‘Heroes of the Storm’ Preview – A MOBA Everyone Would Love

Let’s be honest, here: it was only a matter of time until developer Blizzard would join the multiplayer online battle arena scene. I’m not sure if the Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients was the very first MOBA title, but it sure was the one to popularize the entire genre. Thus, Heroes of the Storm was inevitable.

Up until a month or so ago, getting into the Alpha required either being close to someone working on the game, or incredibly lucky. Now that the Closed Beta phase is up and running, Heroes of the Storm has opened up a little more, and I have recently had the chance of battling countless opponents on the game’s impressive number of maps, using various characters from the three, well-known Blizzard universes. Bottom line? This is a MOBA title which everyone can enjoy, no matter their skill.

Hey, why is Jim Raynor fighting Diablo?

The whole point of Heroes of the Storm is to gather all of Blizzard’s characters from its games, so fans of StarCraftWorld of Warcraft or Diablo will surely recognize the usual suspects like Jim Raynor, Li Li, or… well, Diablo itself. Besides other well-known characters like Kerrigan, Nova, Thrall, Arthas, Valla or Tyrael, it seems like Blizzard hasn’t forgotten about its older games, as the studio has recently introduced The Lost Vikings, a character from a 1992 title, so we should expect other surprises down the road (Kyle from Blackthorne, anyone?).

For now, the game features 34 or so characters and six maps, but the developer has stated it wants to add more to these categories, until players get sick of them. I don’t see that happening anytime, so Heroes of the Storm might someday become as popular as LoL or DOTA 2. Maybe even make it to the competitive scene?

Last hit? What’s that?

What separates Heroes of the Storm from the usual MOBA title lies in its simplicity. For starters, there are no items to buy, nor any kind of wards for extra vision. Instead, after reaching levels four, seven, 10, 13, 16 and 20, players get to select a talent – one for each level, including level one – which improve either their basic statistics like damage or health, or the four skills usually assigned to the Q, W, E, R buttons. More than that, some talents create new skills, which are automatically assigned to the numbered buttons. To make things just a little bit more complicated, each hero also features two ultimate abilities, instead of one. On the other hand, there’s no “last hit” scenario, so everyone on the team levels-up at the same time, and there’s really no need for someone to be a jungler.

Another difference the game presents us is the ability of not only leveling-up your account, but each hero, individually. Ranking up any character unlocks more talents, color variations for their skins and mounts (I’ll get to that in a bit) and even a whole different skin which can be bought with in-game money. Speaking of which, this being a free-to-play title, the development money has to come from somewhere, right? As such, unlocking extra skins means paying-up with real-life cash. The prices range from five euros to ten, although – as expected – you can unlock every character with in-game cash.

A new day, a new quest!

Winning a game offers you 30 pieces of gold, while losing one gets you 20. Wait, and the cheapest character costs 2000 gold!? Is the grind so cruel? Thankfully, not. Just like in HearthstoneHeroes of the Storm features daily quests, including winning three matches, simply playing as a specialist class, and so on. Completing these quests is fairly easy, and doing so rewards you with anywhere between 300 to 600 pieces of gold (maybe even more; we’ll see). I’ve been playing League of Legends for more than a year now, and Blizzard’s way of unlocking characters via daily quests is far more attractive than developer Riot’s.

To make matters more interesting, each hero features the ability of mounting anything from a pig to a cyber-wolf, significantly improving their speed across the battlefield. Although characters like Azmodan or Sergeant Hammer would crush any mount with their weights, players can still activate said ability and travel at a greater speed. Of course, the game features two mounts as default, and wanting others means paying-up with real-life cash (although the pig can be purchased with twenty thousand gold pieces).

Wait, this game features more than one map?

What I especially love about Heroes of the Storm is the variety in its maps. Sure, the basic layout is the same across all six, but the fact that each map presents an overall atmosphere and a unique event which can crush either team makes Blizzard’s own MOBA far more interesting than the others. Below, you’ll find a description for each map.

  • Sky Temple‘s unique event lies in its three sanctuaries. From time to time, several temples across the map activate, and capturing them allows your team to damage the structures of the opponents via quite a few laser-beam attacks. The trick here is that capturing these temples results in five statues coming to life, forcing you to destroy them in order to keep these grounds in your team’s favor. Add in the inevitable attacks from the enemy players, and some lanes might remain deserted (if you know the map, you must pardon the pun) in favor of keeping these points secured, giving someone the perfect opportunity to push said lanes.
  • In Garden of Terror, killing 100 of the neutral monsters – during the night, only – allows you or one other ally to morph into a giant creature, thus giving your team extra chances of wreaking havoc among the enemy.
  • Dragon Shire is a combination between Garden of Terror and Sky Temple. Two shrines can periodically be captured by at least one player – one for each location – after which a third can free the Dragon Knight from his prison, thus giving him/her control over the giant creature. Of course, just like in Garden of Terror, said giant will either die by the enemy’s hand, or when the timer reaches zero. We can’t have a Dragon Knight or giant flower-pot stumble over everyone for an entire match, right?
  • In Blackheart’s Bay, players gather gold from neutral creatures and scattered chests, pay the titular character a certain number of coins, after which the infamous pirate starts attacking the enemy structures for a short period of time. The risk here is that getting killed means you drop all of your coins, at which point the enemy can pick it up and use it against you.
  • On the other hand, the Haunted Mines offer something a bit different. Said quarries periodically open, giving everyone access to a new map. Killing the undead in the underground spawns two giant golems, one for each team. The trick here is to collect more skulls dropped by the undead than the enemy team, because doing so enhances your golem’s strength.
  • Finally, in Cursed Hollow, periodically collecting three neutral creatures – a.k.a. gathering tribute – weakens the enemy’s forts and minions. This weakening state means forts don’t attack, and the enemy minions’ health is reduced to one point, giving the other team a significant upper-hand in pushing all lanes.

These events make for a far more dynamic MOBA action when compared to the usual suspects like League of Legends or Defense of the Ancients 2, where the only reason for going off your lane is traveling into the jungle or ganking another lane. Even then, that is mostly reserved to the team’s jungler. Of course, Heroes of the Storm‘s maps also feature their own jungles, although these act a bit different. Besides killing the aforementioned neutral monsters for experience, emptying these camps also re-spawns said creatures, now acting as your mercenaries and attacking the enemy.

Even though the current state of Heroes of the Storm is Closed Beta, overall, the game feels almost like a complete MOBA title. Just like any other Blizzard game, Heroes of the Storm is easy to get into, but hard to master. Granted, it’s still one of the easiest entries in said genre, but that only serves to make it more fun. With more characters, maps and various other upgrades on their way, Heroes of the Storm might be the most accessible and fun MOBA title, yet.