MOBA: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena

hotsFor the first time, I found a MOBA that I like. Not League of Legends, nor Defense of the Ancients, but Heroes of the Storm. But why do I like it? I found myself asking this reflexive question between matches recently. Is it the whole ‘Closet Blizzard Fanboy’ in me, or perhaps something more?

Well, if it was the Blizzard Fanboy, then this would be a short article. Then what is there about Heroes of the Storm that has me currently enthralled? Well, outwardly it lacks complexity. Characters have 3 main abilities and sometimes a 4th innate ability that they use to attack. The format is always 5 versus 5. And the objective is to ruin the opposing base before your base is destroyed. You gain levels in a game by completing objective that show up on the minimap, killing NPC’s, and killing enemy players. Pretty simple, yeah?

Then there are the characters. Being familiar with Blizzard games, I pretty much knew what to expect from seeing the names. Most are familiar, and even those who are not readily within memory, by looking at the design, one could easily divine how they work. Major props to the Blizzard design teams for continuously outputting a simple-to-visually-digest format that works. From colors, to weapons, even to names, great thought to outward simplicity is made on a consistent basis by their design teams.

As for mechanics, it is again outwardly simple. Movement, controls for abilities, and using in-game map pings to communicate are made for simplicity. Perhaps the most advanced feature is a carry over from StarCraft 2, with which Heroes shares the base game engine, are the map view hotkeys that can be focused and stored on a point of your choosing and recalled at any time. But by all means, you don’t need to do this, not in SC2 or Heroes to do well.

But aren’t most MOBAs like this already? Well, I’d have to say “yes.” So what changed for me? Beyond 2 maps, there are no alternate currencies in the gameplay itself. Perhaps I over think things, but I never liked the progression of other MOBAs in buying gear with in-game currency to do well. I would either forget or regret making certain purchases. Heroes has done away with this system. You can get levels to unlock talents, like other MOBAs, to boost your existing abilities and get a ‘Heroic’ ability at level 10.

And I think the streamlining of talents in making it a simple choice between 2 to 5 things is what makes it work. True, in LoL you had a finite amount of choices too, but until you got to the end of a talent tree, of which there are three per character, you would be faced with 3 or 4 possible choices each level. I know it isn’t that much to ask for players figuring out. Or rather I don’t think people have min-maxed these builds in quite the same way I DPS-tested my melee shaman in WoW, but it does take a decision, knowledge and forethought that is not intuitive. Even if you think it is intuitive, I still must argue the point that it is rather daunting for a new player.

This does lead into a balance argument. In truth, games like LoL or DOTA have so many characters, abilities and talents that it is probably harder to balance. This does mean players have a stake in this as well due to there being more-than-one progression to the same end-game talents and items, so in effect part of the balance depends on the player and the match. But due to the simplicity Blizzard has made in Heroes, I would say that the “balance” depends more on Blizzard than player decisions. In some ways I find that both comforting and irritating. While I don’t think that some things are balanced, all that can be done is to play the game and see if Blizzard feels it is unbalanced. Still, from time in SC2 and Wow mainly, I can say with some confidence that Blizzard does know what they are doing. And this does put my mind at ease.

I think the last thing that sets Heroes above the rest in my mind is that there are mechanics in the game that do not really allow for games to go on forever. There is an average between 18 minutes and 40 minutes played per map. There are no real ways to prolong it further, nor need to only lane, or last hit mobs. You can easily pick-up and put-down the game for 30 minutes at a time. It doesn’t necessitate your every waking thought *WoW*cought*end-game-raiding*cough-cough*. And perhaps for that reason, it is self-aware to the point that in introduction ‘training’ breaks the fourth wall. It doesn’t try to be pretentious or the up-start. Heroes does what Heroes does well, and for that I enjoy it quite a bit.

And after playing Heroes for a bit, I say now say that behind the simplicity, there is a complexity to it all. It does have depth and holds up in the long run for those just starting to get into it and veteran MOBA players. Composition to specific talents to use and timings and skill shots and even to-get-or-not-to-get a NPC camp. After playing the game for a while, at what I will call account level 30, you could play in “Hero League.”

This is a game that pits 5 players against 5 players with a set amount of heroes that can be chosen. These heroes are drafted between the two teams. I must say that there is an art to picking and counter-picking that plays into the game. Certain synergies between characters work well in certain match-ups, but not so much in others.

The mind-racking strategy portion aside, the game has a skill cap that is deceptively higher than first anticipated. I’m sure that is said about most competitive games, but I feel that it does need to be said. You can have a relatively weak character, but if used in tandem with teammates abilities, the attacks can easily lay out foes. And that is something else to point out. You level as a team, fight as a team, or die as individuals. It is truly a team game.

If you have a few hours a week and want a game to take up a little bit of time, then why not give Heroes of the Storm a try? As a non-MOBA player, I have found myself playing this game more often than CS: GO recently. I didn’t think it possible, but I really enjoy this MOBA for not really liking MOBAs.