Feature Article

How Heroes of the Storm Is Different From--and the Same as--League of Legends and Dota 2

Blizzard has made a MOBA, which nobody can deny.

Diablo rides a horse that looks small enough to buckle under his gargantuan weight. Just like that poor horse, Blizzard has a lot riding on Heroes of the Storm. This is the Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo maker's take on the blossoming multiplayer online battle arena, and its attempt to claim the riches and colossal global audience that come with the territory.

After Heroes of the Storm's initial showing at BlizzCon 2013, the developer launched the game's technical alpha last week. There's a good chance many things will be changed, tweaked, and modified over the coming months. Even now, though, Blizzard's intriguing take on the genre has plenty of fascinating new mechanics and exciting twists. This is no mere attempt at simply re-creating Dota 2 or League of Legends.

Heroes of the Storm is all about the map objectives

Blizzard calls them battlegrounds, and each comes with its own central map mechanic that greatly impacts each game. Let me say that again, just to be clear: If your team ignores the map's main objective in Heroes of the Storm, you will almost definitely lose. Badly. When the announcer tells players that this all-important objective is about to spawn, any feeling of individual freedom at this point is an illusion. Stop whatever you are doing, right now, and leg it to the objective.

Blue and red teams compete to blow up the opposing nexus on each of the four maps--Dragon Shire, Blackheart's Bay, Haunted Mines, and Cursed Hollow--but their various shapes (not every map here involves three lanes, for instance), shortcuts, and those all-important mechanics add plenty of variety, and give the game a very different feel to its contemporaries. It means the rhythm of Heroes of the Storm flicks between traditional phases of the odd offensive push or defensive retreat and frenzied, all-out contests over that all-important objective. What's really going on here is that Blizzard, in the interests of keeping match times down to around the 30-minute mark, is routinely herding players into situations where they have no choice but to fight to the death.

There's some other important things to be aware of, too. Towers are dotted along each lane, but they are fortified with healing fountains that provide a health and mana boost to allied players, and occasionally with a castle that can spawn additional minions. Fancy running past an enemy tower because you're confident you can secure a kill? Not here; Heroes of the Storm has gates that block the enemy team from passing. Towers themselves have an ammo supply, too, so if they pelt out too many rounds they'll need to pause to reload and can easily be destroyed in this time. And while characters tend to move quite slowly, almost all players can summon a mount so they can zip around the map faster. Mounts are no good for offensive plays, mind, as they disappear as soon as a player takes damage.

Teamwork really is king, too. Securing the powerful dragon knight, feeding enough coins to a ghostly sea captain, getting a stronger golem because your team picked up the most undead skulls from the mines, or winning enough tributes to have the raven lords curse your opposition are all acts of such dramatic significance that they far outweigh a handful of player kills gained (or lost) from team fights. Another game-changing features include a scattering mercenary camps--Heroes' take on the jungle area--on each map, which bestow a gaggle of very powerful siege units if your team captures them. These can easily swing a game in your favor.

Having to divide your team up to claim the north and south shrines on Dragon Shire is a very different process than racing around the Haunted Mines' inner map to slay undead faster than the opposition. Even the shape of the maps affects things massively, such as how working your way around the dense forest area of Cursed Hollow means you're more likely to be able to plan and execute ambushes than the simpler Blackheart's Bay. The design also fits into the objectives of each map; Dragon Shire and Cursed Hollow are about controlling certain spots at the right time, and are therefore larger, more complex Battlegrounds, whereas securing victory in Blackheart's Bay and Haunted Mines is done by collecting more resources than your opponents, so these are smaller are designed to funnel you into conflict.

Despite Blizzard's efforts, bad players will still be able to ruin your game

There are plenty of other big changes (though if you're a religious Dota player, you might call them blasphemies) that affect, well, just about everything. Experience is shared and distributed across the team, rather than going to the individual players. That's a huge shift from other games of this ilk, making it so individual players can't fall ahead or behind the rest of their allies, and softens the pain of being accidentally slain once or twice. Repeated deaths still end up handing a huge advantage to the opposing team, mind. I had a game last night when one Raynor player went and got himself killed nine times in a row, and it's safe to say we ended up losing that game pretty bloody quickly. Believe me, superior enemy teams can snowball out of control just as easily here as in the worst matches of Dota 2 or League of Legends.

What else? League of Legends and Dota players might squabble endlessly over the merits of the deny mechanic, but Heroes of the Storm has made it so you can't even last hit. There's no gold to worry about and no store to buy items from, and you don't level up your character's individual abilities with each level. If you're a MOBA purist, then you've probably already flipped your computer desk over by now, and I'll admit I was pretty skeptical at first. But now, after many games, I think it works well. These nips and tucks get games off to an immediately confrontational start, removing that initial foreplay from Dota and League of Legends matches while players farm up enough cash to buy their basic starting items. It's a tauter, fiercer way to initiate each game, and another one of the ways Blizzard has shaved minutes off the average game length. And while there's no store to buy items from, characters can be developed in various ways as they are given a list of options to choose from as they level up. Heroes have two ultimate abilities, for instance, but you'll only be able to select one of them in each game.

Right now there's 23 characters to choose from, with Blizzard offering a weekly rotation of six heroes to play for free. The characters are bucketed into Assassin, Warrior, Support, and Specialist categories, and it's the latter one that offers up character that could only in this game. Take the Zerg evolution specialist Abathur, for instance, who has no ability to directly attack enemy players but can instead buff allied players, spawn locusts that act as additional minions, or clone an allied player with his ultimate ability. He could never exist without Heroes of the Storm's shared experience, and he's an absolutely fascinating addition that I'm still trying to get my head around.

I've had some thrilling matches, including games where I've been in a team of underdogs that turn things around after a poor start, games where I've lost a clear advantage by missing out on too many mercenary camps and objectives, and games that have been nothing but tense reversals leading into narrow victories or defeats. When it works, the game is a tense half hour of neck-and-neck fighting made up of a cast of well-known Blizzard characters.

There's a lot to like, but you might not be able to play it without friends.

Big team fights aren't as exciting as they should be, though. Part of this is down to the fact that heroes just don't feel very strong right now. Abilities are weak and easy to spam, and characters survive for much, much longer than in League of Legends and Dota. It's not uncommon to see players, provided they've not been totally caught out of position, nonchalantly run out of fights with the last chunk of their health bar remaining. If you ask me, Blizzard needs to make the game riskier and more dangerous, and that added thrill of peril and power will create something that's more exciting to watch and play.

But my biggest concern so far is that Heroes of the Storm lacks the proper communication tools for its overwhelming focus on securing those shifting map objectives. Blizzard has made the game's minimap confusingly small, and right now there's only a basic ping or teeny-tiny chat window for rallying your allies. With the varied maps, shared experience, and shifting mission objectives, teams have to be on the ball constantly and with perfect coordination, else everything quickly falls apart. These are early days, but I've already had far too many games where crucial map objectives have been ignored in favour of pushing lanes, farming mercenary camps, or attempting to confront the enemy team. There is so much at stake with each objective in Heroes of the Storm that it is utterly galling when you're matched alongside a player that's off in a world of their own.

Think of it like this. When playing Dota with one or two friends, the thing we dread most is the horror of facing a five-stack--an entire team of players who know each other and who are all probably hanging out in a Skype call and plotting how to brutally divide, conquer, and eviscerate our disjointed match-made team. Terrifying. And I now dread the five-stack in Heroes of the Storm even more than I do in Dota. If Blizzard is going to fulfil its self-professed remit of making a MOBA that's more accessible, approachable, and not as toxic as its contemporaries, it's going to have to work something out to address that need for communication and teamwork.

Still, I can't wait to see what comes to Heroes of the Storm next. Blizzard's spin on the MOBA has the potential to be exciting, more accessible, and the most unique take on the genre since the Warcraft III mod that started it all.

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martingaston

Martin Gaston

Hi! I'm Martin, for some reason or another I have managed to convince the people who run GameSpot that I am actually wor
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86 comments
sciont
sciont

 I honestly can't wait for HOTS to come out. LoL is good but it has the worst community ever, Dota2 on the other hard has the most unfriendly user's interface plus it uses steam which I personally hate. I hope that HOTS will be at least enjoyable.

Lizzard1199
Lizzard1199

It's nice that after asking Blizz to add gamespot to the alpha they actually listened

Creative
Creative

Blizzard is doing to Moba, same thing they did to MMO many years ago . . . making it fun and accessible. I for one am tired of 1-hour long matches in Dota 2, where 1 carry can shift the balance of whole game, if 4 allies hold out long enough, or playing in team without support or some noob who would feed the carry in opposite team.


This game is pretty fun and easy to get into, yes it needs fine-tuning (that's why it's not even BETA, it's ALPHA). 


I think Blizzard is on the right track.I especially like that fact that Blizzard matches characters in each team, ensuring that you have proper composition with at least one support.  


Yes, prices are way too high, hopefully they can find a sweet spot once game reaches beta or goes public. 

vadagar1
vadagar1

the way i see it blizzard stopped making good games after they turned into money grubbing micro transaction whores

vadagar1
vadagar1

what a nauseating game... UGHHHHh


dota 2 and EVEN LEAGUE OF NOOBS is better than this pile of garbage 


map objectives??? mounts... pay money to unlock shit....

fuck that shit


omar_q
omar_q

I really wish Blizzard went on to develop Dota 2. It was a mod for WC3, their own game, and for some weird reason they didn't see the potential of how big the mod is, even after LoL proved to be such a hit.

Instead Dota 2 has become a joke with its constant hat content and courier dressup bullshit. 

jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

I've been playing the closed alpha test of this game, and I gotta say, it's really bad. I was looking forward to this game so much. Blizzard has done an amazing job in the past with Warcraft and StarCraft, but this game is seriously a turd and it's going to flop hard.

nyran125tk
nyran125tk

Warcraft 4 cha cha cha warcraft 4 cha cha cha...


:(


Warcraft was so good....

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

*gasp* More than one map?  I might actually have to give this a shot then.

rhenom
rhenom

I stopped watching the video 12 mins in because the guy playing is annoying. Not necessary to click eleventybillion times.

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

Cannot wait. Glad to see Raynor's in there. Now I just need confirmation on Kerrigan, and I'm good. Also, it's an Alpha build, Mr. Gaston. The game will likely be unrecognizable by beta, let alone the final release. 

Zonelezz
Zonelezz

hook us up with a alpha key! this game looks quite interesting. 

nomailx
nomailx

Wait wait. So let me get this straight.... Players invented DOTA cause Warcraft 3 was too complex and micro demanding... From DOTA came "MOBA"... And now, Blizzard is accepting MOBA, and is making it "more complex" (that's what the op called "re-inventing)?? RFLOL!


Blizzard... omg. You guys should go find another job, like car washing or else. Something where you could use just your hands, but not your head... (Unless it's for nailing walls or something).

nomailx
nomailx

As usual Blizzard takes a Genre and switch it to a childish "Mario All Stars" game. Just watching the preview videos can make you puke. Terrible graphics, terrible mechanics. Why is Blizzard still a game company?

robotopbuddy
robotopbuddy moderator moderator

I should point out that technically a starcraft mod - Aeon of Strife - started it all (hence why this sort of map, including DotA, had been regularly called AoS-style maps for a very long time on warcraft 3 - DotA has since overshadowed AoS with it's popularity, but that doesn't mean it came 1st)...that (and in no small part Eul's original DotA map that was based on it) is what spawned this type of game to run rampant among warcraft 3 custom maps (as it had a much better map editor; sc2 has an even better one than wc3 now too) - DotA Allstars merely came out as the most popular one after many many years of this sort of map being map - and was ultimately fine-tuned to the modern day mod, which resulted in multiple games based on the same concept as well as one that is designed to be a copy (which is still very much incomplete), merely without the engine limitations of the now rather ancient wc3 engine - DOTA2.


Incidentally - Blizzard has the advantage of having this entire process happen right in their front yard - they've seen the countless different variations and improvements made over time, even spoken with the devs of some of them long before other companies knew they existed, and have even made their own in the past (such as extreme candy war, which also in turn spawned many player-made versions over the years). Aside from the players that have been playing a large variety of these maps as they spawned, Blizzard perhaps has the most knowledge of the genres upbringing.


The real question is can they make one that's as engaging as the one that became the favourite and was ultimately the final step at catching the eye of big name devs/publishers, DotA (Allstars), or will it end up like one of the countless other maps in this style such as the countless other maps with the DotA name, tides of blood, the great strategy, aeon of strife itself, and countless others - in which the popularity eventually dwindled to the point that it was difficult to even get a match going in them most of the time. Not that they were bad maps (well, some were...there's always some bad ones when everyone can make things though, they're swiftly forgotten), not in the slightest, they just weren't as popular as DotA, and the wc3 community dwindled over the years to begin with - considering it's age it's done a great deal better than most games though, with a sizeable amount of players even today.

Blizzard needn't worry over assets and names much either, and may even recreate multiple of these old maps in the one game if they want...or they may just do their own thing as usual and manage to create something engaging, though probably not as much as DOTA2, nonetheless.


I intend to play it at some point regardless - though the idea of not having all characters available for free immediately is off-putting for me (this is one thing that was a constant throughout EVERY map (with the rare exception of those with secret characters - which when poorly balanced swiftly made their maps die out because people rarely obey the idea of word-of-mouth banned OP characters) that brought up this genre and with proper balance there is absolutely no reason to change that).

This sort of genre has no need for that sort of progression and is supposed to be a test of skill - everyone starts every match with the same choices/things, the only difference is how well they play, what choices they make, what tactics they use, and how well they co-operate with their teammates. You earn things in the game to make things easier and they disappear after, win or lose; a rogue-like element of sorts (things/unlocks don't transfer between games, no matter their length) that helps to keep games truly competitive.

hanscrolo
hanscrolo

i wish they would have just made wc4 with this engine :|

randomkidlol
randomkidlol

Main gripe with this is how blizzard balances their games nowadays. this game will probably end up in a state where a small handful of heroes will be ridiculously OP and get picked every game.

Daian
Daian

No items? Shared experience? Hard to die? Sounds like a dumbed down MOBA for preschoolers, one of those everybody gets a medal bs, and communication seems to be disastrous.

Mraou
Mraou

HOTS = Heart of the Swarm.

Lizzard1199
Lizzard1199

@Creative"This game is pretty fun and easy to get into" what a BS. I'm from EU and have zero chances to get into this game, even beeing in US wouldn't change much as there is almost no chance to get into.

Erick
Erick moderator

@PyreofKoL  Kerrigan is pretty beast if you know how to use her, from the few times Ive seen her so far.

yurianstonebow
yurianstonebow

@nomailx the game is designed to be accessible to players of all levels of skill, even your good self (that seems to find the idea of a nice deep moba too complex) gg with the arbitrary insults though...

yurianstonebow
yurianstonebow

@nomailx erm, haven't you already complained about the game being "too complex", I smell split personality disorder, you need to create alternate passwords for your accounts, so your "other selves" cant contradict you so blindingly, makes you seem a little dim.

th1zdwk
th1zdwk

@nomailx  Because they've accomplished much more than you ever will in your pathetic little life? Because they're a company that reaches out to millions upon millions of fans for their products, while you whine in your dirty little room on this comment section thinking people will care? Idiot confirmed. You're a worthless loser. Why do you even live? You aren't worth even 1 employee at Blizzard. You're nothing. You're a troll. 

dulyak
dulyak

@robotopbuddy You, sir, made a fine analysis. Being in technical alpha, and not being a fan of MOBAs, I can say this game rocks. It's not a "dumbed down" game, it's a "different one". You can still let yourself be ganked over and over, especially if you don't understand the basics behind HotS: Teamplay, and Zone control.

brxricano
brxricano

@robbristow Can I.....can I uninstall my firewall and just have you watch over my precious internet connection instead?

jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

Blog it. Nobody is going to read a comment as long as a novel.

vadagar1
vadagar1

@hanscrolo let it go they wont make games that wont make them billions of dollars in micro trans.

robotopbuddy
robotopbuddy moderator moderator

@hanscrolo  I have to admit, I'd be more eager to get wc4 with a map editor even further improved - the community always seems to outdo blizzard in the long run, and blizzard do pretty darn good single player campaigns too. Not to mention that their RTS multiplayer is always quite well balanced, that's not really why I love warcraft so much though in the end - it was always the powerful map editor and the wide variety of maps that ultimately came out of it that made warcraft 3 last the years so well, long after it's single player campaign was done and dusted. Blizzard's update support for their games tends to last a good decade or more after their release too, which is nice - not only does the multiplayer get rebalanced, but the campaigns get tweaks too, and the map editor gets improvements.


Unfortunately, I don't think we'll be seeing another warcraft RTS until long after the last starcraft 2 expansion comes out...and I suspect when/if it does come out, it and it's map editor will likely have several of the unwanted little catches that starcraft 2 does as well.

jimmy_russell
jimmy_russell

@randomkidlol It's already like that in the Alpha, and it will get worse as time goes on. They make ridiculously overpowered and imbalanced design decisions just to later revise them. It's extremely crass developmentt standards and it's unlike the Blizzard of olde.

dulyak
dulyak

@Daian Try it first, judge later. I'm not much into MOBAs, but I'm enjoying this one quite much, as it doesn't require constant dedication. It's ok for casual gamers like me (I used to be hardcore gamer, but a 2 yo son and 4 mo daughter have different opinion on it).

dulyak
dulyak

@Lizzard1199 I'm in Czech Republic, I'm Italian, and I'm into the Technical Alpha. So what you're saying is BS. Sorry pal...

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

@Erick @PyreofKoL  Sweeeeeet. She'll be my main. Knowing how she plays in SCII I think she'll be right in my MOBA wheelhouse. Thanks for the info, Erick.

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

@martingaston @PyreofKoL @Erick  Oh, must've missed that bit. My bad. Also, I believe this is the first time I've ever had the author of article reply to one of my posts. Made my day!

martingaston
martingaston moderator

@PyreofKoL @Erick  Kerrigan is pretty strong. I'm a fan of Nova myself, but I've been trounced by a good few Kerrigan players :) 


And, yeah, I said a bit on how it's likely to be completely overhauled over the coming months in the article, but I can't wait to see what Blizzard does! 

MBirdy88
MBirdy88

@nomailx @th1zdwk  He's probably refering to your pathetic statement about why DoTA was made..... we get it you think your cool because you like Warcraft/Starcraft type RTS.

Does not mean MoBAs are easy or not complex in any shape or form.