Imagine you had to compete with two of the biggest games on PC. Do you try to beat them at their own game, or do you take a different approach? Blizzard has decidedly chosen the latter with Heroes of the Storm, its upcoming MOBA currently in technical alpha for PC.
The MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) is quickly emerging as one of gaming’s most popular genres. It’s a type of competitive game where two teams of five players each pick a hero with specific abilities and strengths. Each team then tries to reach the other base, accessible via three roads (called lanes). Turrets and A.I.-controlled enemies (usually known as creeps) fill each lane, so your team needs to push through these challenges and get the upper hand in fights against the other team if you want to reach the opposing base and destroy it.
Of course, most MOBAs are more complicated than that. One of the most popular, League of Legends (usually called LoL), has an item store. You get gold for killing enemies (you get the most if you get the last hit before they die), which you then spend during a match on a wide range of items that can do anything from healing you to giving you a new ability.
A vast jungle of additional A.I. monsters also fill the spaces between lanes. Typically, one of the players, designated a jungler, will wander this area and focus entirely on killing these creatures, which gives your team special bonuses.
Another popular MOBA, Dota 2, has all of that and more complexity. You can kill your own team’s creeps to deny your enemy from getting experience points or gold from them. You also have a carrier animal that you can send back and forth between you and the item shop.
So, how does Blizzard plan to combat these insanely popular games? By laughing at complexity and going the other direction.
Heroes of the Storm still has all of the basic MOBA qualities. Two teams of five heroes fight across three lanes that lead to the other base. But it omits a few of the more complicated systems from its competitors.
Notably, gold and items stores are completely absent. You don’t earn any currency while destroying creeps, and you can’t equip your hero with potions or powerful armor. This takes away one of the bigger elements of Dota 2 and LoL. Players would research and find the best builds of items for their characters and finding out exactly when to leave a lane and visit an item shop was an important strategic decision.
Also, while Heroes of the Storm still has a jungle, it works differently. Killing those monsters won’t give your team a boost to mana or strength, but a lot of them will march to the nearest lane and fight for your team after you defeat them. Basically, they act like supercreeps, attacking any enemy minions, heroes, or buildings they encounter. Also, the jungle is much smaller, largely because the map itself is almost half the size of the one you’d see in Dota 2 and LoL. This makes for a quicker game experience and pretty much eliminates the need for a dedicated jungler.
Actually, one MOBA shares a lot of the same qualities as Heroes of the Storm. It’s called Guardians of Middle-earth, which uses characters from the popular works of J.R.R Tolkien. It also has no gold and a smaller map.
Evening the playing field
However, Heroes of the Storm takes things a bit further. In other MOBAs, you always level up independently of your team. The higher your level, the better you’ll do in a fight against the other team’s heroes. But in Heroes of the Storm, your team levels up together. This means you won’t have a guy on your team noticeably weaker than everyone else and incapable of competing.
Also, while you have to level up to earn most of your abilities in LoL and Dota 2, Heroes of the Storm gives you most of them right from the start. When you level, you usually have to choose between two different buffs to an existing ability or to your character. Like all MOBAs, you still earn your ultimate spell (an ability much more powerful than your normal spells and attacks) after reaching a certain level, but you get to choose between two different ones. In traditional MOBAs, the order you took to level up your abilities was extremely important. Again, people would scour guides for the best builds. Heroes of the Storm eliminates that need.
Also, each map usually has an extra gimmick. In one, a pirate ship waits in the middle. If your team turns in enough coins, which you can find by beating up treasure chests and certain monsters scattered around the map, the vessel will fire a volley of canons at your enemies’ structures. Each level features something like this, which gives a team a chance to gain a quick advantage even if they’re losing.
Of course, MOBA purists would probably cry foul at that addition, since it adds a bit of a random element to a genre that usually depends on skill. But that’s sort of the point. Heroes of the Storm is decidedly much more player-friendly than its competition. You don’t have to research character guides and builds to have a decent chance of winning, nor do you have to worry about your team yelling at you for buying the wrong armor.
If LoL and Dota 2 are chess, Heroes of the Storm, then, is checkers. And while I appreciate the complexity of chess, sometimes I want to turn my brain off a bit and scream, “King me!” A lot of MOBA purists are going to hate Heroes of the Storm and the liberties it takes with tradition, but it has a chance to attract a different, easier-going audience.