By Ian Boone. This is LOAD FILE, where we cover video games and their ilk. This week, Ian plays Heroes of the Storm, published by Activision Blizzard and out now for Windows and Mac.
Everybody’s doing crossovers these days. It makes good sense to bring around several groups of fans devoted to different franchises into a mutual arena. Milk that herd in one spot, save on buckets. (Or something.)
And multiplayer online battle arena games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends are certainly raking it in. The seductive lure of a free-to-play game makes it easy for the curious gamer to hop on, and easier to badger their friends into getting into it as well.
This all leads to the reason why I summoned you to this hyperlink today: I need more badasses to play ranked matches with me in Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s new MOBA based off their sundry and storied series. I’m into this game with a burning fervor that goes beyond my normal enjoyment of Blizzard offerings.
REINVENTING THE GAME
In general, MOBAs try to do the whole RPG experience in one match, a standard set by the original Defense of the Ancients. This means playing a character who is generally a weenie on a team of weenies versus another team of weenies in a contest to destroy each other’s base. “Underpowered” is how these weenies start, but by gradually pecking at enemy non-weenies and judiciously harvesting/expending gold while staying alive, these weenies will rise above and take victory home.
Heroes of the Storm accelerates the action by several means. Heroes all have four Abilities available right away, providing a lot more options in battle without having to level up first. Your team shares the same experience pool and level, which makes every player’s kills matter all the more. There is no equipment to buy or craft in a match. Heroes just beef up with experience and choose talents (and maybe new abilities) at level milestones.
Blizzard doesn’t stop with the formula there. Neutral mercenaries hang around that can be beaten or coerced to join your team… or the enemy, provided they get there first. Managing the mercs is important, but objectives can matter even more. Each of Heroes of the Storm’s seven maps have a different major side-objective that can have huge consequences on the match. Gathering a dozen gold coins on Blackheart’s Bay sets a ghost pirate ship to task on bombarding enemy forts. In Dragon Shire, controlling three different points at the right time can turn a teammate into a powerful Dragon Knight for a duration.
Yeah, seven maps. There will be more to come as well, all based on different Blizzard properties and featuring unique objectives. Speaking of properties, every playable Hero harkens from a Blizzard game. Tyrael from Diablo, Uther from Warcraft, Sgt. Hammer from Starcraft… these and thirty-five other stars have come out to shine. Their abilities are even heavily based on those properties, and come with appropriate audio and visual fan service. Sgt. Hammer, for example, is a Siege Tank from Starcraft that plants anchors and deploys an even bigger gun for long range assault. Dee-lightful!
THE PRESENT COULD BE BETTER
As much as I feel at home in a match, there are a few problems outside that need to be fixed. Matchmaking was very minimalistic at launch, offering a party of only four to join random matchmaking against humans or to play AI. Solo queuing can be painful when your team lineup appears and it lacks in a good balance of character types.
Hypothetical scenario: A player enters the Quick Match wait, eager to try off their new healing skills with a newly-bought Hero. The team appears… and it’s two other healers, and two squishy-ranged damage dealers. Fifteen minutes in, the team is going down in flames despite their best effort, but there is no graceful surrender option. You can idle until the fiery end of your team’s base, but attempts to exit the game and join another match will just reconnect to the old one.
So if one wants anything more fancy than jumping in blindly (with or without friends) into multiplayer, there’s a Hero League and a Team League. But these are only open to players level 30 or higher with ten or more heroes owned. Earning the heroes isn’t too difficult, but grinding match after match is a chore if you want to unlock more organized play. (Playing intensely for three weeks just now got me there.)
The objectives in each battleground can be a little too decisive at times. If one team is making a concerted effort to hit the high-value targets, it definitely rails things their way. Working against a well-oiled team in a stand-up fight in any game is hard, but when their efforts also bring boss monsters and eldritch lasers to raze your base, there just isn’t much one can do.
The team element matters on an even more intrinsic level. Remember that the entire team shares the same level and experience, so anyone dying repeatedly or slacking off holds back everybody’s character growth. When one team has their level ten ultimates unlocked before the other, it can just adds to the steamroll.
NOTHING TO LOSE BUT SLEEP AND FREE TIME!
This isn’t a friendly game for newcomers. There’s a ton of nuance to learn, from individual character capabilities to map timers. Mistakes will be made, hurtful words will be exchanged, and a scoreboard will roll. Time and determination will decide what kind of player you become, and the idea is you’ll have fun doing it.
For veterans of other MOBAS, Heroes of the Storm will definitely seem lacking and flawed in some aspects. But it already comes with a pretty slick layer of polish and refinement regarding the actual gameplay, and future updates could address the problems in matchmaking.
With a committed publisher behind it and drawing from Starcraft, Warcraft, and Diablo fans, Heroes of the Storm will be sure to last a few golden ages. I fall under all three categories, so I don’t think there’ll ever be any chance of getting these hooks out.