I finally got my hands on Heroes of the Storm at this weekend’s PAX East 2014, a combat arena title that features heroes drawn from Blizzard’s various games and genres. After my play session, My impression is that Heroes takes the same Occam’s Razor approach to streamlining game mechanics that Hearthstone has applied to great success to collectible card games, and created a game that looks and feels like a much needed update of the MOBA format.
With a selection of about 20 combatants available at this early stage, every key role from tank and healer to artillery and unique hero type were present: I went with Sergeant Hammer, the classic siege tank from StarCraft and an iconic part of Blizzard’s universe. I opted for 5 players versus AI (in a futile attempt to subsequently get into the line for 2K’s Evolve before the show ended), which still did a great job in showing off the strengths and unique game choices of Heroes in the MOBA genre. Keeping the traditional multi-lane and jungle/forest areas in between for the demo map, gamers were still exposed to the different challenges to attacking gated entry points and optimizing attack windows against AI towers that prioritized creeps over human targets. Hammer worked well in those engagements by bombarding enemy fortifications in siege mode while keeping mobile enemies at bay with a mix of knock back and spider mine special abilities.
The team based level system keeps the fun of selecting new abilities flowing quickly, and spotlights the diversity of upgrade options: Heroes is the first MOBA I’ve played with dramatically different ability upgrade options from level to level, instead of constantly boosting from a small selection of core skills. This fits with the focus on user customization and hero tailoring that was discussed in their design panel from Friday, and complements what appears to be an item free game system.
The main advantage for the Heroes team as a later entrant into the genre is the ability to carefully choose which elements they want to bring in. The mix of broad hero customization, ability to save up for a huge combatant to roam the battlefield in the Dragon Knight and unconventional travel movement for heroes like LiLi not only works like a MOBA with a twist, but also has hints of other games such as Titanfall…!
I wish I had more time to try jungling to capture mercenary camps and to see the Dragon Knight in action, but our team steamrolled our AI opponents rather quickly (not a bad outcome to have, really). The cutscenes indicate that this will essentially be Blizzard’s version of The Avengers (I’m hoping The Innkeeper from Hearthstone becomes their J.A.R.V.I.S.), and they’re off to a strong start: Heroes of the Storm already looks and feels very polished for an alpha product, and has the potential to be their next breakout hit.