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Dominance by Storm - Heroes of the Storm Review and Beer Pairing
The Nitty Gritty
Game: Heroes of the Storm
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Price: Free to play with optional in-game purchases
Because Blizzard Entertainment doesn’t feel like they are dominating enough genres, they have recently released Heroes of the Storm, a Massively Online Battle Arena (MOBA). If you’re not familiar with the concept of the MOBA game, allow me to briefly explain. You choose a character that has special talents, you team up with four allies, and you attempt to destroy your opponent’s home base. At regular intervals, various minions on both sides spawn and attack the roads or “lanes” that separate the two bases. Insanity ensues. Think of it like very fast moving chess. The tutorial even jests to not think about it too much, as the concept of characters from Blizzard's three completely different worlds (World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft) doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
It is interesting to note that Blizzard hesitates to call this game a MOBA (i.e. League of Legends, DOTA, SMITE, the list goes on and on), instead referring to it as a “Hero Brawler.” Whatever they feel like calling it, it’s a MOBA, even if there are some differences they decided to toss in. Each map (there are seven as of the release) have variables and objectives (like a mercenary camp that can help you assist taking down a watchtower, etc.) that contribute in winning the match, but it’s pretty much the same concept for each game that’s played. Like most MOBA’s out there, it has a free-to-play business model, but you can spend real life money to unlock more characters and skins along the way.
Now as I’ve said before, Blizzard has dominated some genres. World of Warcraft is actually older than some of the people that are currently playing it, and whether or not you like what has become of it in recent years, it’s still by far the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). Starcraft II still wears the crown of the Real Time Strategy (RTS) department. They’ve even dabbled into the battle card genre (think Magic: The Gathering) with their insanely popular Hearthstone.
Now I ask you this: Why? Why is Blizzard so good at what they do? Why do they have such a following?
Is it because they always release a game for both PC and MAC? Is it because they don’t go overboard with hardware requirements, allowing their games to run on even the most basic laptops? Is it because their gnomes are absolutely adorable?
The answer is “yes” to all of these questions, but it’s not best one. The reason Blizzard is so damned good at what they do is simple. Accessibility. Any moron with a basic understanding of a mouse and a keyboard can get sucked into WoW without knowing anything about MMO’s. Any fool can download Hearthstone on their favorite tablet and just start figuring it out. They have this knack for simplifying fairly complex concepts and making them accessible to the masses. On top of that, they manage to keep the complexity for players that don’t need their hand held. This is an astounding accomplishment.
So is Blizzard batting 1.000 on Heroes of the Storm in terms accessibility for the MOBA genre? The answer is: Yes.
Now let me tell you why this might be the most challenging of genres to do that. MOBA players, for all intents and purposes, eat their young. They have no regard for beginners, little desire to teach, and absolutely zero patience for failure. Blizzard has created a very extensive tutorial, the kind that is most MOBA beginners desperately need. On top of that, they reward sitting through the whole tutorial with free gold, so it is more likely players will actually sit through it. It also rewards experience points to practice. These, of course, aren’t revolutionary ideas. Blizzard has never been known to do anything no one has ever done before. What they have done in this game, as well as in the past, is to take good ideas and perfect them into an excellent game.
The familiar cartoon-like graphics Blizzard has taken pride in over the years are still here. It’s adorable to see the members of a town running their little errands while this crazy nonsensical battle is just happening on the road. The details are enough to make it unique, though not heavy enough to bog it down. The hardware requirements are not insane. My gaming laptop has all the bells and whistles turned on and it runs smooth as silk (barring a little lag here and there, nothing worth complaining about).
The music is as joyful and exciting as any previous Blizzard title. Sound effects make logical sense. Nothing groundbreaking, but it doesn't have to be.
The controls are simple enough if you’re a beginner to the genre, and those with some experience with LoL or DOTA2 will feel right at home. I’m not a big fan of the current UI in between matches, though it seems like all the other MOBAs have the same kind of thing. I would like to see more in the way of explaining each role a little better. It would help new players understand what they’re getting into before experimenting on something they’re not ready for. I’m guessing their expectation is to test each character out on practice mode, but I’m just trying to be realistic here.
So far, the matchmaking system seems to be fair and balanced. Earlier levels mean everyone should be a beginner, and I’ve noticed a lot of novice decisions and gameplay. It’s to be expected. There were a couple of unfriendly barbs from some players when our team was losing, but Blizzard has an option that actually removes this chat feature out of the game if you want. Believe me, there’s nothing more frustrating than losing a game with a bunch of whiners complaining about how one person is doing a bad job.
This brings up another neat feature Blizzard added to the game. If you’re in the vicinity of a kill, you get the XP for it. This is especially important for healers, as they rarely get the last touch on an opponent, which would render them woefully under-leveled. There is also no in-map store for updated gear or new skills to buy. Everything is streamlined. As you level, you pick a specific upgrade from a small list, and keep playing. No more is there a need to buy potions, or swords, or gold grind until you can afford the very specific armor you want.
The best part of a MOBA is when everything is clicking in your team, and Heroes of the Storm is no exception. In fact, the game seems to go out of its way to keep these moments exciting battles as frequent as possible. If a lane is breaking down, you can get on a horse (or a mount of your choosing provided you paid for it), and run to help out. No more is there a long walk to the area in need only to find that they don’t really need you anymore.
As you may have noticed, it’s the little things that set this game apart from others in the genre. Blizzard has taken good ideas from other MOBAs on the market, expanded on them, and made it their own. What they’ve created through this conglomeration is a worthy MOBA that is going to be very popular with each passing day. Will it wipe out League of Legends or DOTA 2? This remains to be seen, but that doesn’t mean Heroes of the Storm won’t give them both a run for their money. Blizzard knows how to dominate a genre.
Graphics – 7 - Blizzard does a fine job with keeping the requirements low and making the game looking pleasant. There is nothing groundbreaking here, though.
Sound/Music – 8 - The music and sound effects are a great fit for the game. The exciting soundtrack keeps the level of immersion high.
Price/Value – 8 - Heroes of the Storm uses a free to play model that is mostly fair. I think the heroes themselves are a little on the expensive side, but you can't argue with free too much.
Replayability – 10 - This is a different game each match, and that's a good thing. The amount of variables to each round is countless. The more you play, the more you appreciate that.
The “Skew” factor – 8 - I am having a lot of fun with this game. It's an exciting take on the MOBA genre.
Bottom line – 8 - Blizzard seems to have done it again with Heroes of the Storm. While not reinventing the genre, they have made the game their own. The price of extras are a bit high, but I see no reason people won't pay it.
In the spirit of the sometimes harsh gamers in this genre, as well as the genre dominating developers, the beer of choice for this game is Arrogant Bastard Ale by Stone Brewing Company. At 7.2%, the alcohol packs quite a punch, but the quality with which it was brewed masks the alcohol flavor perfectly.