Almost every hero is fun to play.
The rounds are relatively short.
Cooperation is required for a successful team.
Some of the map objectives are tedious.
Prices for characters, skins and mounts are a little too steep.
Simplicity is prioritized above all else.
Heroes Of The Storm Review
Heroes of the Storm prioritizes accessibility and simplicity first and fun second. In favor of simplicity, there is no item shop, no jungling, nor digital books to purchase. There aren’t secret shops to find or runes to unlock or any other nonsense like that. Instead, there is a game that finds its complexity in other places, such as a rotating selection of maps and objectives that separates Blizzard’s game from other titles in the genre.
At its core, HotS adheres to the roots of the genre; the main objective of every match is to storm the enemy base with your team while keeping the enemy heroes and minions away from your own base. Each of the seven maps has an objective that ranges from summoning a dragon knight by capturing shrines to collecting gold coins for a pirate who will eventually fire his ghost ship at the enemy team’s structures. Completing a map’s objective can turn the tide in favor of a losing team or assure a winning team’s dominance. Many times my team was embarrassed as we stupidly forgot to collect tributes that inflict a curse on the enemy team, essentially rendering their minions and defensive towers useless. The opposing team would collect the tributes to cast the curse on us, immediately sending our team on the defense and often lead to a definitive failure on our end.
Therein lies one of the issues with the rotating cast of maps – too often I would simply forget about a map’s objective or forget the exact strategy to employ for each map. Too often I wouldn’t catch on to the fact that I shouldn’t just be focusing on leveling or killing enemies heroes, but that I should instead focus on collecting seeds to summon a giant, rideable plant monster, for example. My forgetfulness could’ve been the result of many things; I have played a good amount of other MOBAs where the only focus is leveling and PvP combat. Better team communication would have definitely been helpful, I played on a fair share on teams where the obvious reason for our resultant loss was the lack of coordination for completing the map’s objective. Or simply, a better familiarity with the game may be all that’s necessary but after playing for dozens of hours my understanding of the maps may not increase too much more.
Every so often, there will be a friendly reminder about the objective, and there is a clear display of statistics for the match so my forgetfulness may not be entirely the fault of the design of maps alone. However, not all of the maps are fun to play, and some objectives feel tedious and unfair if the enemy team has the advantage. The Cursed Mines are a particularly egregious example because it is essentially two maps that you have to teleport constantly between in order to kill minions in the mines and summon a formidable giant skeleton to fight for your team. Monitoring a surface level map and the mines below is an annoyance on top of the standard push and pull of the interplay between the heroes.
All of this demands an increased level of cooperation between all the members of a well-functioning team. At any given time, there is a myriad of things going on at one time during a match. Teams that stick close together won, more often than not, and coordination is necessary at all phases in a match. In one corner, a couple of heroes could be destroying spiders to collect crystals to summon a spider queen while another player is destroying a camp of minions while the others fight defend the edges of the base from the enemy heroes. Sometimes, ignoring the objective altogether and going straight for the enemy base is the best viable option but either way, teams who do not coordinate have almost no chance of winning.
Generally, my experience with quick public matches was pretty good – players on my team communicated, for the most part, when it was urgently needed and did their part in trying to defeat the opposing team. Of course, I lost more than my fair share of games due to the lack of player communication among my team, as well. There is a prompt at the beginning of every match that gives the option to disable the in-game team text chat for the duration of the match, if a player theoretically wants to tune out the rest of their team. Everyone knows how toxic some online gaming communities can be and I don’t oppose this option in the game but a team that doesn’t communicate is destined to lose and option like that at the beginning of every match is not helping things much.
At the very least, the punishment for a lack of cooperation and failure is fairly light. During a match, heroes accrue experience as a team, so there is no concept of a singularly overpowered player because of excess experience. Dying multiple times to enemy heroes will give the other team a nice chunk of experience, but it won’t turn the tide of the battle in the enemy’s favor. Therefore, the vast majority of the games that I won or lost by a wide margin was the result of the cooperation between every player, or nearly every player, on the opposing team and not the result of an individual, overpowered foe. Of course, one player can still have a large influence on the tide of the battle but team efforts are more important, by far.
From Warcraft to Diablo, Blizzard has crammed in a whole host of its characters from almost every era of the company’s existence. The character models are stylized in the cartoony Blizzard style to a nice effect, Anub’arak, a character from Warcraft, is one of my favorites. Each hero has a set of four abilities that are bound to the Q, W, E, and R keys. The first three abilities are unlocked at the beginning of the match while the fourth skill is a special ability that is unlocked for the team at level 10. A few heroes have a fifth ability bound to the D key that is unlocked late in a match. Talents give characters special active and passive abilities that are unlocked over the course of a match. Every few levels you are given the option to pick from multiple augmentations that make an ability more powerful or gives a hero a passive trait. Experimenting with combinations of talents for your heroes is a fun addition that adds variety from match to match.
The characters are split into separate classes that denote their range and abilities. Melee characters are good for an up-close fight while ranged and support characters are better used behind the front lines. Although, during the latter part of a match some ranged characters can inflict enormous amounts of damage. Specialist characters have special abilities that make them particularly interesting, especially my favorite, Nagara, the mother of the zerg brood who can summon hydralisks, roaches and other zerg creatures. A well-balanced team is composed of multiple class types – a supporting healer of some variety is almost required in the large team battles. However, a quick public match is a blind matching of your hero with four other heroes to compose the team for battle. You choose a hero before joining any match queue, an obvious decision to eliminate the picking and banning phases of choosing characters in other MOBAs. It’s nice to be able always to play as any hero for any match, however, not knowing who I’ll be matched with often led to teams that did not have proper team balancing. We were often missing a support or healer or had too many of a single class and lost because of the imbalance. Creating a party with friends partially mitigates this problem but that knowledge of the map and enemy team’s composition is still unknown until the beginning of the match.
Matches are generally pretty quick affairs, usually lasting in the ballpark of approximately 20 minutes. A few games carried on until a little past the half hour mark and a some victories or losses by a wide margin and were less than 10 minutes. The relatively fast match times are one of my favorite things about HotS. It easy to set aside time to play a couple of matches and it’s much easier to convince myself to play one more round when it could theoretically only last 15 minutes. The leveling progression in each round is paced to the point where there isn’t an elongated period of initial weakness, and the objectives require attention not long after a match begins.
Outside of the matches, there are multiple leveling systems and currencies and some additional content that muddies up some of the simplicity of HotS. It is a free-to-play game that has a rotating list of free heroes that change every week. Heroes can be bought from the in-game store using real money or the in-game gold earned from leveling, matches, and quests. Skins and mounts can also be bought from the store, however, they can only be bought with real money, so there is no way to earn the epic unicorn mount from simply playing the game. Of course, these items are purely cosmetic and have no effect on the gameplay but it is a little unfortunate that these goods can’t be a reward for the most dedicated players who would be willing to put in the game time to earn a cool mount. Charging $10 for a skin or mount is a little steep for my comfort zone (the unicorn is $20) but Blizzard is not the first to implement this business plan into a game.
The business model is the one element of HotS that feels simply copy-and-pasted from other games in the genre into Blizzard’s title. I don’t have any qualms with it as a free-to-play game, but the requirements for unlocking some heroes feels like far too much of a time sink. Heroes vary by cost, for an inexplicable reason, with some heroes requiring a hefty fee of 10,000 coins and long hours of grinding in the quick matches or the hero league.
Level 30 unlocks the hero league, a ranked system of games, akin to Hearthstone, which pits you against players of similar skill level. As of this writing, I have not been able to try a hero league a match – I am level 25 with hopes to reach the hero league content soon and provide and an update. Experience from a match contributes to a player level, as well as individual hero level, to a maximum of level 10 for each hero. It’s doled out rather generously for heroes; a single match can take a hero from level 1 to 4. Player level increases on a much slower pace, and rewards are given every five levels such as extra gold or a stimpack. At level 25 all of the talents for every hero is unlocked, negating the grind for better talents for low-level heroes. For many, the leveling will be trivialized at level 30 but the hero league will provide an additional leveling progression for those who are especially dedicated to the game.
Ultimately, Heroes of the Storm is one of the most fun experiences I’ve had so far this year. In its quest for simplicity, it succeeds more often than it fails, and the majority of my matches were fun to play, even if it resulted in a loss. I still have qualms about the business model of purchasing heroes and skins for prices that are a little outside of my comfort zone, but the game, at its heart, is far beyond a competent entry in the genre, and is something I wholeheartedly recommend to all those who are squeamish about MOBAs.
Heroes Of The Storm Review
2nd June 2015