I understand that the statement “Heroes of the Storm is the best MOBA out there” could cause a bit of a furor on the internet. Genre favorites to people who play games are a personal, almost intimate thing, and declaring that one equally good game is better than another can cause a lot of rage. Note that I said equally good: League of Legends has an amazing amount of content and paved a path for great free-to-play systems and esports. DOTA 2 has an obscene amount of depth, letting fans dive deep to appreciate learning intricate systems.With all of that being said, Heroes of the Storm has captured me. Every time I play it, I find myself more and more engrossed, becoming more invested in learning how to play, and play well. There are multiple reasons for this, which I’ll get into, but it’s funny how I love Heroes of the Storm more now because of how much I hate one of their newest characters, Valeera.
Her weapons really shouldn't be called daggers, if they're that big...
Polish Until You See Your Reflection: The Blizzard Way
Let me start with speaking of how Blizzard does business: they find a genre that’s established, find flaws in it, and then produce a game that’s meant to perfect it. It’s how they took their place at the table with the Real Time Strategy series of Warcraft and Starcraft. After that, the declared themselves royalty by setting the standard in MMOs with World of Warcraft. And now? Well, we know how Overwatch has been doing recently.The MOBA genre is a tough nut to crack in some ways. It’s very particular, and the fan base has been known to be… dedicated, shall we say. It is why the game style has such a large audience and fan-base, but it's also why it makes the game so intimidating to other gamers. When you first log into League of Legends, for example, it seems as though the possibilities are endless; the truth is, once you get into the game a few levels, you will have other players yelling at you for building the wrong items, the wrong abilities, or even simply not being in the ‘right’ lane that’s become designated for a particular character.This is where we get to Heroes of the Storm. First, I have to state that Blizzard benefited from two things in the creation of this game: waiting to develop, and branding. HotS was released officially in June 2015, and so it was several years after standards were set – and becoming dated – in the genre. Secondly, Blizzard decided to pull from a source that not many in the industry could: its own game library. The hero line-up of this game is a mash-up of characters already used in their previous games, from a broad range of styles.
It was a brilliant move. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a space marine stare down a lord of Hell?
The Benefits of Simplicity
Accessibility has been the motto behind Heroes of the Storm. I have no doubt that DOTA 2 is a great game, but I simply can’t get into it. As someone with a full-time job and also trying to write on the side, I can’t invest that much time and effort into one game just to get to the point where I’m having fun and not being yelled at by other players. HotS already made me feel welcome by making its characters familiar, but what Blizzard did to the game mechanics of a MOBA was inspired.Again, Blizzard benefited here from being later to the genre, but our writer Dana puts it best: Blizzard is a company that is willing to break and twist a game style outside of its normal understood boundaries to make something better. Last-hitting minions for experience is not only gone, but replaced with team experience points, not individual. Suddenly, not only does the game feel more easily understandable, but it also promotes team gameplay.The headache of itemization is gone, and each character has all their starting abilities immediately. This allowed Blizzard to make leveling up feel more dynamic, because now levels give you different modifications to your character, even halfway through a game. One of my favorite characters, Artanis, is a tank-like hero that I like to twist into being a massive damage dealer through specific choices I make as a player. If I’m playing against a lot of mage characters, I can choose instead abilities that shield me from spell damage.
Simpler Mechanics Don’t Mean Simpler Games
One of the best things about HotS’s accessibility is how it’s allowed the game to actually feel more complicated. Let me explain: games like DOTA 2 and Heroes of Newerth are great because of their technical complexity. You learn specific roles and set strategies in order to succeed, and when you do that, it feels fantastic. Memorizing when to cash in for your item build, and understanding which exact order to go after jungle creeps are great examples in how games reward dedicated players.Heroes of the Storm has tons of this sort of learning as well: knowing each character’s abilities helps you anticipate specific attacks or tactics, for example. In comparison to other MOBA games however, HotS doesn’t rely on as much textbook complexity, and instead throws chaos at you. There’s more than one map, and each map has its own monsters and specific objectives. Some maps have the traditional three lanes of attack, while others have only two.
Unleashing a tidal wave of zerg on the Braxis Holdout map I think is my favorite pay-off in the game though, hands down.
HotS, therefore, has more dynamic complexity. In the hours I’ve thrown into all MOBAs, this is the one I find the most interesting because I have so much more variability to deal with. While games like League of Legends give me options in what to buy for my character, it’s a puzzle to figure out, and then master game after game. On the base level, Heroes of the Storm tries to teach players to always, always be aware of their surroundings and know how to commit to the right fights on the field.Everyone has their own hang-ups. For me, I don’t want to be punished because I bought the wrong weapon; I want to be punished for being an idiot and ignoring the siege tank destroying the objective.
How To Make Characters Feel Unique
If there is one thing Blizzard truly does right, it’s that they understand the need to make characters can feel special and unique. Sometimes this translates to great presentation and including diversity in a roster (Overwatch), or creating a massive backstory over the course of decades (the Warcraft series). However, I’ll be the first to admit that League of Legends has a massive cult of personality, and for good reason. Heck, I hadn’t played the game in a year, and I still stood on line for over two hours to take a walk through their Summoner’s Rift display at last year’s PAX East.With that in mind, Blizzard had to up their game for Heroes of the Storm, and they couldn’t do it just with presenting great small backstories and catchy lines. Sure, they did draw from their great collection of characters, but that wouldn’t exactly be enough. This time, it had to be done with gameplay.
...Sure, lets make a Murloc a force of terror. I'm sure nothing can go wrong.
Murky, the unstoppable-yet-adorable murder machine is all the proof you need to show that HotS was trying to make something a little different. Hearing the sound effect for a hero’s death becomes meaningless when you are playing, as he respawns every five seconds wherever the little annoyance has hidden his aggravating egg on the map. Or, I suppose if you need more proof, you could always look at Cho’Gall, the character that is so ridiculous you need two players at once to control him.Skill shots and flashy ultimate moves have been done before, and done very well, and so Blizzard had to make characters different on a base level in order to compete. From Abathur’s back-seat possession style of gameplay, to Rexxar bringing a bear with him into battle, most characters feel wildly different from each other. It’s what, again, brings dynamic complexity to the matches: seeing just how each character’s special arsenal will interact with the other characters in the game.
The Stealth Mechanic, And How Heroes Of The Storm Fixed It
I hate stealth in MOBA games. Hate it. Maybe that makes me a bad player, but I’ve simply been thrown under the bus way too many times by a Shaco player that knows how to set a great ambush. It feels cheap and inevitable; it is impossible to feel ‘safe’ on the battlefield, constricting your movement as you are stalked across the map. Games like this are made to promote battlefield awareness, and stealth characters invalidate that feeling for me.Valeera makes me an incredibly unhappy person. I’m a huge fan of tanks in HotS already, and now I find myself playing them almost exclusively because of this scary blood elf. She can stay stealthed, re-stealth, and stack damage so high and fast that playing slow-moving assassin characters is like painting a target on your back. I have, since her release, found myself playing almost exclusively tanks in order to hide from her scary antics.I’m not ashamed to say I stopped playing League of Legends in part due to the amount of stealth that seemed determined to drive me insane; there are only so many toxic mushrooms you can run into in a row (damn you, Teemo). It seems like a small reason as to why the game was too much for me, but it was a final straw for sure. When I first logged into Heroes of the Storm, I was happy for the change of pace, the new maps, and just getting a fresh start. Then, as Nova became more and more popular, and players became more lethal with Zeratul, part of me wanted to abandon ship right there.But I didn’t quit. I didn’t quit because of what Blizzard added: the stealth-shimmer. It's a funny little hold-over from the Starcraft series; you could be minding your own business, building up a small little base for yourself, when you see several distortions on the ground around your workers. It often meant they were scouting you with observers...or more nefariously, preparing to assault with dark templars, hitting for massive damage out of the shadows. A smart player could see the warning signs, and even if he was helpless to do anything about it at first, had a chance to brace before impact.
When I realized, after a few months of playing, that stealthed characters 'shimmered' in Heroes of the Storm, my heart leapt. I would walk into bushes to set up an ambush as a tank, and suddenly, I would see a ripple of light as one of their team snuck away to reposition. It gave me those few moments warning I needed to manage to get away, or call for help before the teamfight began. It was only a few games later that I realized that with skillshots, I could actually try and hit those damn stealthy heroes. In that moment, the game changed was transformed. Suddenly, I was able to counter this tactic in a way I never had been able to before. As a tank, I could look for the warning sign of a cloaked character, and then baseball swing with my King Leoric mace to reveal the enemy right near us. As Artanis, I could use my phase shift to pull back a Nova or Valeera into my enemy team, even as they fled.It was this subtle, but incredibly important change to a key element of MOBA games which cemented my love for Heroes of the Storm, and also brought me to realize a very important lesson about games in general.
Play The Game That Feels Made For You
While this article is certainly an attempt to scratch the surface as to how I think Blizzard has made a great game, it’s more of a reminder that it’s important to pursue the games you actually want to play. While I love the idea of MOBAs, I found myself playing them often out of habit, rather than enjoyment. For me, Heroes of the Storm was a reimagining of the style that brought the fun back, rather than mindlessly repeating games to go up in rank. Every game has a mechanic, a bug, or a fan-base that you are simply not going to like. Finding the right game for you isn’t just about the one that has the flashiest graphics or a great story: it’s about finding the one that you can deal with at its best and its most frustrating.At the end of the day, I find myself logging onto Heroes of the Storm when I don’t want to write or review games for a little while. Calling up friends and leaping into free-play, I find myself laughing at the ridiculous chaos of zerg swarms and giant angels charging across the battlefield. Inevitably, there comes a match where the cards feel stacked against me; I’m playing on my most hated map (Cursed Hollow), and the enemy line up has Nova, Valeera, and other characters that can vanish out of sight.
To be fair, watching Valeera clones try to out-stealth each other is an absolute blast
Valeera has still murdered me more times than I would care to admit. At the same time, I also can’t count the times where I’ve seen that damn shimmer right as she sneaks into position, and I am the one that surprises her instead. I still am not a huge fan of stealth in MOBAs, but in this game it feels fair, and it feels right. Will I ever be fully satisfied with stealth characters in-game? Probably not, but HotS has found a new middle ground where those filthy back-stabbers can try to keep murdering, but I have a way to fight back and still have fun.In the end, the real message is that it’s important not just to play games, but to understand why you play them in order to have the most fun you possibly can. Yes, it sucks being stabbed in the back. But the enjoyment I get calling down space lasers as Artanis in revenge more than makes up for it. Find the game that isn’t just good but that’s right for you as well.Now if you excuse me, I have a dirty blood elf to catch.