Heroes of the Storm, the MOBA-like hero brawler from World of Warcraft developer Blizzard, has been in a closed alpha test since March. Every few weeks, the developer launches a new update, adding new content, changing balance, and reworking character progression. With an upcoming patch, the team intends to make Heroes of the Storm stand out even further.
We were able to talk to game director Dustin Browder and learn more about the map, hero, and design changes coming to the game in the next patch. We also took the opportunity to ask about the game's future, its esports potential, and its competition.
Who's the new hero coming in the update?
First and foremost, players will get to battle as a new hero named Rehgar. He's an agile character who is inspired by the shamans of Warcraft. "He's a pretty cool and aggressive support character," Browder explains. "He can change into his mount form whenever he wants very quickly. He turns into a ghost wolf and runs around. He's a very special kind of support character, and a lot of fun to play. Basically, Rehgar is a shaman with a bunch of elemental abilities. He's a classic Warcraft III Shaman build."
And how about that new map?
It's called Garden of Terror, and it's a dynamic map similar to others in the game. "You're trying to collect seeds to be able to create this big plant monster that you can become," Browder says. "[It's] kind of like [how] you can become the dragon knight in one of our other maps. It gives you the chance to be this giant monster that runs around, gums up the map and slimes enemy towers with this evil plant stuff. [It can also] choke off enemy towns, preventing them from fighting and making your pushes [into enemy territory] very effective."
Are there any other changes going into the game?
In addition to the map and character, Blizzard is also implementing a sweeping array of UI, performance, and progression changes. Most significantly, the developer is overhauling how you advance your heroes in and out of battle.
Firstly, the team has reworked cooperative gameplay so that you can now earn experience without entering into competitive arenas. Browder explains, "We want to give players the opportunity to earn experience and complete quests in cooperative play, but at the same time we didn't want to feel like it was wrong to play Player vs. Player modes. So we've changed the whole system, [and now] you do get a win bonus when you play cooperatively."
There will also be more items for you to work toward, including new cosmetic items called Master Skins. To make this work, the developer has made leveling up individual heroes much more important: "We've got this idea for a master hero skin that you'll earn if you play a hero for a really long time, so we've redone the entire leveling system. A lot of it is [now] about leveling up individual heroes. We had six hero levels before; now we're up to 10 different hero levels. So it feels like a much more meaty experience."
Finally, the team has redone the way you earn the gold used for microtransactions, to make it both more rewarding and more useful. This includes the addition of artifacts, which actually allow for an entirely different way of hero customization. Browder says, "We've gone to a gold-per-game model, or a gold-per-win model. It was just too long between rewards, so we've rebalanced the whole economy around [this new] model."
He continues, "We've added a whole new system to the game, an artifact system, and this allows players to customize a lot of the core stats on their heroes. This is one of the things we had a lot of requests for from the players. At the same time, they didn't really want it to be a part of the talent system--they wanted the talent system to be more focused on skill, heroic abilities, all that stuff--so we thought it might be kind of cool to give the players the ability to customize the stats on their characters before the game launches. So now you can go in and you can get these artifacts and you can slot them into your hero.
"This also ties into a request from a lot of our players for something more to do with gold. a lot of players will purchase a couple heroes and be totally content with that, but say 'I'm earning all this gold, what else can I do with it?' We thought this could be a cool thing you can do with your gold--buy better and better artifacts and customize your hero."
Is Garden of Terror designed around a core type of competitive play?
"No, Garden of Terror will go into our regular map pool," Browder states. "We haven't decided yet if we're going to do special maps for special types of play, it's possible when we get to ranked play, we might say, 'Okay, these are the ranked play maps, they're a little different from unranked maps.'"
Is the map modeled after another Blizzard area?
"No, we're still doing the realms of the Nexus [right now]," he explains. "We're still exploring new worlds that allow us to be crazy and creative with the space. You'll see us explore more of Blizzard's environments in the future, and we will also have some of our other more classic worlds going forward."
What are you doing going forward to make Heroes of the Storm stand out in a genre that's becoming increasingly crowded?
Browder argues that Heroes of the Storm is fundamentally shaking up the MOBA formula by encouraging teamwork and a focus on individual hero customization. "We're doing things with team leveling where people are really asked to do things together as a team, and it's not about getting ahead on your own and being the carry," he says. "We really feel like it's making a difference and it's really showing a lot of what the genre can be. There're a lot of different things you can do in the genre.
"We really feel like it's making a difference and it's really showing a lot of what the genre can be. There're a lot of different things you can do in the genre."
"We've got lots of different maps with lots of different map mechanics. We're trying to make each map as unique as possible. We're doing things with our talent system. We're moving away from the traditional shop system and really giving players a custom set of options per hero. We can have items that are range bonuses on heroes. We can give a hero who specializes in melee attack and give him a +3 range bonus, and now he's a short-range hero. If we put that in a shop that's generic for all, that would break the game.
"That's been a huge win for us that's distinguished us from other games in the genre. We've got something legitimate to offer. It's not for everybody, but we feel that we're gathering an audience of players that's very excited that we're taking these types of risks."
Looking at your competitors and their expansions into esports, does that influence how you're approaching development on Heroes of the Storm?
The game is certainly inspired by League of Legends, Dota and Dota 2, but it is becoming increasingly driven by the community, Browder states. In the future, it'll be the players who determine if Heroes becomes an established esport.
"We owe an enormous debt to the modders in Warcraft III who helped develop the genre, and all the other developers who iterated on that even further," he says. "Early on, we were looking at those games a lot and learning from them, but at this point in our alpha, we're learning more about our game from our game. Our game and our players, that has become the focus and that teaches us what to do.
"It's not up to us if this game is an esport, it's up to the players. Do players start forming leagues, do shoutcasters show up? If they do, we'll be there for them. It'll be interesting to see where these people take the game."
Can you say when Heroes of the Storm will move out of alpha and into a beta test?
"Nope. We're still making sure the technology is good and safe," he explains. "You have to understand, when we go into a beta, we'll end up connecting up to Blizzard's other games. So you'll be able to chat with people in WoW, you'll be able to chat with people in Diablo, you'll be able to chat with people in Hearthstone and StarCraft. When we go to that point, if we make a mistake in Heroes of the Storm, it's not impossible that we could crash WoW. That's bad.
"So we're adding a few people every week to the alpha, and we're still testing the infrastructure. Once we're in a position where we feel like we're good to go, we'll roll over into the production hardware and into the beta."
Will there be any other announcements for Heroes of the Storm before November's BlizzCon conference?
"You can always look for more heroes, changes to the HUD, and changes to the progression system," Browder promises. "We're also updating talents as often as possible. But we've also got another milestone before then."
The patch looks to change things up pretty dramatically, and it'll be interesting to see how the new progression systems work out. You can check out Blizzard's Twitch stream tomorrow at 11 A.M. PDT for more information and a first look at the update. Keep an eye on GameSpot for more news about Heroes of the Storm as it becomes available.
What do you think about Heroes of the Storm and how Blizzard is trying to make it unique? Let us know in the comments!