The biggest point of confusion about Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s entry into the MOBA genre which is playable now as a “technical alpha”, is figuring out how the game actually works. You get a vague idea from watching videos and reading online coverage, but I really, really didn’t get the rules. And the rules I did get I didn’t get very well. I’m going to attempt to clear up a few issues.
After the jump, your Heroes of the Storm primer.
This is where a lot of the difference from other MOBAs shows up. In all games of the genre, creeps spawn from the base and stream outward towards the enemy base. From there, the games diverge. In DOTA2, you need to juggle the ability to kill creeps for gold via last hitting (getting the last shot on a creep before it dies) and denying (killing your own minion before the enemy can, thus denying any gold). The last hitting mechanic is still there, but denying has been removed from League of Legends. In Heroes, last hitting technically exists but has no impact on the game as there is no gold. Being near the creep for experience is the reason to lane.
In League of Legends and DOTA2, leveling is basically the same. You get experience from creeps or player kills, you level up, and you pick new abilities. This is probably the biggest departure in Heroes of the Storm, where you level as a team. Say for instance we have a game in another MOBA on a map with three lanes. With a five player team, we send one player to each lane and double up, initially, on the top and bottom. The reason you want to be in these areas is much the same as the other games: you gain experience being near creep deaths and taking part in their sad little demise. The more people you have actively gaining team experience, the higher level your team will be. So, for instance, if you and your team are all engaged in taking objectives while only four of the other team’s members are working towards experience and objectives, you will outlevel and soon overpower them. While it’s possible to carry a weak player, it’s certainly not easy.
3) Items and abilities
Here’s where a majority of my confusion was. From level one, you have most of your abilities and there is no shop. That’s just how it is. This seems like a terrible idea. With items and ability pick order, you get the customization aspect that adds a layer of strategy over the intense clicking. It appears that there’s nothing of choice or customization throughout the game. Thankfully, that’s not true. It’s just that the choice and customization are carefully hidden. At certain levels, you get to choose from among several talents that upgrade your powers or add new abilities. Many of these new powers are similar to items you’ll see in other games and they take up the hotkeys that are usually reserved for on-use items in League of Legends. When the power added isn’t active, it just puts the effect on your character. For example, you can have your character emanate fire to slowly damage anyone around them over time. Since this is always on, no need for activation or an inventory slot. But the effect is still the same.
In these types of games, the towers exist along the lanes to protect the base from early destruction. They also give lower level players a place to feel safe in the early game. Mostly, this mechanic has stayed the same with one interesting twist: the towers have limited ammo. If a tower runs out of ammo during an assault, it just sits there waiting for its next delivery. This shortens the laning phase considerably and allows for an average game time of about twenty five minutes.
In League of Legends and DOTA2, there is a considerable amount of map dedicated to the concept of a jungle. This is a wide open area, covered in fog of war, that contains many monster camps, most stronger than standard creeps. The area is used to level a character known as the jungler. These guys level up in the no man’s land and jump out of the bushes to kill unsuspecting laners. Because of the way Heroes is designed, the jungler still exists but it isn’t a solo position. There are still camps in the woods, but when you defeat them they run into the lane and fight for you instead of just laying down and dying. They are also more difficult to take out by yourself until later in the game.
A standard holdover from the other games in the genre is the idea of taking team-based objectives. In League of Legends you fight the dragon for extra team money and Baron Nashor for a powerful team buff. In Heroes, we have something like that but not exactly. At this point in the alpha, there are a few different maps to play, and each one has its own special rules. In Dragon Shire, every few minutes, two shrines activate. If the players from one team capture both shrines, then another member of the team can activate this statue and become the giant Dragon Knight. This gives that player a different avatar with different abilities until the timer runs out or the monster is killed. In The Haunted Mines you have to go into a tunnel system and kill undead. Once you’ve collected enough skulls, a giant undead monster is summoned to attack the enemy base. These special objectives can be very devastating, and they’re part of why a Heroes of the Storm match is considerably shorter than other games.
The basic idea behind these differences seems to be streamlining. Instead of having a long lane phase, Blizzard made the minions count for everyone and the towers easier to kill. Instead of searching through the shop for whatever power item you want to craft, Blizzard pops up a window with a few choices every few levels. Instead of smashing in conflict over Rashon or Nashor, your team will have to face various challenges that have a stunning effect on the battlefield. The heart and soul of the MOBA is here, it just looks a little different, and it has Blizzard’s player base from which to recruit. The great MOBA race is getting interesting indeed.