Hands-On with Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm - Review headlogo - DE


Pros: Wide selection of characters, a variety of objective based map, fun strategy with shallow learning curve.
Cons: Pretty expensive cash shop.

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 8
Performance: 9

Overall: 8.5

We did a extensive review of Heroes of the Storm, the new MOBA from Blizzard that has gone into open beta in preparation for a release next month, in the game players fight in the Nexus, a place where worlds collide or in this case where our favourite heroes and villains of various Blizzard games come together as playable characters. The game already has a pretty huge following, is extremely popular on Twitch and with a number of higher profile YouTubers, but finally we decided to check it out for ourselves. Far from the MOBA savant we have experience of other games if not the acquired skill, and so we’re coming at the game from a purely new player approach.

Heroes of the Storm screenshots (4) Heroes of the Storm screenshots (9)

Stepping into the game for the first time we’re hit with the cinematic, which we’ve seen before but is no less badass the second time round, and it also follows into the tutorial where playing as StarCraft II’s Commander Raynor you are pulled into the nexus by Uther the Lightbringer (WoW) and go up against the likes of Diablo and Stitch and a few others.

The tutorial is pretty well done, it doesn’t overwhelm you and the controls and general mechanics are pretty easy to pick up and as we’re guided step by step it’s pretty easy to see where the game has been streamlined to appeal to a more casual MOBA player; primarily the lack of in game item shopping (which for us has always been one of the most off putting features of MOBA). Instead as the entire team gains levels we’re given a choice of a handful of trait improvements, either basic traits or those you have managed to unlock, so as the teams farm XP from kills and the party levels up the players will become more powerful over time.

Doing a few rounds against the AI we managed to get our bearings on the controls, as expected it is right mouse click to move, left to target, and your main abilities on Q,W,E and your Ultimate /Heroic Ability on R. You have the ability to scroll the camera way from your character, snap back with space, and lock/unlcok the camera with the L key if you want to keep it cantered on you, which is pretty handy. You are able to use your hearthstone to spawn back at your base to fully heal, there are a variety of mercenary camps that if you defeat will join you in the battle. There’s areas of jungle and grass to hid in. It’s all stuff that we’re used to, they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here but add differences that matter.

So what are those differences?

Well the lane turrets/towers are completely different, instead of the lone lane turrets/towers in other MOBA there are the tower defences and walls of a town in Heroes of the Storm, completely blocking the path players have to take out the towers or knock down the wall in order to move down a lane. The "Towns" have a variety of structures such as mana fountains that help keep the owners health and mana up, adding another strategic element to combat. Players get in-field levelling up as the team gains XP, upgrading traits and acquiring new skills every 3 levels, which means players don’t need to return to base to shop (hooray!) but still giving plenty of build options. When players do return to their base, typically to heal up or help defend a push, then once they are done they can spawn a mount to quickly get back to the action, successfully taking out the tedium of traveling out of fights.

Heroes of the Storm screenshots (15) Heroes of the Storm screenshots (19)

After our tutorial with Raynor we spent a while playing through quite a few different characters, each falling into one of four classes (Assassin, Warrior, Support and Specialist who was focused on crowd control, taking down structures and other unique abilities) managing to try out all the characters on the Weekly Rotation (each week 5 characters are made available to play all week for free) as well as a few others with a Random draw, which chooses from the entire roster of characters but obviously you don’t get to choose them. Of all the characters the Dwarven lightning warrior Muradin was probably the easiest to play; a heavy hitter with good armor he was able to chase people down with a huge leap and stun them with his hammer, our most played was Brightwing, a ranged support off healer class that had a few crowd control options such as polymorphing targets to do an instant shut down. With the random draw we probably got one of if not the most difficult characters: The Lost Vikings. The Lost Vikings, for those unaware of the original Blizzard game, were a trio of Viking characters in an old platformer, each with their own abilities and players had to switch between all three of them and control them independently; well Blizzard have done the same in Heroes of the Storm. With each character bound to 1, 2 or 3, and all the characters bound to 4, we were able to split them up, send them scouting in different areas, trying to capture different points in different lanes, attacking different target; it was interesting and quite a challenge, particularly as someone new to the game. Whilst controlling them wasn’t too hard as you could literally select one then click on the minimap where you wanted to go, keeping track of their individual health pools was difficult and other than their Heroic move (that summons a fireball shooting Viking longboat) they had no active skills so were actually incredibly weak combatants. Still, they were fun.

The one big difference between Heroes of the Storm and other MOBA is that every map has its own unique objectives, whilst the ultimate win objective is to destroy the enemy teams Core in their base, there’s plenty of in map features to help make that easier. Four of the maps concentrate on acquiring some sort of pickup that will spawn or call to aid some sort of Boss, such as in Garden of Terror players must pick up seeds during the night cycle and when they gather 100 they spawn a pod to create a powerful Shambler that one player can control, in Haunted Mines players head into a different underground mine portion of the map to fight undead and gather their skulls (100 available) and when all are done both teams spawn a Grave Golem that will make a beeline to the enemy base and focus on destroy structures along the way; however when the Golem is killed once it is brought back to life on the next respawn of undead are killed off the Golems rise from the point they previously fell. Other maps focus on taking points, whether Dragon Shire where players can battle over two shrines that if one team activated them both they are able to summon the power of a Dragon from a third central shrine that has amazing wrecking power.

Heroes of the Storm screenshots (22) Heroes of the Storm screenshots (24)

The map objectives really offer a greater diversity of tactics and options to a team, whilst in many ways Heroes of the Storm seems more casual on the surface, it is these options that we’d say open the game up to being a lot more strategic than other MOBA. Maps such as Cursed Hollow offer a huge map with multiple options, whether pushing lanes in a typical tug of war, gathering up the tons of mercenary camps, or trying to collect three randomly spawning Raven Lord’s tributes to temporarily negate all the enemy teams defense towers! Blackheart’s Bay players collect coins from strategic locations and must hand them in to the ghost pirate captain at his ship in the centre of the map who will then start firing upon the enemy structures, however players must physically carry their coins and drop them if they are killed, so there is timing element of leaving a push or defense and traveling as a group so everyone can hand in their coins.

As a new player the game is fun, the AI is pretty intelligent and a good place to start out for a warm up, but the main fun is in PVP with other players. Whilst getting started is difficult due to not know what you or the enemy is capable of, and typically having no real leadership with the bunch of n00b players and so typically it ends up being an everyman for himself and then accidentally coming together at seemingly opportune moments, it’s still damn entertaining. Every so often you get a moment of pure gold, like for us on the Haunted Mines map where our team had inadvertently gathered together to farm the undead in the mine, as we entered I noticed a few enemy players heading over, so I flagged on the map for everyone to stay at the entrance and typed "Ambush" quickly in chat. Sure enough the other team appeared and got obliterated with the surprise attack, leaving us to clean up the mines and get a full 100 skulls for a Golem that absolutely wrecked them.

Heroes of the Storm screenshots (28) Heroes of the Storm screenshots (31)

Some heroes are very OP, some are really weak, but Blizzard are fine with that and are constantly balancing and tweaking. Our biggest criticism is how expensive the heroes, skins and mounts are in game in comparison to other MOBA, unfortunately Blizzard know that players will pay whatever it takes to get their desired characters, and the gold trickle is pretty low, so to get permanent access to your favourite characters then chances are you will be paying at some point.

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