“Well, that wasn’t good,” I said. My team had just been defeated in a game of Heroes of the Storm. “Eh,” my friend Alex replied as the colorful mush of the on-screen battle faded into a dark red “DEFEAT” screen. “It doesn’t feel any different if you win or lose in this game.”
Alex was comparing the game unfavorably to League of Legends—the reigning king of the MOBA genre into which Blizzard is only now trying to enter with Heroes of the Storm, it’s up-and-coming title that just went into open beta last night. His observation says a lot about the differences between the two games.
In League of Legends, a loss really feels like a loss. It’s a defeating, often degrading process one must go through as they develop the humility and finely-tuned skills necessary to play the game well. Losing in League doesn’t feel good, then. But the crappiness of losing makes the exhilarating rush of victory in the game all the more powerful.
Heroes, on the other hand, feels like the same sort of brightly colored jumble of elves and monsters and dragons going at it no matter what happens over the course of a match. Ok, maybe not exactly the same—winning still leaves me flush with victory. But the stakes of the game, the moment-to-moment process of inching your way back and forth during the frenetic ebb and flow of battle, isn’t nearly as intense as it is in a game like League. In spite of the game’s RTS-style top-down perspective and its RPG-like levelling system for all the playable characters, it reminds me of Super Smash Bros. more than any other game in this regard.
Some people, especially diehard MOBA fans who’ve grown attached to League of Legends or Dota 2 over the years, might take that as a slight against Heroes of the Storm. But I mean it as a compliment. The game has captured that special kind of gameplay magic I normally associate most closely with Nintendo titles: Blizzard makes it feel fun and crazy whether you’re winning or losing. This is particularly exciting to see in a MOBA because, as fun as these games often are, they’re also prohibitively intense and difficult for many people. Heroes of the Storm is solving the genre’s longstanding accessibility problem, and that’s a wonderful thing to see. I mean: I’ve actually managed to convince my gamer friends—even ones who refuse to go anywhere near League of Legends—to give Heroes a shot.
I’m curious to see where Heroes of the Storm will go from here. It’s hard to picture the game developing a vibrant, fiercely passionate community’s or eSports scene like League or Dota 2’s if Blizzard has prioritized making the casual-friendly. And even though the game isn’t officially out yet, the developer has made some odd, unpleasant decisions for it. They’ve omitted a surrender option for dubious reasons, for instance. And they’ve also continued to deny players easy means to communicate with one another before, during, and after matches—something that harms the game’s hugely important matchmaking system.
I’m not as concerned about Heroes of the Storm’s shortcomings as I am excited about the game’s future, though. Flaws like shoddy matchmaking, not having a surrender option, or releasing lame overpriced skins...these are all things that can be improved upon with future updates and additions to the game.
More than anything else, then, I appreciate the fact that Heroes of the Storm feels like a substantially different piece of work that Dota 2 or League of Legends—the two titles that are seen as its closest competitors. It would have been so much easier for Blizzard to try and copy-paste the formula that Valve or Riot have applied games their work. Instead, the Heroes developers gave gamers something genuinely unique and interesting to look forward to.
I’ll have more to say about Heroes of the Storm, as well as a full review of the game, in the coming weeks.
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