I’ve played a number of different types of games, and the one that’s taking my time right now is Heroes of the Storm, a game that’s a bit odd in some ways but very satisfying in others. Where else can you see an impish fish-creature-thing fighting against a fury-filled barbarian, as a sci-fi marine rides to the rescue? I’ve been playing this game for about two years now, and I still find new aspects of it. I’ve mentioned it before, in my article “What is Competitive Gaming?”, and now I’m going to take the time to talk about it exclusively.
Heroes of the Storm is a multiplayer game in the “MOBA” genre, which I’ll discuss further down. Teams of five players compete against one another in a game that mixes strategy, videogame action, and RPG-inspired character-building.
What is a MOBA, Anyway?
The acronym “MOBA” stands for “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena”, but that doesn’t even begin to touch on what this game is like. The MOBA genre is a descendant of real-time strategy games: specifically, Blizzard’s real-time strategy classic Starcraft, which spawned a custom map called “Aeon of Strife”. Aeon of Strife eventually led to a custom Warcraft III map called “Defense of the Ancients”, and the popularity of “Defense of the Ancients” (or, more commonly, “DotA”) gave rise to many similar successor games, such as Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, Smite, and even a sequel called DotA 2.
A MOBA is somewhat similar to tower defense games: each side has buildings like towers and forts, and both sides of the map spawn endless waves of minions who march towards one another, attacking and trying to make progress. Fighting amongst this melee are the players’ characters (often called “champions” or “heroes”), who can attack minions, buildings, and one another. As a game of Heroes of the Storm goes on, these heroes earn experience and become stronger, sometimes gaining more abilities. While much of the game is action-based, with characters using abilities against one another, there’s also a strategic element, because to win the game you have to beat a path all the way to the enemy team’s “core” in the middle of their base and then destroy it.
That unique mashup of different styles of game is what defines Heroes of the Storm. On one level, you have to pay careful attention to your character’s abilities–when you use one, it often costs some of your character’s “mana” resource, and it goes “on cooldown” for a period of time, and you have to wait for the cooldown to finish before you can use the ability again. Fighting against another character means wisely using your abilities and not wasting your cooldowns or mana. That’s not the entire game, though: you’ll have to manage “lane pressure”, as minions push towards enemy buildings, or towards your own buildings, threatening them with destruction! You’ll need to keep an eye on the enemy team, understanding their strategy and trying to pre-empt them.
This makes Heroes a game that requires a bit of learning. There’s a lot to learn when you pick up a new character–not only their abilities, but also the “talents” that they can choose from as they gain experience points and increase their level. You also have to understand what to do at different parts of the game: when to attack enemy heroes, when to aggressively push against enemy minions and buildings, and when to make risky plays like attacking the “boss”, a dangerous, powerful creature who will fight for your team briefly if you can defeat them in battle.
The Cast of Heroes of the Storm
Because Heroes of the Storm is developed by Blizzard Entertainment, it contains a huge variety of characters; it’s a bit like a “best hits” of many of Blizzard’s games. You can see characters from the Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch franchises, and there’s even a nod to their old game The Lost Vikings. More characters are planned for the future, and are being added over time. I love the fact that there’s so many characters in this game; not only do they all play out differently, but they can change the strategy that your team employs.
Li-Ming is based on the Wizard from Diablo III. In that game (and this game), she’s voiced by the same actress who provided the voice for Princess Azula in Avatar: the Last Airbender–and it absolutely shows. Li-Ming is cocky, flashy, and aggressive. She gets a special ability which lets her shine in the middle of a fight: whenever her or one of her allies takes down an enemy hero, all of her abilities’ cooldowns immediately reset, letting her re-use those abilities instantly. She can pour out a huge number of magical abilities in a short time, but only if she sets things up right.
Abathur might be the weirdest character in Heroes of the Storm. In Starcraft II, he’s the “Evolution Master” of the alien Zerg race, tweaking and perfecting genetic code to create new strains of Zerg. In Heroes of the Storm, he becomes a bit of a backline mastermind. He’s not very strong at all in personal combat–he has very little health and his only attack is a slap which deals pitiful amounts of damage. His true strength lies in his ability to control the entire battleground: he can place explosive “Toxic Nests” anywhere on the map which damage enemies who step on them, and he can “symbiote” allies, letting him piggyback on them and fight with them. He enhances their capabilities, giving them defensive and offensive benefits while he sits near minions halfway across the map. He can even learn an ability that creates a powered-up clone of a friendly hero for a short time!
Li Li, a pandaren from the Warcraft games (most particularly, World of Warcraft) is one of the characters in the game with healing abilities: she tosses “healing brew” (I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of alcohol) to her allies while running into battle. She’s a bit more reckless than other healers, because when she takes damage, she automatically triggers a “fast feet” ability which lets her run faster! This lets her stay in the thick of a fight but get out of danger when things get rough, which is good, since you don’t want to lose your healer in battle.
Sergeant Hammer was invented for Heroes of the Storm, but she’s based on the classic siege tank unit from Starcraft. While she’s not the only ranged attacker in the game, she has an incredibly long attack range, and the further away enemies are, the more damage she deals to them. She can even go into a siege mode to get even more range. If Hammer is protected by her allies, she can rain down destruction on the enemy team with impunity!
That’s just a small sampling of the kinds of characters who make it into Heroes of the Storm, but it should give you a good idea of just how much diversity there is. There’s many, many different playstyles that exist in the game, and no matter what you like to play, there’s probably something for you.
My Heroes of the Storm Experience
I’ve played through every mode in Heroes of the Storm, and you can even trace my experience with the game by looking at when I’ve played in various types of gaming.
Early on, I played most of my games in the Vs. AI mode, and that’s because it’s a pretty good way to start learning the game. You and four other human players face off against computer-controlled players of different difficulties, and so you can get something of the game experience without having to face the full difficulty of other players. As a result, the game is a bit more forgiving, and you don’t feel as bad about messing up in the game.
It took me a long time before I was comfortable playing in Quick Match, which is the “standard” mode of the game. You pick a character, then get matched up with a team of four players. The five of you get a team of five human players to contest against, and it’s a pretty fun mode that lets you get right into the game. That said, it has a downside of sometimes landing you with odd team setups (like five healers, or a bunch of damage-dealers with no healing), so many players prefer to play in the Unranked mode, where both teams pick characters one by one, and you can set up specific teams.
Their ranked play is where things get a bit more serious. Hero League is the ranked play that you go to if you don’t have teammates playing with you already, and you earn rank in the game by winning games, losing rank if you lose games. It can sometimes be stressful and difficult to work with four total strangers, though, and because there’s technically something at stake, teammates can become very abrasive over perceived “mistakes” that their teammates are making. I haven’t invested massively in Hero League for this reason: I like playing competitively, but the pressure here is just too much sometimes.
Heroes really started coming together for me, though, when I played with a team. It’s not a game of becoming a super-powerful character and hoping that your teammates don’t mess everything up, it’s a game of learning to work with four other players, of coordinating your efforts across the entire battlefield and implementing strategies that no single player could pull off. This is what Team League was designed for: groups of five players facing off against other groups of five players. I’ve recently started getting involved with Chair League, an informal competitive league for the game that sees a huge number of teams in four tiers of play battling it out in scheduled matches. For practice, my team’s begun to play Team League, and it’s hard to find a better-feeling experience. When all of you are working in unison, when you’re working to take down the enemy, it’s amazingly satisfying.
Is This Game For You?
Heroes of the Storm can be a bewildering, demanding game, and it’s not for everyone. If you enjoy action RPGs and/or real-time strategy games, though, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. I highly recommend that, if this game sounds interesting, you give it a shot, because there’s really not much like it.
You can play Heroes of the Storm for free by downloading it through Blizzard’s Battle.net launcher. Every weak, a different selection of characters is freely playable by anyone, and as you play the game, you earn “gold” which you can spend to permanently unlock characters. There’s ways to spend money on the game if you like it that much, but by no means is it required, which is pretty cool.
See you in the Nexus!