Heroes of the Storm is back at PAX Prime 2014 this weekend, bringing with it a slew of heroes and maps (as well as their unique conditions) to the show since their showing at East 2014. As interest in the multiplayer online battle arena genre (or MOBA for short) continues to explode with League of Legends and Dota 2, the opportunity as well as challenge in breaking through a genre with 2 colossal franchises continues to grow.
After trying out Sergeant Hammer at the spring show, I opted to use the ranged assault approach with Jim Raynor and landed on Blackheart’s Bay (which I had hoped for, among the random map rotation). For this arena, the unique feature is the option of defeating specific creatures on the map to collect doubloon coins which can be sporadically redeemed with Blackheart for his services. Upon reaching a specified price which increases with each use, Blackheart will bombard the enemy with long range artillery attacks to aid pushes and weaken enemy structures: combined with abilities such as Raynor’s ultimate summon of the Hyperion battlecruiser, each use can be a significant difference maker towards destroying the enemy base.
It looks and works as I hoped: the map opens up as heroes divvy themselves up between lane battles and doubloon harvesting, concentrated pushes are timed with bombardments and the deposit location becomes a drawing point for full scale fights for control of the map ability. My team had the benefit of an Abathur that peppered Blackheart’s area with traps as well as frequent ambushes of opposing deposit attempts that quickly swung the game permanently in our favour, leading to a brutal rout as a Blizzard employee alternately provided helpful tips and gleefully commentated on our dominance. Demos are always more enjoyable when you can post an individual 16-0 record and win by expressly using the unique game elements!
Going back for another round on Garden of Terror as Anub’arak and leaving a trail of ranged stun and eventually chain splashing melee damage at the higher hero levels was a spectacle to behold. Racing to retrieve 100 seeds for each power boosted hero transmogrification, it rewarded players more generally for mercenary camp farming and an assault oriented formation. Hopping around to cull Easy level camps on a loop, the flood of converted reinforcements and occasional giant growth aided siege pushes quickly led to another victory with more mass hero battles but less map control in comparison to my previous game. It offered a contrast between the game design intentions between different levels and helped define Heroes as a different take on the genre.
There is a unique cross-game opportunity to potentially add new characters in both the other Blizzard franchises as well as Heroes of the Storm on a relatively aligned schedule. The company has a hit in their compelling system of daily quests for gold in Hearthstone which has resonated with players (and parallels existing systems in games such as League of Legends), which I expect to appear in Heroes as well.
It still looks and feels really polished, showing no detectable signs of being a technical alpha. With a unique combination of unique map designs and a group of historically beloved franchises in WarCraft, StarCraft and Diablo to draw from, Heroes of the Storm may be the next big MOBA game when it finally arrives.