It’s a joke among Blizzard fans that ‘Heroes of the Storm’ is the game so good that Jeff Kaplan has to bribe you to play it.
I used to be in on the joke, thinking of HOTS as a self-indulgent, functional, but ultimately forgettable MOBA. But I’ve taken a break from Overwatch this month (Incidentally, I do still love it and Salman can go suck a fat one), and the twin plugs to the void in my heart have been Rainbow Six: Seige to scratch the FPS itch, and Starcraft II to keep me down with that Blizzard feeling.
But then, one day, some odd Dutch bloke on my discord server sent us a strange message…
“@everyone, wanna play some HOTS???”
He can’t be serious, I thought. Heroes of the storm? When there’s no event going? No Overwatch skins to be won? Nah, and besides, I have a University Web Project due in 48 hours and I’m still not sure what HTML is.
So obviously, fast forward 8 seconds and I’m opening Heroes of the Storm. Fuck it.
What followed was a revelation. I wasn’t paying attention to learning as much as possible, panicking over how different it was to Heroes of Newerth (which remains my first love in the MOBA market), or shitting myself every time a Diablo character nine feet taller than me accelerated at me at over 4,000 miles an hour. No, turns out my friend was rank 220 and knew the game inside out- I just picked a character which I knew about (Junkrat, naturally) and got stuck in.
And fuck me, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed myself.
HOTS isn’t just a cut-and-dry MOBA with Blizzard characters layered on for marketing appeal. No, it’s both a celebration of everything Blizzard has done in the past and a prime example of how brilliant they are at reinventing genres.
For those unaware, HOTS is a MOBA, much like League of Legends or DOTA, starring Characters from Overwatch, Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, and other such Blizzard properties.
That description leaves out a lot – really, HOTS is to League of Legends what Super Smash Brothers is to Street Fighter. It might seem similar when you describe it to an outsider, but as soon as you pick up the controller you realize it’s an entirely different beast. Heroes of the Storm takes the shell of a MOBA and goes crazy, breaking every rule in the book. Some heroes completely lack a Mana bar, some heroes are controlled by Two players instead of one, and some heroes don’t really need to leave the base at all. There isn’t a rule in the MOBA book that isn’t broken by some HOTS character.
My personal favorite is the way leveling up and character building works. In other games, characters level individually, and earn money to buy items as they do so. In HOTS, characters instead level as a team, and there are no items at all. None. De nada. Instead, there’s a unique selection of passive buffs and extra abilities awarded to each hero as they level up. Junkrat, for example, can pick between giving his grenades extra range, extra damage on a ricochet, or extra fuse time at the start of the game. Then, he can pick between burst fire, grenades that spilt mid-air, bear traps that chase the enemy, and most importantly of all, he can (Like every other hero) choose between two Ultimate abilities. One taken wholesale from Overwatch, and one entirely new for the game.
It’s brilliant. Since the designers don’t have to balance these buffs across the entire hero pool, they can get absolutely crazy in the right combinations. It was when I was laying siege to the enemy base with a hail of grenades, before launching myself into the air on a giant nuclear bomb and diving directly onto the enemy that had come to stop me, exploding myself to death, and they flying across the map to rejoin the fight in a few seconds that I knew the game had sold itself to me.
Heroes of the storm breaks every rule in the MOBA book, and is a mighty gameplay experience for it. If you hate MOBAs, give it a go because it’s probably missing all of the things you hate. If you love MOBAs, give it a go because it’s the freshest example around; and if you haven’t played a MOBA before, get on it because it’s the best currently on the market. Period.