Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s entry into the “hero brawler” genre. A genre which has exploded in the last decade to become one of the most popular. The success of League of Legends, Dota 2 and Smite all show signs to a genre that is exploding in popularity. How will Blizzard’s offering stack up to the heavyweights of hero brawlers?
Hero Brawlers are often seen as difficult to get into. They have very distinct mechanics and logic. They are very unforgiving and their communities have at times had the reputation of being highly toxic. The very makeup of the game rules can create an environment for such negativity to fester. A five on five battle of momentum and attrition that requires every player to “pull their weight” has very little room for learning. Because of that players often shy away from engaging with a deeply rewarding and satisfying genre of gaming.
Heroes of the Storm attempts to change the short comings of this genre. From the ground up the game is designed with a focus on team and objective play. Experience, which usually is hero specific, is now spread throughout the entire team. In Dota if a single player is having a bad game or a bad day the momentum can drastically shift very quickly. Heroes of the Storm isn’t as cut throat. A single player usually can’t tank your entire game. If you are level seven then your team mates will also be level seven. It creates an environment where new players can feel a little safer as they experiment and learn.
Communication is key in this genre and Blizzard really nail the importance of contextual pings and commands that are linked to every important structure or objective. Clicking a fort will call for your team to defend it. Clinking on yourself will shout to your team for aid. These messages are also translated into a players chosen language so communication is easy and quite rewarding.
The moment to moment game play is also very rewarding. Hero design is spot on. Each hero is distinct and fun to play. Balance can be a little off at times but overall there isn’t a hero that isn’t fun to play. Each one is distinct, well animated and voiced. Each one has a particular presence and brings a particular up and downside to a team composition. Heroes are broken up into roles which help fill out your five man team. You will want a mixture of support, warriors, assassins and specialists to claim victory in the Nexus.
Battles aren’t just about the hero roster on each side. A massive part of Heroes of the Storm is objective based game play. Instead of having one standard map like it’s bigger cousins, Heroes has seven maps each with an objective at play that aids your team in claiming victory. Typically these objectives are the key to winning the game which is a different take on the usual hero brawler format. In Dota or League, games are won by your team’s ability to counter pick your opponents, control of the map, momentum in experience and gold, and eventually destroying the primary objective. Heroes of the Storm limits some of these elements with the introduction of very powerful objectives. In theory you could be ahead on kills and win most team fights but you could be unlucky when the objectives come into play and not be as ahead in the game as you would expect. Other hero brawlers are focused on kills primarily. Heroes of the Storm is not and it really comes down to personal preference here whether or not that is something for you.
Item make up is an important part of Dota and League of Legends. As you play a match you earn gold to spend on items for your character that make them more powerful. Heroes of the Storm takes this aspect of the game away in favour of talents that augment your main abilities. It’s a clever move in removing some of the complexity players face when learning the intricate details and logic of hero brawlers. Talents allow you to customise how your hero plays in any given match. There are typically three of four choices per tier that can give you more damage, survivability or utility. While it’s easier for new players to get to grips with, it doesn’t leave much room for experimentation or complexity. The talent system could lack depth in the long term.
Another point of contention is the business model. Heroes of the Storm has an in game store like many other free to play games. The store allows you to unlock new heroes through either in game gold or real hard cash. It’s expensive. There’s no real other way to put it. Heroes of the Storm puts a premium price on its heroes and this is probably the biggest downside to the game. Heroes typically cost anywhere from two to eight pounds (around four to ten dollars) which is pricey.
Blizzard don’t just ask for a considerable amount cash, they also ask for a considerable time commitment. Games in other titles in this genre tend to run for thirty plus minutes. Because of the objective based game play, most Heroes games are over by the fifteen to twenty minute mark. This is a plus point for me. It’s much easier to get in a game or two when you have an hour spare rather than setting aside a considerable amount of time to play an hour long Dota match. It really depends on the player. The problem comes in to the general amount of time you might have to put in to level up your heroes and account to unlock features in the game.
Hero League – a game mode where matches begin with a hero draft (rather than the blind pick you use when just queuing up for a quick match) – is gated behind a requirement to own ten heroes and have an account level of 30. That could take a while unless you’re up for dropping a considerable amount of cash. Gold (the in game currency) gain can be slow once you’ve finished the daily quests you’re issued every day. These quests are a good way to earn gold and can typically be done in an hour or two but outside of these quests, gold gain is slow.
Ultimately the issues I’ve raised could be considered minor or personal preference because despite all this, Heroes of the Storm is fun to play. Which is important. It isn’t about perfecting an item build and earning a certain amount of gold and experience per minute. If that excites you then there’s games out there for you. Heroes is pure fantasy fun. It’s the smash brothers of the genre and it excels in what it’s trying to accomplish. Moment to moment game play is wonderfully fun. The polish and attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from Blizzard is present in almost every facet of the game. The music, art direction and tongue in cheek self-awareness is whimsical and endearing. Heroes of the Storm is a breath of fresh air and is the perfect start for anyone wanting to get into the genre.
RATING (out of 100): 84, “Exceptional.”
Taj Sandhu is an editor and co-founder of NovaCritic.com.