Heroes of the Storm Review (PC)
Blizzard Entertainment's Heroes of the Storm makes an impressive debut onto a scene dominated by the free-to-play juggernauts of Dota 2 and League of Legends. While Dota 2 and more so League of Legends have reached tremendous success, both titles' origins point back towards Blizzard. League, Dota 2 and the entire MOBA genre are all based off of the custom Defense of the Ancients mod made from Warcraft III. Blizzard has finally released its official take on the genre it inadvertently created in the form of Heroes of the Storm, and let's just say that League and Dota have finally found a worthy competitor in the multiplayer online battle arena.
Heroes of the Storm is one of the most intricate yet newcomer-friendly MOBAs I have ever encountered. Blizzard has streamlined the genre experience, emphasizing what works and weeding out what doesn't, resulting in faster matches with more satisfying results. Most MOBA matches can take anywhere between 40 minutes to an hour to complete. In comparison, the average Heroes of the Storm match is finished in about 20-30 minutes. Out of dozens and dozens of matches, the only game I played that took longer than 45 minutes was an extremely balanced match where my team edged the win at the last second.
Matches are comprised of 5v5 bouts with teamwork at its forefront, as indicated by each team sharing an experience bar and level system that you increase by wrecking minions, Heroes and enemy buildings. This means that matches don't have to revolve around one or two talented players carrying the rest of the team. The objective of the match is to break through the enemy's defenses and destroy the Palace building inside their home base. Each level has multiple lanes in which your home base will periodically send groups of AI-controlled minions towards the enemy's fortifications, hoping to drill a hole into their defenses and get closer to their Palace, but they need your help to get the job done. Your enemies' Heroes, minions and defense towers must be taken care of so you and your minions can carve a path to the enemy Palace. Each character has a variety of actions and tricks they can use to help expedite process in many ways, and it's up to you to figure out the best action for each situation, such as using area-of-effect attacks to take out platoons of enemy minions or using a special attack on an enemy defense tower.
Heroes of the Storm features a Marvel Vs. Capcom-esque roster comprised of all kinds of characters from Blizzard's multiple franchises. The Diablo, StarCraft and Warcraft series have a variety of memorable characters, and it's quite refreshing to see so many of my favorite villains and heroes of Blizzard lore all in one spot. There's just something about seeing Arthas, Thrall, Raynor, Kerrigan, Tyrael, Azmodan, Elite Tauren Chieftain, Illidan, Nazeebo the Witch Doctor and a Siege Tank all on the same battlefield that goes beyond nostalgia and into the realm of proper fan service. From each of the characters' dialogue to their fighting styles, Blizzard has efficiently captured the essence of all 37 (and growing) characters on the Heroes of the Storm roster — every Hero on the roster just seemed to feel right in terms of their actions, skills and gameplay style.
With other MOBAs, it's easy to get lost in their rosters and trying to keep up with who can do what. In HotS, you might not remember what each character can exactly do, but you can figure out their fighting style based on what the character was in their original game. Blizzard's roster is unique and accessible to those familiar with its library of games, and it's just as friendly to newcomers. These characters vary tremendously from one another. Raynor's bread and butter are ranged attacks, but you can choose skills that can have him focus on survivability/self-healing, doing more damage against stunned Heroes or increasing his regular attack.
Some characters, when properly played to their individual specialties, can seem overpowered, especially Azmodan when it comes to damaging buildings or Diablo due to his inordinate amount of health, but they're all very balanced at their core. Li Li focuses on healing, blinding enemies and overall team member assistance. The Lost Vikings can be separated into three separate characters you can send to different locations on the map or can play together as a single, more powerful, unit. You've got warrior characters, such as Johanna the Crusader and Arthas the Lich King, who are best dealing with groups of minions and able to soak up loads of damage before dying. Assassin characters, like Illidan and Kerrigan, specialize in dealing damage, immobilizing enemies and taking out other Heroes. Support characters, like Brightwing and Tyrande, heal and improve the survivability of their minions and teammates. Lastly, Specialist characters, such as Azmodan and Abathur, are sort of a wild card, being able to do all kinds of tricks on the battlefield and able to fulfill a variety of roles depending on their skill tree and actions.
This varied roster and HotS' focus on teamwork helps eliminate the repetition that other MOBAs have, resulting in something that constantly requires your attention. This is furthered by HotS various Battlegrounds. Each of these stages has a variety of mini-objectives that you can fulfill which ultimately help you in clearing through the opposition. In the Tomb of the Spider Queen stage, you can gather gems throughout the Battleground and bring them to the Queen's altar at the center of the level. The first team to hand in a certain number of Gems gets a group of uber-strong Webweavers assisting their minions in each lane. While it's possible for a Hero to take out one of these Webweavers, their combined efforts throughout the level make a substantial difference and greatly reward those who can think outside of the box and occasionally drop out of their lane for some side quests.
The Haunted Mines has you collecting and turning in skulls for a Grave Golem and the Dragon Shire map has a dragon you can control. All of these level-based mini-objectives make a huge difference and can tip the scale of battle in your favor. Likewise, there are mercenary and neutral enemies on the map who will join your cause if you're able to defeat them in combat. These distractions from the main 5v5 fight help add variety to each match and inspire players to keep an eye on everything in hindsight as opposed to the type of tunnel vision people can get when focusing in the lanes whatever enemies are near them.
This teamwork-oriented combat system promotes a more positive environment than Heroes of the Storm's counterparts. I often found myself encountering some of the most vile players throughout my gaming career just by reading the party chat of League of Legends, and it's nice to see almost none of that in Heroes of the Storm. Perhaps it's the influence of the previous Blizzard games or simply the widespread popularity of League, but I often found myself partied with random players who did not showcase the caustic attitudes I encountered in other MOBAs (and that's coming from a fan of the genre).
I should note that the game's Hero League mode requires you to be level 30 or higher and to have 10 heroes unlocked, with the free, weekly rotated characters not counting to this requirement — they have to be characters that you unlocked yourself. This means that you must drop a decent amount of cash and dedicate many hours of gameplay just to enter the Hero League, which is a focused system of ranked play. I have to admit that I really liked the Hero League after unlocking it, despite all the times I got smoked while playing it. The Hero League's requirement filters out newcomers and those not serious about competitive play, which means every opponent and partner you get should have a decent amount of knowledge and strategy in terms of how to play. This mode focuses on group cohesion, properly countering enemy units, communication, fulfilling side missions and understand the Heroes of the month who aren't free (Blizzard rotates a set of free-to-play characters each week). There are also some awesome countermeasures in play for quitters. Those who abandon a Hero League or Quick Match can't play any other ranked games until they finish a Quick Match completely. Quitters still earn/lose ranked points depending on the outcome of the match they left (please note: 5v4 are bad odds, especially if you left while losing).
It's strange to think about it in these terms, but Heroes of the Storm is the perfect MOBA for those who don't care for League of Legends and Dota 2. The removal of items simplifies gameplay in comparison to League and Dota, but the focus on teamwork, communication, learning the roster, speed and environmental objectives helps make up for the things MOBA fans may nitpick about Heroes. Battleground side missions help detract the tunnel vision-syndrome that may occur when players are stuck in their lanes and trying to take out towers, as these level bonuses can change the tide of battle. You'll always find debates in the MOBA community on which is superior between Dota 2 and League of Legends. While Heroes of the Storm may never topple these two MOBA juggernauts, it offers an excellent and addictive alternative.
This review is based on a digitally downloaded copy of Heroes of the Storm for PC.