The most feared of the Prime Evils, Diablo, strides boldly across the battlefield. He has made thousands cower before him, and thousands more shall come to know his wrath; it’s hard not to exude confidence when you’re the Lord of Terror. He doesn’t know what fell power summoned him to this realm, but he can sense plenty of mortals in need of dominance, a fact that brings a wicked grin to his scorched face.
Upon reaching the conflict, the horned Dark Lord halts briefly, perplexed. A small panda rushes back and forth behind the battle, throwing bubbling flasks of liquid at a hideous alien and a group of jovial Vikings. Nearer than the clashing lines of soldiers, a heavily armored space marine stomps toward Diablo, squaring off to him with a smirk.
Such defiance. Diablo snorts, bursts of liquid flame leaping from his nostrils.
“Damn, you’re an ugly one.”
“Do you know who I am, mortal?”
“Don’t care much,” the marine says, racking the slide beneath the barrel of his rifle. “But I’m sure you’ll tell me.”
Diablo roars. Reaching for the marine, he’s blasted back by a penetrating shot from the gun leveled at his center of mass—which only serves to anger him further. Before Diablo can proceed, he notices the quivering red dot of a targeting laser trained on his chest.
Nuclear launch detected.
Welcome to Heroes of the Storm!
Taking after the little Warcraft 3 mod that could and the genre it subsequently spawned, Heroes of the Storm (shortened to HotS) is Blizzard’s heavyweight in the RTS/RPG hybrid genre. Some might call it a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), but Blizzard’s calling it a Hero Brawler—and they hope you will too. Gone are the single, unchanging arena and its familiar three lanes. Blizzard is inviting you to a strange new world. One without item centric hero builds, where objective based gameplay can sway even the grittiest stalemate. It’s not a MOBA, my friends, it’s a Hero Brawler. And you would do well to note the distinction.
If HotS is your first experience with a MOBA-style game, the sheer information overload could be a bit staggering. Let’s take a moment to break down the fundamentals. Half the battle is understanding how to manipulate the core mechanics. The other half is violence.
For Players New to MOBAs
MOBAs can seem daunting to the inexperienced player. There’s a lot going on—spells and heroes clash in bursts of color and status effects as they fight over structures alongside mobs of AI controlled units. And then, just when you think you’ve figured it out, the team on the ropes with no buildings left standing save for their Ancient charge back, wiping out the entrenched opposing team to win the match.
Rest assured, there’s a method to the madness. If you’re new to MOBAs, let’s take a minute to get you up to speed.
MOBA 101 Basics
In all MOBAs, Heroes and the AI soldiers (often called creeps or mobs, and which spawn in waves) advance down lanes toward the enemy-controlled territory, destroy their opponent’s defensive Towers, and ultimately hope to topple the building nestled within the heart of the enemy base. It’s like Capture the Flag—except the flag doesn’t move, has a well of hit points, and its destruction is enough to win the day.
The players assume control of Heroes, battling against opposing Heroes and creep waves to turn the tide, growing in power and prestige until they can make the final push into the enemy base and wipe it from the map. Death is but a minor setback for Heroes, who respawn ready to rejoin the fight after a few moments. Victory through the central structure’s annihilation is the only win condition in MOBAs, but how you achieve it distinguishes the disparate play styles that different heroes require.
Heroes have an assortment of abilities that define their role on the team. Veteran MMORPG players should recognize these roles, as MOBAs are built on similar systems. Not every Hero deals vast sums of damage or carries huge pools of health, but all must know their place and work together to succeed.
Some Heroes are supports that skirt the battle, healing teammates or buffing them to grant them an edge on their opponents. Other heroes are optimized for damage output and often have a comparatively small health pool to balance the havoc they wreak across the battlefield. For some Heroes, damage is but a minor inconvenience—they are the tanks that charge headlong into the fray, distracting their opponents while their own damage dealers go to work. Still others are unique Heroes, who may fit several of the aforementioned roles or none at all, and usually have special abilities that require strong game knowledge and a keen tactical sense to use effectively.
MOBA 102 Basics
In Heroes of the Storm, these Hero types are known respectively as supports, assassins, warriors, and specialists. They may be granted an additional specification, such as ranged or melee, which further defines the playstyle and type of abilities you can expect when fielding that particular hero.
Most MOBAs grant the player an inventory to be filled with items, changing their hero in various ways that dramatically affect their powers and abilities. Heroes of the Storm forgoes items in favor of traits which, like items, modify hero abilities to support different playstyles or provide passive enhancements that work without the need to activate them. Traits are unlocked at set levels as the team earns experience points and, thankfully, don’t require purchase or delivery to the Hero in the field.
Experience points can be earned incrementally through eliminating enemy creeps. Destroying structures or besting heroes will grant you huge bursts of experience, and provide an incentive not to sit back and farm creeps in relative safety for the duration of the match. Throwing yourself headlong at other heroes is high risk and potentially high reward, but unless you’re confident in your damage output and survivability, make sure you aren’t entering the fight alone.
Building your items or traits so as to best emphasize your playstyle and support your teammates is the ideal. Remember, this is a team based game—no one hero will determine victory or defeat. You and the random or hand-picked players you’re grouped with will have to work together to win the day. Pick heroes that highlight the team’s strengths and build them to cover the weaknesses, and you just might have what it takes to best your opponents.
As one last bit of advice for the aspiring MOBA player, bear in mind that each Heroes’ strengths and weaknesses are fluid and dynamic. Games aren’t crafted in a vacuum—the developer will likely release patches and tweaks that affect Heroes in ways big and small. This is what’s known as the metagame, and learning the meta for each MOBA you play is essential for playing well. Follow the ebb and flow of popular Hero picks and strategies. Understand the counters and challenges for common Heroes. Study the game, and in so doing, study yourself.
Sun Tzu said something like that, we’re sure.
For the Experienced MOBA Player
Either you’re still digesting the preceding information, or you skipped straight here to see what HotS holds for a longtime veteran of MOBAs. Let’s see what sets it apart from the rest. Blizzard was right to call it a Hero Brawler—it twists its roots into something special. Familiar, yet distinctive. It’s an exhilarating breath of fresh air for the genre as only its forefathers could provide.
New Path of the Hero Brawler
The biggest and boldest change Blizzard brings to the table is scrapping individual Hero levels in favor of a shared Team Level. Every bit of experience earned goes toward your team’s experience pool. Every Hero on your team will level up together, which means tailoring traits to the needs of your team is imperative. There are common trait paths for each Hero, but you hold the power to guide things in another direction if you sense an opportunity.
Along with scrapping individual levels, Blizzard has eliminated the item system as a means of Hero progression. As we mentioned earlier, items have been replaced by traits, offering new abilities and passives or modifying existing ones. They are granted upon reaching certain levels as a team, and the trait tree ensures you’re never at a lack for options. It’s a flexible system, offering some of the unique benefits that items provided while trimming the fat, so to speak. No more running back and forth to the base, or summoning the courier with that arcane bauble to give you the upper hand. Instead you have the option to stay in the thick of things, grabbing traits that best bolster your Hero.
The next big change is the introduction of a variety of battlefields to wage war upon, each with their own theme and objective. In Dragon Shire, for instance, controlling the shrines that pop up periodically grants your team access to the Dragon Knight—a powerful siege unit that can plow through structures like a hot knife through butter. Controlling the objectives becomes key to securing victory for your team. Without them, your team will have a long uphill climb to win. At the very least, denying the enemy team objectives must be central to your team’s strategy.
Dotted around each map are mercenary camps, ready to be swayed to your side through might or money. Most camps can be captured by defeating all of the mercenaries within, though certain heroes and certain maps enable you to earn their allegiance by making it rain cold, hard coins. Once acquired, mercenaries will move out to the nearest lane and begin pushing with your creep waves. Make your next wave that much more destructive with a band of mercs to tip the scales in your favor. Certain merc camps may hold only one potential ally, known as a boss, who deals far more damage than his more common counterparts. Vast pools of health make him a formidable ally if you can manage to take him down before the enemy team figures out your scheme.
Each Hero now has a Mount that they can summon at any time for a boost of speed, as well as a Hearthstone ability that will drop them back at the Hall of Storms for healing. While on a Mount, if a Hero uses any ability or takes damage, they will dismount and lose the speed buff immediately. Use it to reach the fight quickly, but don’t expect to stay astride your warbeast for long once you arrive.
The Hearthstone ability takes a while to channel, and can be interrupted by using an ability or taking damage like the Mount. If you’re hurt or low on mana, step away from the battle before triggering it or you might find yourself run down and finished off. When you teleport home you’ve given a quick burst of health and mana, and the Hall of Storms will quickly replenish whatever you might still be missing.
Structure and Defense Changes
The Ancient of Dota and the Nexus of League of Legends are no more. In their place, HotS introduces the Core, and the new title brings two very important changes for Heroes to consider. For one, the Core is not defenseless—it can auto target Heroes and creep with a defensive blast, not unlike a tower. While it’s certainly little more than an annoyance to well-leveled Heroes, it can be enough to turn the tide of a last, defensive stand.
The second change to the Core is its shield, which is an additional sum of hitpoints that can replenish after depletion. If your team is driven back from an assault on the Core, the shield will recharge in time—though any damage dealt to the Core’s base hitpoints will remain. The Core’s health is expressed as a percentage atop a more traditional health bar along the top portion of your screen, the shield represented by the blue portion of the bar.
There is a variety of structures composing each base in HotS. Rather than the empty lanes of other MOBAs, with solitary Towers standing sentry to defy incoming Heroes, you’ll find that the base layout of HotS looks more akin to a Real-time Strategy game than the utilitarian design common to the genre.
In the world of HotS, Towers flank Gates that provide a physical barrier opposing Heroes must destroy to continue forward. The bases are constructed in three tiers like other MOBAs though each tier contains additional structures to provide more for you to work with as either a defender or an attacker. Each tier contains a Fort, which fires at enemies like a tower and has ample hitpoints to boot. Beside each Fort is a Fountain, which may cause avid Dota players to raise an eyebrow. In HotS, Fountains are used for quick restoration of hitpoints and mana to Heroes who’d rather stay in the field than make the trip back to the Hall of Storms. Health and mana are delivered over time, so be careful when charging straight back to the battle. Fountains have a cooldown, which means that Heroes must decide whether they can spare the time to teleport back to the Hall or if they must recharge immediately to keep the pressure up.
Last but not least of the new structures, each map contains at least one Watchtower situated relatively central to both teams. Watchtowers are captured by moving Heroes over them in much the same way as a vanquished band of Mercenaries. As easy as they are to capture, they are just as easy for the enemy team to capture back, so proceed with a measure of caution. Defending them can be more valuable than it seems, as they provide islands of vision in the Fog of War. Get advance warning of enemy pushes, or watch for rotations between lanes. Deny watchtowers to the opposing team, and scurry uncontested across the map to your heart’s content. Intelligence is essential for setting up an easy victory.
Recap of Changes
Let’s run down the changes again, in convenient bullet point format:
- It’s not a MOBA, it’s a Hero Brawler!
- One team, one dream, one Team Level.
- Heroes have Traits instead of items, acquired at certain Team Levels. Active, Passive, and Ability modifying traits comprise each Hero’s Build.
- Objective based gameplay—different maps mean unique map hazards and elements for you to control and conquer.
- Mercenaries can be recruited to give your creep waves that little extra push.
- The Ancient is now the self-defending Core, while the Fountain is now known as the Hall of Storms (Fountains are something else entirely, offering quick regen with a cooldown!)
- More structures mean more things to demolish as you sweep into the enemy base.
- The Hearthstone and Mount Abilities are common to all Heroes, offering fast travel around the map.
Heroes of the Storm: A New Breed
With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard hopes to breathe new life into a well-established genre. The tweaks and core mechanic modifications rain fast and furious—but if you set aside your preconceptions and embrace it as a Hero Brawler and not a traditional MOBA, you’ll find deep, engaging gameplay and exciting new worlds to explore and conquer. Shaking things up radically like Blizzard chose to do with HotS may seem a bit intimidating at the outset. Give it time, and you’ll come to find what millions of players have already discovered in beta: change can be a very, very good thing.
Thanks for taking the time to check out our overview, whether you’re a new MOBA player or an old, grizzled veteran. Keep an eye out for Hero Guides and Map Guides to come, right here on High Ground Gaming.
I’ll see you in the Nexus, Heroes. Look for the little panda running around healing people.
Until next time.