Heroes of the Storm – Review

In Blizzard’s on-going attempts to create a game for literally every genre on Earth, MOBA was next on the list and Heroes of Storm was created… unfortunately.

As a long time Dota 2 player, I enjoy a good MOBA. I’ve dabbled in League and Smite but Dota is my time-consuming poison of choice. It’s well-balanced for the most part (although some days I do wonder about Axe), it has a simple concept but is hard to master and, unlike LoL, Smite and now Heroes of the Storm, it doesn’t have a free hero rotation. In other words for those unfamiliar with MOBAs, all heroes can be played from go. For the other major MOBAs, players have a rotation of heroes that they can play without needing to unlock them or they can pay for heroes and always use them using either real money or in-game currency. This leads to pay-to-win or more experienced players benefiting from this scenario with those willing to pay or have more game time having an unfair advantage over new players when they have the choice of possibly better heroes than those in the current rotation. As a free game, money has to be made somewhere and this is a way; however, as a Dota player, I’ve always taken not having this for granted. Dota makes all its money through character skins and even shares this income with the skin designers and some competition prize pools. This was the first thing that bugged me but that isn’t even close to the problem with this game.

Some people have called this a casual version of the big-name MOBAs. This is probably because there is very little real skill, knowledge or technique as far as I can see involved in this game. Unlike the three other big MOBAs HotS has: no gold, no items, no last hitting, no denying and no personal player experience. Instead, the team has its own whole-team level culminated from all the XP earned by its players. When this increases, it allows you to level up your ‘traits’ which act as passive stat boosters or improve your abilities, choosing between a set choice of traits at each level. This is as far as the term ‘build’ can be used. Other than choosing what traits you want (initially with each hero you can choose between only two at each level), the game allows no substantial creativity or tactical ability to choose how to counter the enemy team and win. Because of this focus on team level, there is no feeling of personal triumph. Anybody who does any damage to a hero is counted as having that kill. As a result, every game ends with all players having a distorted and meaningless positive k/d. When you do get a kill, it feels pointless. Respawns are very forgiving and having an enemy dead does very little help your team given how slow lane pushing is and how enemies return extremely quickly back to the battlefield.

Meanwhile, with no last hitting and no denying, players end up standing in lane just auto-attacking the minions. Opposing heroes may occasionally leap in and attack, but the game’s heroes (even supports) have such high health that you can almost always run back to your lane’s tower and back through the gate that allows only your team through. These one-way walls make tower diving impossible and interesting ganks awkward (you need at least two friendly heroes to kill any one enemy hero) so the only time characters do die is when team-fights occur. It is a shame, therefore, that team-fights play out awfully. In Dota, team-fights are well co-ordinated and rehearsed in order to guarantee a swift victory in the fight and often mean victory for the whole game. You’ll plan the initiation with a stun, maybe throw in some disarms, activate you blade mail, BKB, etc. and then finally chuck down a couple of good ‘ol fashion ults and… easy money. However, about the most complex and co-ordinated fighting I saw in HotS was grabbing some mercenaries from the jungle (i.e. after killing a jungle camp they become your allies) and using them in the cluster of madness and ability spamming that is team-fighting in HotS.

The game technically has mana. However, quite frankly they could have replaced that by a bar that reads ‘how little fun you’re having playing this game’ and maybe that would explain why it’s always full. Mana regen as it stands is ridiculous. I never once ran out of mana even when I was physically trying to by using every ability as it came off cooldown, playing as numerous heroes. Other stats like movement speed, attack speed and even damage are unknown to the player. In Dota, fights are picked judging on how best your chances are of winning that fight. You’ll look at their health, how much mana they currently have, their armour, magic immunity, items that could save them or even kill you. In HotS, you spam your either unimaginative or unoriginal abilities (Stitches is a ridiculously close copy to Dota’s Pudge with his Hook and Vile abilities) and maybe someone will die, maybe you’ll win the game, but most likely you won’t even care because of how bland the gameplay was up to then and how little the game rewards personal skill.

But just so you think I haven’t been completely negative: I like the mount idea that allows heroes to get into the fight quicker, the minion design is interesting, the changing map makes for some varied gameplay with the different benefits when certain points get captured, character customisation looks strong giving you different looks but also the ability to choose the colour to go with it and a shorter (roughly 20 minute) game might be appealing to those who can’t commit to hour-long game times of other MOBAs. And yet, these nice little additions don’t make up for the hollow and needlessly stripped out gameplay that HotS has.

Heroes of the Storm is a game trying to take advantage of the MOBA fever sweeping through gaming, but instead looks to be more of a headache. As a beta (and a closed one at that) many things can change. Most probably mana regen reduction and possibly the addition of visible damage and movement speed stats could be easily added. However, this still wouldn’t fix the fundamental issues with this game. If you’re a LoL, Smite or Dota player, you will almost certainly not be ditching them for this. It’s too dumbed-down and feels like it could be a particularly good app. If you’re looking to get into a MOBA, avoid this. Sure, it’s far easier to get into it and most likely requires much less time to become good at it, but even with hundreds of hours in Dota I still learn something new all the time and that’s what makes it so good. I’m constantly challenged and the gameplay can be so much more diverse with gold, items and personal XP. You feel accomplishment for getting a good k/d, being an effective support or simply winning the game. Maybe I’m some old fogey who can’t embrace such big change but with MOBAs you have to pick one and stick to it; they require too much time to be able jump between them. If you played this and now think that all MOBAs are like this, please don’t. As a lover of Blizzard games, I am truly surprised by the meek offering of the game for me personally. Hopefully Overwatch will be a much better FPS than this is MOBA.