As far as game developers go, there are few as legendary as Blizzard. Throughout the years, Blizzard has created a ton of super popular games, with titles like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Hearthstone boasting huge, committed player bases. Still, not every game Blizzard has released has gone on to become some sort of mega hit – Diablo 3 might immediately spring to mind for most gamers, but there’s also the curious case of Heroes of the Storm, a game that should have captured a larger group of players than it ultimately did.
For my money, Heroes of the Storm is the best game Blizzard supports at the moment, so it’s a little confounding that I don’t hear it brought up nearly as much as WoW or Overwatch. If you’re not familiar with it – and I can’t really blame you if you aren’t – what follows is a quick rundown of what Heroes of the Storm actually is.
Heroes (or HotS) is what Blizzard calls a “hero brawler.” On the surface, it has a lot in common with other MOBA games – two teams of five players battle for control of a two or three lane map. You goal is destroy enemy forts or keeps in some or all of those lanes, eventually making it to their core at the other side of the map. Destroy the core, win the game. It’s a fairly straightforward concept that has been around ever since DOTA first started gaining steam as a Warcraft 3 mod.
Of course, there’s more to it that that. Minions for each team will periodically spawn in each lane, and killing the enemy team’s minions (or players on the enemy team) will award your team with experience, as will destroying enemy structures. As you gain experience and level up, you hero unlocks new talents, becoming stronger and ultimately more dangerous in team fights – brawls where all 10 players clash in what’s usually a very frenzied and intense ordeal.
Most people who have played another MOBA like League of Legends or DOTA 2 will be familiar with the concepts Heroes of the Storm brings to the table. Even though those three games share a lot of similarities, Heroes manages to stand out by changing or dropping a few long-running MOBA mechanics.
In League and DOTA, each player on a team has their own individual experience level. In Heroes, on the other hand, experience is shared across the entire team, so all five players reach new levels and talent tiers at the same time. In that sense, Heroes is a little more user-friendly than its two biggest competitors. Players who do a good job of soaking as much experience as possible can make up for someone who might not be keeping up with minion waves or pushing structures down, making sure that no one falls too far behind for not playing their absolute best.
Heroes also does away with mechanics like last hitting and items. As long as you’re near an enemy when they die, be it a minion or a player, you’ll earn experience – you don’t have to be the one to deal the killing blow to reap the rewards. Item purchasing, a cornerstone mechanic of games like League and DOTA, doesn’t exist at all in Heroes. Your character build and its effectiveness is purely down to the talents you pick as you level up and whether or not your hero is countered by the enemy team.
Because of these changes, it’s easy to see why League and DOTA players might shrug-off Heroes as being a more casual game. In some ways it is – there is no extended laning phase in Heroes, and matches generally last around 20 minutes, which is quite a bit shorter than matches in League and DOTA. However, I think that these changes are for the better, as it puts a lot more focus on mechanical skill and team fighting, two of the most entertaining and rewarding aspects of MOBAs.
Earlier this year, Blizzard recruited three big League of Legends pros – Dyrus, Voyboy, and Scarra – to learn how to play Heroes under a coach and then climb the ranked ladder. Every time they won a game or went up in rank, Blizzard donated money to the Make-A-Wish foundation, with a big $25,000 donation going to the player who achieved the highest rank by the end of the event, known as Try Hard for Good. Once Try Hard for Good was over, Scarra compared Heroes to his game of choice by pointing out that a typical Heroes match feels like diving into a League match at the 15 minute mark.
Scarra’s description is fitting, and it could be why many grisled MOBA veterans consider Heroes to be more softcore than League and DOTA. In my opinion, though, Heroes manages to cut a lot of the grind from a traditional MOBA match, leaving you with fast-paced, action-packed battles where you’re always at risk of getting picked off by the enemy team and comebacks are as simple as winning a team fight and going all-in to push your momentary advantage as much as possible.
To blame Heroes’ relative unpopularity on mechanical difference alone doesn’t give us a complete picture, though. The game was also hurt by launching after the heavyweights of the MOBA genre had established themselves. By the time Heroes launched in June 2015, DOTA 2 had already been available for two years, and League of Legends was six years old. League of Legends will almost certainly remain the king of MOBAs for quite some time, and I seriously doubt that Heroes has any hope of catching up.
Still, if you’re a League or DOTA player and you’re growing tired of your game, you should check out Heroes of the Storm. That’s especially true if you’re already fond of Blizzard games, as Heroes features popular Blizzard characters from each of the developer’s series. There’s nothing quite like playing as Diablo and going head-to-head with other Blizzard greats like Thrall, Kerrigan, and Tracer.
Just as well, if you find other MOBAs intimidating or too much of a time investment, Heroes might be a good game for you. The streamlining Blizzard has done makes this a great game for people who dislike traditional MOBAs but like the idea behind competitive arena games.
In the time since it launched, Heroes of the Storm has become one my favorite games. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but I think it may have flown under the radar for a lot of people. It’s free-to-play too, so if nothing else, it doesn’t cost anything to take it for a spin. If you’re looking for a new game to play and you like competitive multiplayer, you should give Heroes of the Storm a try, because I’d love to see more of you in the Nexus.