more and gain more skill with them.
Heroes is goingto be compared to the other major MOBAs, but it does seem to have enough unique factors to truly stand alone. The aim here seems to be making a MOBA that fosters a positive team environment. A single person can’t carry a team in Heroes of the Storm, and the objectives require a great deal of coordination. You’d think with a system like this, the pressure would be down and perhaps people would work together more. And while generally it seems like, for the most part, people in general don’t talk as much, there is a special kind of frustration you get playing blind in Heroes of the Storm.
Here’s how Heroes works in solo queue: you select whichever hero you prefer to play, and then in Quick Match, the system will pair you up with a team of four other heroes. There is a rotating list of free champions you can try out, and as you level up, you can unlock more free slots and thus, more champions to try out. Heroes of the Storm has several maps in their 5 v 5 mode, which you are assigned to randomly. Each has its own theme and unique major objectives, which drastically alter the gameplay. Objectives are a huge part of this game; in fact it could be argued that they are the factor that makes or breaks teams. There’s a possibility you could manage to win a game without ever taking an objective, but it would be a lot more difficult and it is really more worth it to just try and claim the objectives every time you can.
As you play champions more, you gain experience with them, which unlocks more of their skills in-game as well as other bonuses like skins and gold. As you play and level up you can earn more gold, which is used to buy heroes and other items. You’ll likely be saving up for a while as many of the heroes are fairly expensive, but you also get buffs and extra gold for leveling up, so at least early on, it may be easier to save.
Playing the champions themselves is pretty simple. Veterans of MOBA genres may even find them easier to use than games like League, but as is common, there are still significant issues in terms of balance. This isn’t necessarily something that can be held against Heroes, because even MOBAs that have been around forever can still face problems with balance, especially during major meta changes. This is something that most likely Heroes will grow out of, as more users play and more data is collected. Consider it a warning going in, so there aren’t any surprises the first time you’re rooted for five seconds.
At first glance, Heroes seems pretty standard fun. It’s easy to set up and easy to learn, but I couldn’t help but find myself getting consistently bored with it. Granted, part of this is likely just having to start from the beginning, which means playing with less experienced people, which isn’t the fault of the game in any way of course.
But a large portion of it is just that Heroes, because of how it is structured, doesn’t allow you to invest the same amount into mastery. It was hard to exactly pinpoint exactly why it didn’t feel like as much fun, but to try and describe it, you simply don’t feel important to the team half the time. The leveling up of heroes seems like you’re making progress, but within a game, there is little feeling you’re actually impacting the team or the progress of the game. This may be something that only effects those who’ve been playing MOBAs for a while, but for me, winning a game in Heroes has never been as fulfilling as winning a game in other MOBAs, or even other games in general. Actually leveling up your heroes and player profile isn’t as rewarding as other games. You feel driven to do it, but it is more for the sake of the gold and bonuses than simple self-fulfillment.
On top of that, there are larger issues at play that add to the frustration. Instead of getting frustrated over a single bad player, you’re going to tend to get frustrated by the lack of coordination. If you play solo queue in Quick Match, you’re more than likely going to get paired up with strangers, which may occasionally include a small party, but often could be five solo players. In this setup, getting objectives becomes an absolute chore. Trying to coordinate five individual people who all have their own idea of how to win becomes increasingly frustrating as you find no one is listening to anyone else. Occasionally, of course, you’ll get a team that has good focus. Other times, you will get teams who do absolutely nothing to help their fellow teammates.
This wouldn’t be as big a problem if not for how desperately important those objectives are. Losing an objective early can change the direction of the game completely and recovering requires a great deal more effort than getting it in the first place. Some maps are worse than others in this department. For instance, the Sky Temple has objective areas which open up over set periods, and if you secure them, they deal massive damage to your enemy team’s defenses. Losing these can push your defense back a lot, which makes them harder to secure later since you have to push up farther to get back to where they’re located. Because of this, it becomes even harder to coordinate your team and get people where they need to be in order to make a comeback. Heroes is a game that could definitely benefit from an in-game voice chat, if for no other reason than to make coordination easier.
Playing with friends also offers a nice fix for this. If you can get a decent group of people together, it makes the experience a lot more fun. This is something that can be applied to any game of course, but more so to Heroes simply because of the importance of team cohesion. As well, it gives you a better opportunity to actually plan your team composition, whereas in single player, your teams are only created after you’ve selected a champion.
The main issue truly is the lack of investment in the game though. There are other completely team based games where you feel more fulfilled for winning, such as Guns of Icarus, where you fill a specific role that perhaps doesn’t make finishing blows or rack up an individual score, but still feels rewarding at the end of it.
Maybe it’s because in single player there is no real meta because of the way teams are created. Maybe it’s because it is very easy for a team to snowball to the point where making a comeback becomes near impossible. Maybe it’s just in general, that you don’t get credit for what you do in game, but instead it’s attributed to the entire team (no matter who was involved). You do get a personal score, which tells you how much experience you’ve contributed, how many takedowns you helped with, and some other stats, but they just exist there, and you get little actual feedback on it.
At the end you are awarded experience and goal, but you’re taken away from your teammates. You don’t usually get to interact with the enemy team much because there is no all chat. And every game seems to exist completely in a vacuum because of it. It doesn’t seem like a truly team game if your relationship with your current, random teammates ends so abruptly. And while it’s nice to be rid of the trolls and negative players quickly, it’s disappointing to not get to talk to good teammates at the end.
Last, and this is a fairly petty complaint, the economy of the game is not exactly encouraging. Without buffs, you get about 20-40 gold per game with which to buy heroes. But the majority of heroes, without sales, cost 10,000 gold. Of course you can always just play free to play champions, but it is nice to be able to know you can afford a champion you enjoy playing without having to do what comes to feel like grinding.
Get past all that for a second, and Heroes of the Storm is fun. For those who aren’t as familiar with MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm is likely the best introduction for them. It seems like a good game to master mechanics, quick thinking, and team coordination. It is not the full package though, and standing up next to the MOBA giants could easily become a side game you play with friends when the servers are down on other games, or when you’re trying to play with friends who don’t want to play anything else.
It is not a mastery game though. It is not a game most will feel the need to play for hours on end in order to better their skills. It isn’t quite what people would call “casual,” but it can sometimes feel that way. If you generally aren’t a fan of MOBAs or you’re new to MOBAs, you’ll likely find some enjoyment in Heroes of the Storm. Or if you just aren’t interested in the mastery aspect, you may like Heroes of the Storm. If you’ve been playing League or DoTA for a while though, you’re going to probably get bored with it quickly unless you have friends to play with. It has a purpose in the MOBA genre, and no one can really argue against that. As with all MOBAs though, these things can change very rapidly as heroes are balanced, new maps are introduced, and changes are constantly made to the game. Large changes will likely not be made for a while, but it may be worth keeping an eye on Heroes to see which direction Blizzard will take it in now that the public is going to get their say.
Heroes of the Storm is free to play and reviewed on PC.
Heroes of the Storm is fun, but it doesn't have much to keep you coming back consistently.