While I've seen League of Legend games played on occasion--it's close to impossible to avoid them given my BF played the game, and PAX always has huge screens showing them--I've never really played MOBAs before. So Heroes of the Storm was the perfect chance to get in on how the genre plays, and provide feedback for Blizzard for both bugs and experience.
The tutorial was relatively thorough, and while it's absolutely clear the game is built on the StarCraft II engine, it still feels like its own game. You then can try solo games with AI bots as teammates against other AI bots, or Cooperative games with all five human players vs. a team of AI bots, or Quick Matches where it's full-on PvP.
|Choosing Talents. How you differentiate your playstyle with a different character each game.|
I've played a couple of PvP matches solo queuing, and both went extremely well. Mind you, both times I was on a team that basically roved around as a group taking down objectives and mercenary camps as a single discrete unit, while the other team rarely coordinated at all. It'll be interesting to see higher level play from both teams to see what that looks like.
So far I've played enough games to get three characters to level 5, which is to say about 10 - 12 games each or so. And I've tried at least one game with all 6 characters currently available to me. Uther is by far one of my favourite characters. Mind you, I can play him like a roving Holy Paladin, so that's not surprising given in WoW I've played Holy since Wrath. But he can dish out a fair chunk of damage if his cooldowns are up, not to mention he has quite the stunlock build between Divine Storm and Hammer of Justice.
Compared to say, Li Li, who's also a healer, but she doesn't seem capable of dishing out nearly as much damage (though she can heal for a lot more). Uther is moderately self-sufficient, Li Li seems to really shine when she has another player with her.
But really, who can say no to Lumberjack Uther?
Some heroes are currently bugged to the point of being ridiculously underpowered (Diablo, for one), but for the most part they've felt fairly balanced, with a few exceptions (never get into a one-on-one match with Thrall). And even those exceptions can probably be dealt with if you have a hero capable of CC. It's doubtful that anything is balanced around one-on-one encounters, that would be silly in a team game.
As far as the genre itself, it feels a little...simple so far. Characters aren't terribly difficult to at least get somewhat good at, and the talents don't really feel differentiating enough to make a huge difference. Some choices are difficult, but most of the time it feels like there's a right answer. You can kind of focus on a given ability to build around, but a lot of the time these feel gimmicky. And some of the talents are just downright anemic to the point of never choosing it (*cough* Conjurer's Pursuit *cough*).
Most abilities are gated by a combination of available mana and cooldown. Cooldowns are the short game, so you can't spam the same ability over and over again. Mana is the long game, forcing you to go back to your base to regenerate on occasion. I find Uther to be terribly mana inefficient, having to go back to base an awful lot, compared to Kerrigan who after the first 5 minutes I almost never have to go back for mana. The game definitely punishes you for spamming your abilities even if they're off cooldown, so depending on when objectives are up and when's a convenient time to recover, you may decide to hold off on using abilities.
It's interesting, as if I recall about League of Legends, they use getting gold and purchasing items as a way to force you to retreat back to base, versus Heroes where pretty much the only reason is to quickly regenerate mana. So a good way to keep that same ebb and flow but using a different method to do so.
The maps themselves are relatively varied, with different objectives that are all quite powerful and game changing if one team dominates them. In most of the Cooperative matches I had, the AI would beat us pretty handily in the first five minutes because newer folks ignored the objectives. However, by the second time the objectives came up, everyone would be on board and the AI wouldn't have a chance. Some maps are better than others. The Dragon Shire required you to pretty much hit all 3 lanes, whereas the Haunted Mine you could easily just focus your entire group on a single lane and be mostly fine.
The game proper seems to be well-polished, but the interstitial UI definitely needs some work. I've logged a few bugs already, but one doozy is that sometimes the loading screen would crash my graphics driver, and I'd have to kill and reboot the client. Mind you, their rejoin logic works quite well if you have to bail and get back in early in the game. It seems to be using the StarCraft II replay feature to get the map set up correctly when you rejoin. However, if you come back like 8 minutes into the match, you're going to be in for a frustrating time waiting the 2 minutes it'll take for the replay logic to fast forward the game until you're caught up.
|My graphics driver would often bail about here. However, the map synopsis was really handy.|
The main menu UI is really confusingly laid out. To get the XP of my hero, I need to go to my player profile (rather than the hero information?), or at some point I was locked out of being able to start a game, and I never noticed it spamming info in the text box--because in-game player communication shows up in the middle of the screen. Speaking of which, there was little to no information on how to communicate with other players. A friend of mine had to tell me how to reply to a whisper.
The results screen at the end also needs a lot of work. In-game they show you stats like siege damage, hero damage, healing, so on. At the end it only shows you deaths, something that I think means killing blows, and how many mechanics you did (objectives), but even that isn't accurate. A lot of things are unaccounted for, like dealing with mercenary camps, some parts of objectives, dealing with minions, and so on. There've been plenty of games where I've been one of the most effective players because I dealt with the mechanics of the map while my teammates were dying on the front lines, but the results screen didn't reflect that at all, so it looked like I contributed little to nothing.
So overall, the game proper is probably ready for prime time from what I've seen, but all the infrastructure surrounding it is most definitely not. Not up to Blizzard standards, at the very least. So Beta is a good moniker for where they're at in development.
Free to Play, or Pay to Play?
I haven't spent a cent so far, but I think you're pretty much forced to eventually if you want to play in the Hero League (their competitive ladder). While leveling up my player profile, I've managed to net about 8,000 gold, which is enough to purchase a hero from the bottom 75% heroes expense-wise. But about 6,000 of that gold was a one-time bonus that I can never get again. It'll take about 20 - 30 days worth of Daily Quests to earn enough gold to purchase a hero (excepting the super cheap ones), and you need to own 10 heroes to play in the competitive ladder.
There are plenty of things you have to pay for, like skins (the Lumberjack Uther skin is $5), or mounts--there's a Rainbow Unicorn mount that's gorgeous. It's also $20, so screw that. Buying heroes outright is generally in the range of $8 - $12 each, though there are weekly sales that if you're patient, you can get half off.
Basically, Blizzard is currently charging a huge premium on pay-for purchases, and I'm not sure it's worth it at all. I mean, yes, the game is "Free to Play" which means somebody's subsidizing that cost, but it's so high that I can't imagine there are that many people buying into these things. On the other hand, it makes those $40 bundles look like they're 60%+ off, and I imagine that's where Blizzard is likely going to make most of their sales.
And unlike Hearthstone, where I can do enough dailies to get a pack or two of cards every day or two, Heroes doesn't have those smaller purchases to keep you going. It's pretty-all-or-nothing with the heroes themselves.
Is It Fun?
Yes. I've been enjoying myself so far. Enough that, playing with my friend, I often lose track of time and find myself four hours later realizing I should be doing something more productive (like writing a blog post). The community so far hasn't been toxic whatsoever, but I've only been in winning PvP matches, so I reserve judgement there.
I'm looking forward to purchasing my first hero soon with gold (probably Uther), and whenever the next set of free-to-play heroes rotates in, I'm hoping I'll find more fun heroes there as well. I'll have to start digging into proper PvP play soon, because unless the bots get smarter, I don't think I'm going to enjoy the Cooperative mode for much longer.