Over the past year or two I've read a couple of books and watched a couple of films that personally I think would make epic video games.
Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard’s Upcoming “Team Brawler”
It’s been nearly two years since the minor, legal snafu between Blizzard and Valve over the title of Blizzard’s work-in-progress game, Blizzard DOTA. The game has since been re-branded as Heroes of the Storm and just yesterday released another match of gameplay footage. Although Blizzard is attempting to distance themselves from the caustic connotations of the (woefully ineptly titled) genre of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, at first glance Heroes of the Storm is squarely in the realm of MOBA tropes. But as that weird saying goes, “never judge a book’s position by the first glance” or whatever. As I took longer looks at gameplay, however, I found a slew of noticeable changes fit to whet the appetites of Blizzard and MOBA fans alike.
What It Is
Heroes of the Storm is being described as an “online team brawler” and the laundry list of changes that Blizzard is applying makes that title seem a bit more appropriate. It (currently) maintains the QWER-ability layout and the 5v5 team structure that’s standard in MOBAs but then things take a turn for the weird.
Players don’t get experience points individually but rather as a team. If a single player remains in a lane farming for experience points, then the entire team will gain those points and progress towards the next level in unison. The lanes also have seen a bit of change. There are still allied and enemy towers that dot the length of the lane but now they pose a more “tangible” deterrent than merely the threat of force: between the towers is a gate that is synced to a team, meaning that only members of that team can pass through the gates. At least while the towers still stand. While players dart in and out of the safety of their towers, they can take a quick respite by the healing fountains close by.
To further expound upon MOBA traditions, Heroes of the Storm will feature a plethora of maps that each have a mechanic that noticeably changes the back-and-forth action that occurs on the journey to let a bull loose in the china shop that is the enemy base. Take the map “Dragon Shire” as an example (featured in the video); while players will always want to blow up the enemy’s base, there are the side objectives of controlling the shrines and summoning a massive Dragon Knight to help in the siege. Most of the known maps currently have a similar outcome if not the same method of getting that outcome: in one map, players gather gold coins to pay off a ghost captain to bombard the enemies’ structure, in another players harvest skulls from an abandoned mine to strengthen a golem that will stomp through a lane, generally making the opponents’ lives miserable.
What It Affects
The changes to laning open up more varied team movements early in the game. Though the length of the laning phase might vary in most MOBAs, there is always a portion of the game that demands that players stay in a lane to gather gold and experience to prepare for the middle and late game. Usually if players travel too much during the early game, they end up underfarmed and underleveled when confrontations between teams become more important. If a single player can defend a lane against the waves of enemies, that frees up the rest of the team to contest the side control points dotted across the various maps and leads to more asymmetric line-ups.
This also means that it will be harder for there to be teammates that are entirely useless due to an extreme level difference. It all leads back towards the increased emphasis on the “team” that Blizzard is pushing for rather than the lonewolf that snowballs hard and carries the team by him/herself. While it may not appeal to DOTA purists, streamlining the more individual aspects seems like it can help eliminate some of the unpleasantness that is becoming inherent in MOBA-gaming.
The other change to laning, the gated towers, will negatively impact “tower diving” (the act of tanking damage from a tower in the attempt to kill an opponent hiding underneath it), thought it won’t eliminate it. Heroes of the Storm will offer routes through the jungle that allow enemies to bypass those tower checkpoints, making tower diving possible albeit a bit more roundabout. The healing towns near the towers mitigates the necessity of traveling back to the base’s healing fountain for any significant healing. That travel back to base has been something that newer MOBAs have attempted to deal with as some see it as a necessary sacrifice for being forced out of the lane. There is no denying the downtime imposed by having to travel back to the action forces a lull in the flow of combat. To further mitigate that boring trek Blizzard has given everyone mounts. So even if you die and respawn back at your base, each player will have access to a steed to decrease travel times between point A and point B.
The number of different maps that serve as more than just a visual shift further backs up Blizzard’s idea that Heroes of the Storm does not fit in with other MOBAs. While the core gameplay is preserved, the different sub-objectives will push towards different teams and different tactics that will spice up what can be seen, by some, as a bit repetitious once the sunny glow of a new game wears away.
All in all, Heroes of the Storm is offering a newcomer-friendly “team brawler” that is significantly distinguishes itself from Strife, another upcoming MOBA that is boasting its accessibility. As Heroes of the Storm is only just entering a public alpha phase, much is being tweaked as development progresses and even more is still hidden away somewhere in the unknowable vaults of Blizzard.