Heroes of the Storm is finally coming out at the beginning of June. I’ve been playing Blizzard’s up-and-coming MOBA pretty much nonstop for the past few weeks, and have developed a lot of feelings about the game during its extended beta as a result. Let’s start with the positive ones.
Despite technically being free-to-play games, many MOBAs are pricey indulgences. Getting new playable characters or aesthetic enhancements for your favorite champions often costs a lot of time to unlock for free, or a lot of money if you don’t want to spend your spare time grinding away at something. Or both.
Heroes often strikes me as a pricey game—surprisingly so, in fact, given that it’s not even officially out yet. But regardless of how much it charges for individual characters or skins, it does something amazing that its demonstrably larger competitor League of Legends (to give the most popular example) does not: it actually lets you try stuff out before you purchase it. This goes for playable characters in Heroes as well as alternative skins. All you have to do is select the “Try it out” option in the game’s store, and you’re deposited into a custom map that lets you level up so you can test out all the character’s special moves:
It’s the sort of feature that seems so sensible and considerate of the game’s players that you have to wonder why it doesn’t already exist in other MOBAs. Or really any game with microtransactions (looking at you, Mortal Kombat X).
Heroes of the Storm is similar to Super Smash Bros. in that it takes bits and pieces from its creator’s iconic gaming franchises (StarCraft, Warcraft, and Diablo, mainly) and introduces them into a newfangled melting pot to duke it out with one another. Rather than creating trite pieces of fan-service, Blizzard has already drawn from some of its past work to offer some provocative and forward-thinking gameplay mechanics for Heroes. The StarCraft-inspired Abathur, for instance, works as an intriguing sort of support character who spends most of the game sitting at the very back of the base...so he can summon an angry, shrieking little monster that hovers over his allies’ heads:
...which can shoot at bad guys and shield teammates.
The Lost Vikings, meanwhile, are three champions in one:
Each of the three vikings can be controlled separately. Or they can group up together, and do fun things like jump into a viking boat to lob fireballs at their enemies:
...and then there’s Murky. How do I describe Murky? He’s a fish monster who lays eggs around the map which allow him to spawn back into battle almost instantaneously. He also hits people with an even bigger fish, which is cool:
Champions like these are pretty much unheard of in other major MOBAs. Well, The Lost Vikings have a precedent in Dota 2 technically. But seeing what Heroes has already come up with makes me excited to consider what Blizzard will be adding to the game once it’s actually out.
Along with its unorthodox character designs, Heroes of the Storm is breaking the current MOBA mold in another big way by having the majority of “normal” games take place on a number of different maps, rather than focus on a single one like, say, Summoner’s Rift in League. Adding diversity to Heroes core set of levels can make things uncomfortably unpredictable at times. But more often than not, it helps keep the game feeling fresh and exciting. Each of the maps introduces a handful of unique objectives a team can pursue in addition to the regular battle, such as gathering gold to bribe a skeleton pirate so he lobs cannons at your opponent’s base. Or, in my favorite level, collecting gems in order to summon spider monsters to come fight by your side:
I know, I know—both of those examples of “different” maps involve collecting things and turning those things at regular intervals to receive temporary tactical advantages. That’s true. But that doesn’t mean the maps are all the same. Far from it. The differences between Heroes’ levels really come down to the small details—the cramped, claustrophobic feeling of the spider-themed map as opposed to the ebb and flow of wider-ranging battles that take place on the pirate-themed one. They aren’t all perfect. But Heroes’ maps that are good are already really, really good.
I consider any game that runs more than 25 or 30 minutes in Heroes of the Storm to be a very, very long one. I consider any game that lasts 25 or 30 minutes in League of Legends or Dota 2 to be the exact opposite. For a while, I took the relative brevity of Heroes’ matches as a sign of the game’s lack of creative ambition or gameplay depth in comparison to those other two titles. But as I’ve been mainlining HOTS over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that I was seriously mistaken.
Here are a few positives I’ve come to appreciate about Heroes thanks to its breezy matches:
You can play more games in a given day or night. This lets you try out more characters and experiment with different character builds than you can in the same amount of time playing something like League. It also makes grinding much less intense by the same token.
It’s easier to deal with jerks. There are hostile interactions between different people when they play fiercely competitive online games with and against one another. Normally, gamers just have to accept that. You know what makes accepting that much, much more palatable? Knowing you’re only going to be stuck with an asshole or two for another ten, fifteen minutes at most.
The short game length, varied maps, and wonky characters all point to a general truth about Heroes of the Storm right now: it’s the rare kind of MOBA that seems to unilaterally encourage a “for fun” mentality amongst its growing base of players. That, more than anything else, makes it stand out in comparison to League of Legends and Dota 2, the games that will be Heroes’ two chief rivals once it launches next month. Stand out in a good way, I mean. Because as much as I love League of Legends, and still prefer the game’s fine-tuned complexity in comparison to Heroes of the Storm’s carefree penchant for mindless monster-killing, games that take themselves so seriously can become absolutely fucking exhausting sometimes.
Whether or not it’s objectively a better game than League of Legends or Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm still manages to feel like a breath of fresh air because it embraces its most video game-y qualities so enthusiastically. And that will carry the game a long way once it comes out this summer.