Heroes of the Storm Review and Gameplay
Blizzard's signature hero brawler cometh
Warcraft. StarCraft. Diablo. As gamers, Blizzard Entertainment’s disparate fantasy and sci-fi universes have all become part of our lives. We’ve bled with their heroes, conquered worlds with their villains. We’ve shared in the joys and heartaches of the likes of Jim Raynor, Sarah Kerrigan, Thrall, and Tyrael.
These are gaming’s legendary icons – some of the biggest names in the industry. And as much as we love them, you know you’ve always wondered… who’s the strongest of them all? Who will rise and who will fall in a battle between the Lich King Arthas, and Diablo, the Lord of Terror? In a duel between Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, and the archmage, Jaina Proudmoore, who will stand victorious, and who will end up on her knees, licking the other’s boot heel?
Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard’s attempt to answer those questions. As their own take on the MOBA genre, it pits the greatest gaming superstars against each other in the most epic of showdowns.
Story – the Chosen Ones
As a cosmic storm linking the distinct realities together, the Nexus draws figures, both noble and nefarious, from across multiple universes. No one knows how one is chosen, or why. But one thing seems certain: the few who are whisked away from their worlds and timelines are brought into the many battlegrounds that comprise the Nexus, where they engage in the ultimate battle between good and evil.
Gameplay – the Nexus beckons
While the game is still in development, we’ve spent enough time with its 36 characters and seven battlegrounds to give you an early Heroes of the Storm review.
Heroes of the Storm’s gameplay shares much of its DNA with fellow MOBAs Defense of the Ancients (DotA) and League of Legends (LoL). Each player assumes the role of a hero character, then joins four other team members to challenge another team of five. The goal of each team is simple: destroy the opposing force’s core, which lies deep within their heavily guarded base on the other side of the map.
Of course, reaching the enemy team’s core isn’t a stroll along a sunset-soaked boulevard. Along the way, each team will encounter the other’s defensive structures, or forts. These stationary buildings attack the instant they spot members of the opposition. Each base also endlessly spawns wave after wave of minions, who single-mindedly march across the arena’s two or three lanes to the other side of the map. Like the forts, they assault anyone belonging to the rival team.
Fortunately, killing minions and crushing enemy structures rewards your team with experience points. Experience points can then be used by each hero to buy new skills or upgrade existing ones. The more powerful heroes become, the more exciting their skills, and the quicker they can annihilate enemy armies.
By rewarding teams, and not individuals, with experience points, Heroes of the Storm’s gameplay prevents individual heroes from becoming too powerful relative to their teammates. This system encourages teamwork, as it’s extremely rare for a single hero to become so powerful that they can take on groups of enemy heroes by themselves.
From mercenary camps scattered across the map, heroes can also forcibly recruit units. All you need for these neutral creeps to join your cause is a little persuasion… with your laser rifle or the edge of your blade.
So far, Heroes of the Storm has seven different battlegrounds, each with its own unique personality and objectives that put interesting twists into every match.
For example, by capturing two shrines in the Dragon Shire arena, either team can win temporary control of the Dragon Knight – a gargantuan monster capable of dealing incredible damage with alarming ease.
Haunted Mines, a two-lane battleground, comes with a subterranean network of tunnels crawling with undead. Upon defeat, these creatures drop skulls. The moment 100 skulls are collected by both teams, a frightening colossus of rotting flesh and bone arises in each base and makes its way to the rival team’s. The team that amassed the greatest number of skulls enjoys the benefit of having the stronger golem.
Because every battleground has a different challenge to offer, there are always unique tactical advantages to consider per map. This way, Heroes of the Storm’s gameplay ensures that every match is special.
Characters – a company of heroes
As mentioned earlier, there are 36 playable characters in Heroes of the Storm – the veritable who’s who of the Blizzard pantheon. But this is a roster that will continue to grow as Blizzard brings in characters from its three signature franchises and beyond. An excellent example of the latter? How about The Lost Vikings, who starred in two games published in the early to mid ‘90s? All three Lost Vikings arrive at the Nexus as a single unit – a truly uncommon pick by Blizzard, in a genre bursting at the seams with the strange and the extraordinary.
Every hero unit comes with three starting active skills, or Primary Abilities, and one passive skill, called Hero Trait. Heroes are also given two extra-powerful skills, or Heroic Abilities, to choose from. This is in addition to a variety of passive abilities that the hero can acquire as they level up.
Heroes are categorized according to their type. Assassin heroes deal immense damage to single units, but are relatively weak in constitution. They often employ long range attacks. Warrior heroes are the tanks of the game, able to withstand and dish out great punishment. Support heroes are healers who also provide buffs to friendlies. They usually have the most mana and the fastest cooldown rates. Specialist heroes perform a variety of specific functions, such laying siege to forts and mind-controlling enemy units.
An example of an Assassin is everyone’s favorite space cowboy, Jim Raynor. One of his Primary Abilities is Penetrating Round, which is a single rifle blast capable of piercing through a line of enemies. Another Primary Ability, Inspire, enhances the attack speed and damage of nearby allies.
Raynor’s Hero Trait, Advanced Optics, lets him see 10% further than his teammates, as well as augments his attack range by 20%.
Heroic Abilities are where things get really interesting. One allows Raynor to summon two cloaked Banshees which provide assistance in combat. Another calls the massive battleship, the Hyperion, to the arena, crushing all those unfortunate enough to enter its shadow.
As a Specialist Hero, StarCraft’s evolution master, Abathur, can clone hero units, or transform allied minions into more dangerous monstrosities. Other heroes include Azmodan, Tyrael, and the Witch Doctor from the Diablo series; Illidan, Sylvanas, and Uther from Warcraft; and Zeratul, Tychus, and Zagara from StarCraft.
Every week, Heroes of the Storm rotates a small lineup of heroes that can be used in matches for free. If you wish for a character to be permanently available for play, however, you’ll have to purchase them from the shop using in-game or real money. We were able to try a majority of the heroes for our Heroes of the Storm review, and we’re happy to announce we’re happy with what we’ve seen so far.
The shop offers an assortment of other items, as well, from new mounts to extra character skins.
Graphics – chaos never looked this good
Blizzard has always placed game accessibility at the top of its list of priorities. For this reason, Heroes of the Storms’ graphics, while charming in a cartoony sort of way, are modest, and will likely not cause any problems on low end PCs.
Despite less sophisticated visuals, Heroes of the Storm still looks fantastic. Vibrant colors and richly detailed environments help bring battlegrounds to life, while the heroes themselves are beautifully designed and oozing with personality. All character models have been rendered using a uniform art style, further removing any dissonance that might arise from the recognition that they belong to a diversity of universes.
E-sports – still growing
Heroes of the Storm is one of the youngest entries in the MOBA scene, and still has a long way to go before equaling the likes of LoL in terms of its capacity to draw large, competitive crowds. Still, thanks to its unparalleled character roster and thrilling gameplay, Blizzard’s hero brawler has enormous potential. As of February 2015, more than 9 million players have already signed up for the game’s beta testing period. With its burgeoning community set to be one of the largest in the e-sports scene, enthusiastic game athletes are already coming together to form alliances. In fact, the last couple of months have already seen a few tournaments. This April 1st, the ESL Major League Europe Season 1 crowned a champion, while Enter the Storm Cup # 2 will be having its qualifying rounds starting April 25th. The prizes are getting bigger, with Cup # 3 to distribute $10,000 to the winning team.
With iconic heroes that are a blast to play, one-of-a-kind battle arenas that encourage a fluidity of strategies, and gameplay that pushes cooperation to the forefront of any team tactic, Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm is shaping up to be one of the most thrilling MOBAs in the industry.
Our rating – 9/10
What about you, fellow gamers? Are you part of the fortunate 9 million who are currently playing Heroes of the Storm? What points brought up in our early Heroes of the Storm review do you agree or disagree with? Let us know what you think about the game in the comments section below!