Heroes of the Storm – Review

Title   Heroes of the Storm
Developer  Blizzard
Publisher  Blizzard
Platform  PC
Genre  Online Team Brawler
Release Date  02/06/2015
Official Site  http://us.battle.net/heroes/en/

Remember when everyone was jumping on the WoW-fuelled MMO bandwagon, convinced that their slight modification of Blizzard’s juggernaut would eclipse it and bring them incredible success? Remember how that went for everyone? Well then, all aboard the MOBA train.

In a twist on the formula, Blizzard is the one playing catch-up here; League of Legends and Dota have been around for a long time and have established massive, dedicated playerbases that make even WoW seem unimpressive. Right now League claims a ridiculous 70+ million unique players a month. Many have tried to usurp the king and queen and have quickly come undone, with perhaps Smite as a notable exception; the DC-themed Infinite Crisis MOBA lasted a mere five months before folding.

Heroes of the Storm, or HOTS (not to be confused with HOTS), is described as an Online Team Brawler rather than a MOBA, lane-pushing game, Dota-like, Wizard-‘em-up or any of the other common monikers associated with these games, but it is clearly heavily influenced by League in terms of its basic gameplay design. Pitched as a simpler experience for more casual players (or baby’s first MOBA, if you prefer), Blizzard are clearly hoping that a combination of accessibility and an established brand with some well-known characters will be enough to lure players in where the gameplay experience can then trap them.

Speaking of which, HOTS is fun to play. Mostly. It follows the traditional pattern of 5v5 in multiple lanes, killing creeps for a bit to level up and then trying to push the lanes and take enemy buildings. Fights tend to be frequent, fast-paced and fairly short-lived; heroes start with all of their basic abilities available to them, which makes early fighting much more viable than it is in something like Dota where you have to unlock them as you level up. There are no items you can buy and no gold with which to buy them, XP is shared across the whole team – which can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on your situation – and there are map-specific objectives.

That’s right, HOTS has multiple maps and each map has its own special objective, which is designed both to bring the teams together to fight and to greatly benefit the team who wins. The problem is that a lot of the objectives are just too snowbally; if you win the first one you’re immediately in a better position to win the second and the third and so on. Some of them, like the dragon shrines which fire lasers at enemy buildings while you hold them, give the other team a chance to stop you, but others, like the ghost pirate who launches a barrage of unstoppable cannonballs at enemy buildings, are completely un-counterable once they’ve been triggered.

While comebacks are possible, they seem very much dependant on the enemy team sitting back for a while and letting you recover, if they keep pushing and don’t get careless then there’s really very little you can do and this is exacerbated by the fact that once your outer buildings are destroyed it becomes very hard to contest map objectives without getting ambushed as soon as you step out of your base.

Adding to these problems is the matchmaking system. If you play Dota 2‘s most popular mode – All Pick – as a solo player, you queue for a match, get loaded into the game and then you pick your hero with live information about which heroes your team-mates and the enemy team are picking. In HOTS you pick your hero and then you queue for a match, are assigned a bunch of team-mates by the matchmaking engine and given a random map to play on. You might be able to see the problem here already; when you’re queuing alone there’s a very good chance you’ll end up on a map you hate with a terrible team composition versus an opponent that’s wound up with a far better group of heroes. This obviously improves if you queue in a group, but you still have no control over the map that you’re handed or the other players that fill out your team if you’re in a group of fewer than five players.

Heroes of the Storm is one of the least free to play Free-To-Play games I’ve ever freely played. While there is a League-style weekly rotation of free heroes for you to pick from it makes you work or pay for everything else. Your account has a level and you gain XP by playing matches; this level gates you from things like Ranked play (fair enough) and being able to use all the free heroes on rotation (less fair). On top of this, every hero has a level (separate from their in-match level) which you also increase by playing matches, and this level gates you from things like hero abilities, skins, mounts, and perks. It’s entirely possible to find yourself in a scenario where a hero you’ve levelled up (and thus has access to all of their abilities in-match) is on the free rotation but you still can’t play as them because your account isn’t high enough level to unlock all the free rotation “slots” so you have to pick from a limited pool of the limited pool of free heroes, leaving you with someone who you’ve not levelled up and therefore doesn’t have access to half their skill-set.

The “solution” to this problem is obviously for you to unlock other heroes, which you can do either with in-game gold, again earned from playing matches, or with real money, earned from working jobs. Hero costs vary but new ones are generally going to cost you almost a tenner to unlock (or 10,000 gold), and if you want to play Ranked you’re going to have to unlock some as it’s required for some reason that I have yet to divine.

Early on you’re going to earn a lot of gold, but that rapidly drops off once you’ve got your account and each hero past level five, and even with the daily challenge system doling out a few hundred in bonuses you’re realistically not going to have enough to unlock the majority of heroes without spending real money, especially as new ones get added to the game. As it stands, cosmetic items can only be purchased using gold, though it’s entirely possible this will change in the future.

What all of this boils down to is a game that lots of fun if you’re playing on the right map with some decent team-mates using a hero you like and have levelled up to at least level five. Once any of those elements is lost, however, the game quickly becomes frustrating and eventually infuriating as the enemy team snowballs using a map objective you can’t contest and half your hero’s abilities sit mocking you from behind virtual padlocks. There’s potential there and I keep going back for the occasional game in the hope it’ll change my mind but right now it’s in a tough place; my real concern is that Blizzard take HOTS’ Free To Play model and run with it for future games, because it would be a real shame to see that spread. Heroes of the Storm is available now via Battle.net.

  • Simple (for a MOBA) design that makes it easy to get into
  • Fast-paced and fun team-fights
  • All your favourite Blizzard characters
  • Plenty of potential
  • Several maps are currently pretty unbalanced
  • Comebacks are difficult...
  • ...unless you have a good team...
  • ...but the matchmaking is a bit of a mess
  • The Free To Play model is pretty dreadful

Heroes of the Storm is an interesting new addition to the MOBA ecosystem, positioning itself as a sort of League of Legends for people who don't know what League of Legends is, and with some great ideas to ease new players into its mechanics. Sadly, despite its generally enjoyable gameplay, some poor map design, sub-par matchmaking system and aggressive Free To Play model mean that, as it stands, it's difficult to give it a glowing recommendation.

That said, I think it's well worth keeping an eye on because if Blizzard can work out some of the balance issues, improve the matchmaking and maybe ease off a little on the Free To Play hard sell then there's a potentially great game to be found.

Our review policy

Last five articles by Adam B


One Comment

  1. Ste Ste says:

    When will they learn that hamstringing players with paywalls isn’t the way to go. Look at Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, when that first went free to play they wouldn’t even allow free players to run! It was ridiculous. I hear they’ve relaxed it abit now but it’s still not great.

    I’m not a MOBA player but I think DOTA2 has it right with their model. All gameplay features are accessible for free and only cosmetic items can be brought with real money. That way you aren’t shafting your players and I think a happy player is more likely to drop a few quid on an item whereas I personally would be more likely to resist if I felt I was getting money extorted out of me.

Leave a Comment