BlizzCon 2013: Heroes of the Storm Hands-On Preview

HOTS_Characters

If I were to ask you what the most popular game in the world is what would you say? Call of Duty? Maybe even World of WarCraft? Actually, the answer is League of Legends.

MOBA games such as League of Legends have grown rapidly in popularity during the past few years, so much that they annually make hundreds of millions of dollars despite being free-to-play. Riot Games (League of Legends) and Valve (Dota 2) have both proven their worth in the market, and now Blizzard is hoping to take a swing at it with Heroes of the Storm.

I had a chance to sit down with Blizzard's upcoming MOBA game during BlizzCon 2013 to see just what the masterminds at Blizzard have come up with, and the results were extremely positive.

My playtime with the HotS demo began with a few minutes spent at the character selection screen. Truthfully, I've never had so much trouble choosing a character before. Every hero in HotS appears very fun to play, from Arthas to Tassadar. You can even play as Diablo for crying out loud. The current list might only have 18 characters, but each of them are awesome in their own right and vary in specialty (support, damage, tank, etc.). After some serious contemplation I chose Valla (Diablo 3 Demon Hunter) because I have a lot of experience with ranged characters in MOBAs.

As you might suspect, this is a game deeply rooted in Blizzard's IPs, and therefore even the character abilities are familiar. Playing as Valla, I had access to several Demon Hunter abilities, and my familiarity with the class from Diablo 3 proved useful. I felt right at home as I used multi-shot to clear creep waves during pushes, and vaulted to get away from danger.

HOTS_Gate

The map I played on used the three-lane style that we've become accustomed to over the years, but had some qualities about it that significantly change the metagame. For one, there's no jungle. Instead, the game gives every player a mount to use for faster travel, making lane-switching and ganks something everyone can do. Also, the lanes are much closer together to minimize travel.

Further separating it from other games of the genre, there is no store to purchase items from. Instead, for each level I gained I was able to select from one of three choices for specializing my character. These are much more than just increasing the power of your core abilities, too. I increased my character's attack power and even unlocked Blood Fury, an ability that significantly increased my damage for a short period off time. These choices are made on-the-fly and are HotS' equivalent to item builds.

One of the most dramatic changes to the formula is how HotS handles experience. Rather than it being earned on a per-character basis, it's team-wide. That means that as you play a match you become more powerful along with your team. You can still become very powerful, but you won't become an unstoppable snowball while your team runs around pretending they're useful. This shared experience further increases the fast-pace of the game by keeping you in combat. That doesn't mean you won't be going back to base, though. You can hearthstone at any time and heal up before quickly riding back to battle on your mount.

In terms of gameplay, it contends with the best of them. Moving around, last-hitting, and poking lane enemies is quick and intuitive thanks to the utilization of the same engine that powers StarCraft 2. It feels very familiar from a gameplay standpoint so you can carry your expertise over. I know it worked out for me as I went 12-0 during my first match.

Although I only played a single battleground (HotS' name for maps), there will be at least four at launch along with a level editor similar to StarCraft 2's. The current list of battlegrounds is much more varied than what's seen in other MOBAs. During BlizzCon there was a live match where the developers went head-to-head on Blackheart's Bay where combat was centered around spawned treasure chests. It proved action-packed with both teams converging on central points to see who can come out on top. Personally, I see them being much more popular than League of Legends' The Crystal Scar and The Twisted Treeline.

The major point to make here is that HotS is trying to craft something of its own. League of Legends and Dota 2 each have their own personality, but appear related when compared to HotS. Blizzard's design decisions are turning this into a game that make it more team-focused than any other MOBA game on the market. Mobility and communication will be priceless on the battlefield.

As someone who has fallen out of MOBAs because of how much investment they require, I couldn't possibly me more excited for Heroes of the Storm. It takes bold steps to ensure that the game is competitive, but prioritizes fun. The beloved cast of Blizzard's IPs, from Warcraft to Diablo, are in full-force giving it a flavor that nothing else on the market has. If you enjoy strategy games but could use something that is easy to recommend to friends, casual and hardcore alike, this is a game that has the potential to entertain you for years to come. Shame we have to wait a little while longer until it's officially released. At least a beta is in sight.

 

BlizzCon 2013 Gallery