The Heroes of the Storm panel Friday afternoon at BlizzCon was set up to go more in-depth on the announcements during the opening ceremonies and to let players know the game's progress.
That was the plan anyway; mid-way through the panel technical difficulties stopped the description of new heroes and battlegrounds in it's tracks. The hosts Dustin Browder, Kaeo Milker, Samwise Didier and Alan Dabiri, playfully joked around and then decided to take questions from the audience. Thankfully they were able to give a lot of information about the future of the game before and after this happened.
Kaeo Milker took the stage to begin with and detailed how the game was originally sent home with Blizzard employees and eventually was opened up to a small group of players in March 2014. He stated that this is the earliest public test they've ever had for a game before; most of their games are released in beta when they are almost done while Heroes was done very early in order for it to evolve into the best game it can be.
Milker and Browder then explained how the game has already changed massively since the alpha began; custom games were added, the UI has been completely redesigned, new regional servers were added, the much loathed artifacts were completely removed from the game and much more. There have been major content additions with a battlegrounds called the Gardens of Terror and playable heroes like Murky, Brightwing, Zagara, Rehgar and Azmodan.
Milker then spoke about how they have been ramping up the amount of invites sent out to those signed up to play and how they plan to let even more people in when the closed beta begins on January 13, 2015. If you haven't already, sign ups for the closed beta are available at their official website.
Next up was Lead Software Engineer Alan Dabiri who went in-depth into the new modes and systems. First on the list was the Draft mode, which is the mode all ranked/league play will use. The battleground is picked before any heroes are chosen, then there is a coin toss to see who picks first. Those who get to pick their hero second get to pick two at once and the turns continue until all players have chosen a hero. There are no duplicate heroes allowed but teams are allowed to discuss their strategy as they make their picks. This adds an extra level of strategy to the game; players will be encouraged to pick heroes based on the stage and counter-pick based on the opposing side's choices.
As for hero bans, the development team has decided not to implement them for now as as adding them on top of needing unique characters for every player could potentially add a lot of extra time and complication to the game. As with anything in Heroes of the Storm, this is not set in stone and bans may be implemented in the future if they make sense.
The ranking system in the game will start all players at level 50 and allow them to climb up to level 1. Winning a game wins points while losing makes you lose points; however, the amount of points earned will depend on your skill levels. All players and teams will be assigned specific skill levels depending on how you play; if you happen to win against a lesser skilled team, you will earn less points than if you were to win against a more skilled team.
Each season will see your ranks start anew but your skill levels will be maintained. There are also planned boosts for those who did well in the previous season, thus not requiring a player to have to climb quite as much the second time around. Dabiri explained that match quality was something they found very important to maintain and stated that the matchmaking system will try to pair players with others who are at a similar level of skill.
The two modes that will use the drafting and ranking system are Hero League and Team League. Hero league allows people to queue with any size of group including solo. The game will try to match people of similar skill together and it will favour those with parties of a similar size. This means that if a group of friends usually play together and are a formidable team, they will be placed against another team much like them if possible. This makes the matches fairer for those who are soloing that don't have the added benefit of a team they know how to work with. The skill and personal rank that is achieved in this mode is the player's own; points are not distributed to groups. Like many other MOBAs, this mode will be available to players who have reached level 30 or higher.
Team league is similar to Hero league except that it is designed for teams. Players are allowed to be part of 3 different teams and teams can have up to 9 members with a minimum of 5. Unlike Hero league, all rank and skill points go toward the entire team and not to the individuals. Because this is considered the highest tier of play, players will have to reach level 40 before they can play this mode.
Another aspect of the game the developers wanted to focus on was what to do about people who quit games too soon or as they call them: leavers. Originally they had punished players for leaving early by taking away all gold, exp and rewards from the match in question; however, they found that that didn't really discourage very many people from doing this. So the new idea they are implementing will be flagging these players as leavers and once flagged, they will only be matched up with other leavers.
Addressing questions about this system, Milker stated that there will be a grace period before being marked as such. Someone who has - say - an internet connection problem won't be immediately flagged but if it becomes a repeated pattern then they will be flagged. Becoming unflagged is simple as a player just has to stay to the end of matches in order to be unflagged.
Right before the technical difficulties cropped up and stopped the panel, Dustin Browder came up again to talk about the new heroes and battlegrounds. This was eventually rushed right at the end when the screens came back up but sadly, there wasn't as much information given out as anyone would have hoped.
The first new hero introduced was Jaina Proudmoore. Being a long-standing character in the Warcraft universe, the team wanted her to have her iconic look but tweaked it slightly to look in keeping with the rest of the game. She is a very powerful ice mage that has the ability to do massive damage with area of effect attacks and can even slow down her opponents. Her ultimate ability allows her to summon a water elemental that can unload a ton of damage to opponents and towers alike.
Unfortunately, the addition of Thrall to the game was not covered due to the technical difficulties that occured. Hopefully Blizzard will release more information on him soon, otherwise players will find out what he does when he is added to the game.
Another hero that was detailed was Sylvanas, the Night Elf Ranger-General of Silvermoon. Browder spoke about the team really liking her appearance in World of Warcraft and wanting to keep that look for Heroes of the Storm. She is an ideal character for pushing and has numerous abilities to curse and terrorize opponents. Her special ability is mind control, which she can use on an opponent to turn him or her against their allies.
The final hero announcement was a callback to a game Blizzard released in 1992, The Lost Vikings. These three are controlled as a group but have the ability to be split apart. They are ideal for surrounding opponents and for capturing points. Browder pointed out that a player could use them to capture all three points at once but cautioned that controlling them is very difficult.
Finally were the announcements of the new battlegrounds. The Sky Temple has multiple smaller temples spread throughout the map that can be used by players to blast their opponents but doing so activates guardians that will attempt to kill you along with the other team. The second battleground announced was the Tomb of the Spider Queen and the small bit they could get out about it before time ran out was that players will be able to collect gems to summon the spider queen.
With so much in store and the game still being actively updated, it seems like Heroes of the Storm could see major changes going forward. Are there any features you are excited about? Let us know in the comments below!
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