Blizzard’s first real MOBA is tons of fun but how does it compete with the genre’s leaders?
Heroes of the Storm hasn’t quite seemed as ubiquitous as many other Blizzard properties when they first launched. Everyone went crazy for World of Warcraft or Hearthstone when they first released, but personally, it didn’t feel like the company’s first free to play MOBA was really over-hyped. There was still plenty of pressure to deliver on a compelling game though especially when you consider this to be the first ever crossover of popular Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, etc. characters.
Blizzard doesn’t try to hurl too much story or context at you to explain this gathering of champions. Beginning the tutorial as Starcraft’s Raynor, you wind up in the Nexus, a cross-point of sorts between dimensions. Many powerful beings have gathered in the Nexus for the purpose of battle including Uther the Lightbringer who helpfully explains the game’s controls and basics. From there, it’s a few more missions of advanced tactics and gameplay against bots before you head online.
"The leveling in Heroes of the Storm wasn't unbalanced per se - oftentimes, it wasn't impossible to stage a comeback against enemy teams that were two levels higher."
It’s important to view Heroes of the Storm in a context unlike other MOBAs…because it isn’t quite like other MOBAs. In some ways it’s similar – teams of five face off against each other to destroy their respective home bases. Fortifications and towers dot the map on each side, which causes you to alternate between attacking your foes with the help of minions and falling back when your health goes down.
Heroes of the Storm differs from other MOBAs in its leveling, variety of Champions and various arenas. Unlike Dota 2, you won’t be the only accruing experience with each hero kill and tower destroyed. The entire team gains experience accordingly and right away this causes concern since veteran players can effectively steam roll the competition. On the one hand, it encourages coordination between the team that’s down a level as your work to effectively double or triple team higher level heroes.
On the other hand, it makes comebacks harder and seemingly rewards players who are more skilled in MOBAs than others. The leveling in Heroes of the Storm wasn’t unbalanced per se – oftentimes, it wasn’t impossible to stage a comeback against enemy teams that were two levels higher. Conversely, being two levels higher than the opposition didn’t necessary lead to my team stomping through. It all comes down to who has the best communication and strategy in the end.
One on one encounters are very interesting in Heroes of the Storm because of the sheer variety of characters. Raynor is a great starting character since he possesses strong abilities (like rallying minions and firing a single charged shot) while Valla the Demon Hunter can act as both a strong DPS unit and effective ganker for retreating heroes.
"Each of these battlegrounds brings its own interesting twist to the MOBA formula and lead to some interesting encounters. They didn't dictate the flow of the overall experience for me but they do add a bit of an advantage for veterans at times."
Heroes are cycled out from the free selection on a regular basis allowing you a healthy variety to try out. There’s also the benefit of testing out heroes before you purchase them (which we’ll get to in a bit). The biggest compliment I can give Heroes of the Storm is that no single character felt significantly overpowered against another. Valla’s attacks are balanced by her relatively lower health while Sylvanas’s arrow barrage is an effective tradeoff for her support-like Ultimate attack which can Silence enemies.
Unlike Dota 2, you don’t simply level up your skills. Rather, with every three levels gained, one of two perks can be selected. These can add some relatively simple little hooks to your attacks, like kills with Sylvanas’s Black Arrow causing enemies to explode and damaging nearby units or Shadow Dagger which can drain units of life and spreads to others. You also have a choice of different Ultimate attacks but you’ll need to gain experience to unlike that hero’s alternate ability.
Then there are the Arenas which you battle in. Heroes of the Storm features eight different battlegrounds, each with their own special objective. One can always choose to pursue these objectives and some are significantly more worthwhile than others such as summoning a Terror in the Garden of Terrors versus collecting coins to have Blackheart bombard enemies in Blackheart’s Bay.
Each of these battlegrounds brings its own interesting twist to the MOBA formula and lead to some interesting encounters. They didn’t dictate the flow of the overall experience for me but they do add a bit of an advantage for veterans at times. As it stands, I’ve had more fun playing through Heroes’s battlegrounds than repeating the same damn map in Dota 2 ad nauseam.
"As an overall experience, Heroes of the Storm is great for a few quick matches with added wackiness and a great character selection. The art direction and music are top notch, and you'll always have something to work towards."
The one major gripe that could be leveled against Heroes of the Storm is its grinding. You gain experience and gold from completing matches, with significantly higher rewards if you win. To purchase new heroes, you can either invest real world money for gold or simply grind for the gold by playing the game. However, if you want to take part in ranked modes like Hero League you’ll need to be level 30 in your profile. Team League is significantly more demanding since it requires level 40 and 10 heroes. Both modes are great for finding more challenging match ups but if you aim to unlock every single character in-game, then be prepared for lots of grinding.
Of course, depending on who you are, you may just enjoy the grind since it gives you something to work towards (and it’s to the game’s credit that it lets you earn heroes by playing the game). Mechanically, Heroes of the Storm may put some MOBA addicts off with some of its mechanics. Playing casually is possible but the teams with the best coordination will always win. It’s interesting that Heroes of the Storm caters to this MOBA norm more than most but it does so without sticking to many of the genre’s default tenets.
As an overall experience, Heroes of the Storm is great for a few quick matches with added wackiness and a great character selection. The art direction and music are top notch, and you’ll always have something to work towards. Blizzard is making significant effort to provide new updates and heroes with each passing week as well. If you choose to invest in Heroes of the Storm, you’ll have a fairly entertaining experience (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t spend their every waking moment with a MOBA). It may not kill Dota 2 or League of Legends, much less draw players away from those behemoths, but it doesn’t have to.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Fast paced and satisfying action. Multiple arenas with bonus objectives adds variety. Well balanced collection of heroes, which can all be earned through gameplay. Great visuals, voice acting and soundtrack.
Grind-tastic, especially when you have to hit higher levels and unlock several heroes for ranked play. Might turn off some hardcore MOBA enthusiasts while new players may need time to warm up to it.
Heroes of the Storm isn't your new MOBA fix and it may not even appeal to every kind of strategy gamer out there. Despite a hefty amount of grinding, Blizzard presents a strong amount of content and gameplay in an aesthetically pleasing packaging. And if nothing else, it's great for a few time-wasting rounds here and there.