Game Review: Blizzard Entertainment’s “Heroes Of the Storm”
Guest Post by Jean-Michel Vaillancourt
I’ve been playing Heroes of The Storm for the past week and I’ve been enjoying every minute of it. It’s already a part of my daily routine to get up in the morning, have breakfast, and play a couple rounds of Heroes Of The Storm (Commonly abbreviated as HOTS).
I’m also an ex-League of Legends (also known as LoL ) player, having played solo queue, duo queue, and a full team — both with and without Skype — for about two years before I quit. However, in spite of enjoying that game, never once in two years was it really part of my daily routine. It was more of a game I played when I had more time to kill than I knew what to do with.
As I’ve been playing HOTS and reflecting on why I am enjoying this game so much, and yet quit LoL in absolute frustration, I have come to the conclusion that it’s because HOTS has a number of radically different design decisions that cut the frustration and rage out of the MOBA genre.
Allow me to back up and explain what a MOBA is first.
MOBAs — Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas — are about fighting in an enclosed map filled with NPC minions and objectives, with three lanes and a “jungle” in between them filled with objectives to give your team a boost. Both teams are pick their own characters, (let’s call them heroes) to control with their own abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
Minions spawn from your end of the map and run down a lane to attack enemy minions and enemy defences to protect a specific building. In this case, we’ll use the League of Legends name for it: The Nexus. The first team to destroy the others Nexus wins the game.
The appeal of MOBAs comes from two aspects: fighting enemy players and teamwork.
Except that the way games such as LoL work almost encourage the opposite behaviour when it comes to teamwork, which then only leaves winning as the main source of entertainment. Not that having fun while winning is bad, but by definition, if the game is completely even, there is still fifty percent odds of losing.
Comparing the “hero select screen” sums up the vital differences between HOTS and LoL in a nutshell. Let’s look at LoL first.
In League of Legends, you are dropped into hero select along with everyone else playing. This does not seem to be a problem, at first, but it spawns the first major issue with it. League of Legends has progressed to the point where there is one accepted team composition: “Top Laner”, “Mid Laner”, “AD Carry”, “Support”, and “Jungler”.
Want to play Mid? Too bad, someone else called it, meaning you either argue with him bitterly over the role, take it and look like a jerk, or relinquish it. And sometimes these arguments can get ugly, breaking apart a team even before they have entered the game and started playing. Heck, locking in a low tier character even if there’s no competition for “X” role usually means a round of heckling all on its own.
In fact, LoL at the time of writing has an alternate queue system just so that you can actually choose who you want and then be dropped into a team that actually wants you there, which is a smart decision by its developers, Riot Games. However, forum research says that there are queue time problems with having players falsely lock in for roles and then be promptly kicked out of the party by their fellow players.
Contrast with Heroes Of The Storm: Opting to play a game does not send you to be matched up with your team and then pick. Instead, you pick your hero and then are partnered up with others.
This makes having defined roles and knowledge of what your team is going to play impossible on purpose. “Play whoever you want,” the Blizzard designers are telling you, as you recline on a virtual La-Z-Boy right from the outset.
“you’re not gonna overfill a role. So what if you have three DPS and two siege heroes? So what if you’re lacking a meat shield? You can still win those fights and get those objectives as long as you work together!” — The Heroes Of The Storm Team Composition Philosophy
It’s a far more casual design approach than expected for a game pitting two teams against each other, which certainly helps tone down the competitive rage.
I have played a game where we did have three DPS and two siege heroes. One player even pointed it out with annoyance.
But, we figured out we had far more firepower then the enemy team did and won the game with no more difficulty than what I would expect from any other game of HOTS.
We also had better team coordination in general, and that brings me to Heroes of The Storm’s second design difference: the maps and how objectives are handled.
In League of Legends, the map is always the same. Same chessboard, different pieces. Monsters hand out little bonuses like Red Buff and Blue Buff… that get handed to the enemy if they kill you. So you better make sure your opponents don’t kill you! Or else.
But, in Heroes of The Storm, the map pool is five maps, each with their own objective. One map, named “Cursed Hollow”, has “Tributes” that appear, and a hero has to run over and capture it by channeling for a brief period of time without being hit.
Whenever a Tributes appears, it’s an instant scramble as both teams converge and fight over it, and by far the most fun I’ve had in a MOBA as I work with my team to fight our foes off and try to capture it in the midst of combat.
And getting these Tributes is vital, as collecting three temporarily turns off the enemy defences and takes their minions down to a single hit point. Not trying for the Tributes means not winning. Period.
In the course of the game as the players go from “barely being able to handle a minion” to “soloing the base defences”, the third design difference is perhaps the most obvious: no gold, no items. In LoL, gold is used to buy items that give certain stat bonuses. I remember downloading a mod that would change the list of “recommended items” from what the Riot Games designers thought was a good idea to an actually viable item build, before Riot put the feature into the game officially. (I used the “LoL Item Changer” made by yourbuddypal, if you happen to be curious.)
Buying items was not deep or complex for me. It was a list of things to be remembered that I just couldn’t bother memorizing.
What’s more, it meant that the extra power could cause one hero to be far more powerful than anyone else on the map and snowball out of control. Sure, it was fun for whoever got to do the curb-stomping, but when you realized that the reason you’re getting curb-stomped is because you died to someone a couple times and he used his power advantage to gradually screw over your whole team?
And then one of your teammates looks at the scoreboard and realizes that you’re the reason the team is losing?
It happens. And it is not fun.
In the place of gold in HOTS — ignoring the out-of-game currency named gold — there is a “talent” system, where the player is given options at set levels to choose one of 2-5 talents that can increase a skills damage, add an extra effect onto the skill, or give an extra activatable skill such as a temporary shield.
For lack of a better way of putting it, talents keep player power levels in check. A “Valla”-class Hero in HOTS may be able to hit you hard and fast with her basic attacks with 15% life-steal, but it’s nowhere near the power level of an AD Carry with a full item build that can crit for half of your health bar and regenerate about 30% of said damage as health.
The fourth design difference, the one I want games designers to take note and take for themselves if they take nothing else is this: when experience to level up is gathered by one player, it’s given into the team pool. A character is not level five, the team is level five. A character does not level up, the team levels up.
For a game genre where the key point of entertainment is five individuals coming together as a team, it’s a wonder why this was never thought of earlier.
The final design difference is one that I did not admittedly think much of until I went to play other games with similar systems: how the Daily Quests are set up versus First Win of the Day (FWotD).
FWotD is fantastic for giving the player who just fought tooth and nail something extra for his victory. And yet, too often I’m frustrated by it because it has rubbed salt in the wound as I am on my losing streak.
Yeah, I lost those two games, you don’t have to remind me that if I had won I would have gotten a nice bonus!
The daily quests, objectives given to the player every 24 hours in Heroes of the Storm, however, require me to play two games as some type of Hero of a certain role. I have lost two games in a row and still felt good about myself and enjoyed said games because the stress of having to win in order to get my extra in-game cash to buy myself a treat is gone.
Simply put, everything from the way characters are chosen, to how objectives are handled, to how in-game power is accumulated and shared amongst the team, to how the out-of-game reward system rewards the players with extra cash shifts the emphasis from “Me vs. The team vs. The other team” to “Our Team vs. Our Foes.”
The first might be far more competitive and interesting to some players, but I’ll be kicking back on the Heroes of The Storm La-Z-Boy Recliner and go for the second option every morning I wake up.