There’s not denying that MOBAs are dominating the gaming world at the moment. One needs to look no further than the League of Legends World Championship prize pool of 2 million or the even more ridiculous prize pool of DOTA’s “The International” which was just shy of 11 million dollars. Additionally, MOBAs are slowly creeping into America’s living room with the recent championship for DOTA being broadcast on ESPN3. In other words, MOBAs are big and there are here to stay. What I don’t think that a lot of people realize is just how many MOBAs (which stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) are available, beyond DOTA and LOL, there have been 25 different MOBAs released since 2009. Some of them are based around existing properties like DC comic books, Dead Island, The Witcher, and even Adventure Time. A new MOBA however is preparing to enter the arena (pun intended) and it’s going to blow a lot of the competition out of the water.
Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm is still in beta but having put a solid 20+ hours into the game I wanted to talk about some of it’s mechanics and why this game will very quickly be on everyone’s radar. First off, MOBAs are not considered simple games. Even though you manage only one character, the game is played on 3v3 or 5v5 maps. As such, you have to constantly be aware of what your teammates are doing, what your opponents are doing, how much experience you’re accumulating, what skills you’re leveling up in what order, what items to purchase for your character, and more. The list goes on and on. What Blizzard has done to set themselves apart is to get of almost ALL of that.
Without a doubt, Blizzard is a simplification of the MOBA formula but as a result it’s essence has been distilled and the fun has been magnified. Let me give you a basic example: I tried played League of Legends several times but found myself turned off because there was simply too much to manage. My brother, a long time player, thought there was nothing strange about alt-tabbing into a website during match play to see what was the next optimum item he should purchase from the store for his character. I thought the idea was ludicrous and simply never looked back.
So what has Heroes of the Storm simplified? First off, the experience bar is tied across the team. Every single action you make from killing a minion to destroying a turret puts exp into the pool so everyone levels up at once. All skills are leveled up at the same time. There are no items, armor, or potions to purchase. Doing well in your match is even more closely tied to teamwork and skill level. Another huge change are the stages themselves. League of Legends does not have much variety when it comes to their maps. They are all 3 lanes with random neutral enemies of different strengths and nothing else (I can’t speak for DOTA but please feel free to leave a comment!) Heroes of the Storm currently has 7 completely different stages. All 7 stages have different layouts and different mechanics specific to that stage. Such as controlling two points on the opposite sides of the map so that a player in the middle of the map can transform into a powerful dragon warrior. Or how about a pirate themed stage where players must earn doubloons with which they can pay a pirate in the middle of the stage to bombard the enemies base. The increased variety is incredibly refreshing and strategies that work on one map will totally backfire on another.
On top of everything else is the requisite Blizzard polish. Each stage and character look beautiful, from the tiny details of your base arming itself during the first 10 seconds of the match to the movement and flow of each character’s hair/flow.. Like most other MOBAs, the game will be free to play. A different selection of free characters will be rotated each week. If you really enjoy playing as a certain character, you can purchase them for permanent use with either real money or with the gold accumulated through regular play. The game is currently in beta and already has a great selection of characters from Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft, and even features the Lost Vikings for real old school Blizzard fans! There’s two levels of progress to the game, a profile level and an individual level with each Character. Leveling up one’s profile leads to rewards of gold for purchasing character and eventually to access to ranked leagues. The character levels on the other hand are a genius mechanic. Initially, many of the characters traits (essentially talents) are locked. This forces you to focus on the “core” abilities of the character you’re playing. As you level said character to level 5, you unlock additional talents which gives you a degree of customization over your character. You could for example specialize them to destroy buildings/turrets or give one of your abilities some additional utility by having them cause a slow effect on the enemy. These options which are selected anew each match let you tinker around with different strategies.
Another feature I really love is that all the characters can be tried in a small private stage to get a feel for them before pulling the trigger and making a purchase. Prices are generally reasonable with the exception of mounts. Mounts are a cosmetic item in the game that help you get around faster, there’s no speed difference between them. As such I was shocked to find a “Rainbow Unicorn” on sale for $20. I could never see myself spending such money on something that did nothing to affect gameplay but to each his own.
Mark my words, Heroes of the Storm will be giving both DOTA and LOL a run for their money as soon as it’s released to the general public. People like myself who have never been able to get into MOBAs before will be flocking to it in droves. If you simply can’t wait, you CAN purchase a founder’s pack for $40 dollars which gives you access to the game and some heroes to start you off with. If you’re currently playing the game, let us know what you think of it! In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to destroying the opposing team’s core!