How I Learned to MOBA
I’ve never really been a fan of the MOBA genre. Sure, I’ve played League of Legends a bit and dabbled in DOTA 2, but the genre never really sunk its claws into me. Then, I played Heroes of the Storm. Touted more as a “hero brawler” than a MOBA, Heroes of the Storm is, well… it’s still a MOBA, despite what Blizzard’s marketing department may tell you.
Wait a minute, let me back up. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. For those of you not yet familiar with the genre, the original MOBA arose from a WarCraft III mod titled Defense of the Ancients, more commonly referred to as “DOTA.”
Nowadays, there are several different takes on the genre, but there are a few static features that define all MOBAs.First, with some notable exceptions such as Wargaming’s World of Tanks, they are played on a single map. There are two teams, usually composed of five players per side, and each player selects a specific hero from a large roster.
Each team is in charge of protecting their own base, and if the enemy team reduces the opposing base’s hit points to zero, they win. The maps are typically split into three separate lanes. Each base is guarded by towers along the three lanes leading from one side of the map to the other. In many games in this genre, both sides regularly spawn “minions” (minor non-player characters) which attack along the lanes, fighting whatever gets in their way – be it enemy minions, towers, player-controlled heroes or the base itself.
In some cases (HotS included) are also groups of neutral minions scattered in the areas between the lanes. Players can kill these for extra gold and experience as well as additional advantages such as powerful team buffs. Usually one player – termed “the jungler” – is in charge of roaming away from the main lanes and taking out the neutral spawns.
In most MOBA’s, a player earns rewards such as gold for being the last to hit an enemy minion or character. This is known as “last-hitting.” Only the player with the last hit earns gold for the kill. Gold is used at the shop to buy items which make your heroes stronger, in addition to the levels heroes gain for killing enemies.
This, in a nutshell, is the basis for the prototypical MOBA. There’s also a slew of terms unique to the genre. Check out this useful page for definitions of the many MOBA terms.
But why do I love Heroes and not League or DOTA 2? Maybe it’s because I love everything Blizzard is doing right now, and most everything from their past. I still casually play World of WarCraft. Hearthstone is an unqualified success on a scale Blizzard probably did not expect. Diablo III is a game that reinvents itself every season, staying fresh and fun. StarCraft II is still an amazing RTS. Drawing from the rich characters and history of these Blizzard games, how could I not want to throw StarCraft‘s Raynor at the Lord of Terror himself? Or have Thrall toss lightning at Tassadar’s mouthless mug?
Perhaps it’s because Heroes looks amazing. The characters are detailed and alive with dozens of lines of dialogue, some of which is only accessible when certain characters are on the same team. The first time I heard the interaction between Illidan and Malfurion, it left me all tingly and geeky inside. Blizzard excels at this kind of stuff and that makes a difference, particularly if you’re familiar with the various characters and their histories.
Maybe I love Heroes because, although it IS a MOBA, it is different in a few key areas. For instance, gone is all the last-hit nonsense from most MOBAs; instead, everyone gets experience for any team kill, and the five heroes on a team level up together. This puts the emphasis on the team instead of the individual and is important to the game’s identity. Also, stemming from the lack of last-hits, players don’t earn gold individually, or even as a team. Nor do you need gold to buy items in order to upgrade your hero. Gasp! There’s not even a shop!
Instead, players are presented with a choice of talents. You gain new talents at levels 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 20, but you can only choose one talent per level. These talents often enable the same character to be very different from match to match.
Simpler, perhaps, but like most Blizzard games, these mechanisms get deeper the longer you play. The depth of Heroes becomes more evident as you begin to understand the interplay of heroes, talents, and team compositions and then also factor in the different battlefields and map objectives on each. As of this writing, there are nine different battlegrounds and each is designed around unique objectives, keeping the game fresh.
For all of these reasons, I’ve learned to love MOBA’s with Heroes. I’ve barely looked back since I started playing, and the same is true of many friends who previously didn’t care for the genre, either. Blizzard is doing something right.
The Healer and the Demon
Recently, my buddy Secon and I decided to pair up as The Butcher and one of the newer heroes, Lt. Morales. He plays a great Butcher; however, I was just learning Morales. It takes a while to truly understand the intricacies of each character and then put your new knowledge to use. My aging reflexes make the latter a little tougher, but I try. We had a combination in mind and wanted to try it out.
You see, Heroes groups all of its characters into one of four categories: Warrior, Assassin, Specialist and Support. Warriors are either hefty meatshields like the Diablo Crusader Johanna, or bruisers like the recent Protoss addition, Artanis. Assassins pump out the DPS (damage-per-second), like the frantic leaping and slashing of WarCraft’s Illidan, or the stealthy burst damage of StarCraft’s sniper Nova. Specialists are heroes mostly useful for “laning” – taking down towers and pushing through minions – and can often destroy enemy camps fairly easily (roughly the equivalent to “jungling” in MOBA-speak). Diablo’s Azmodan is a specialist, as well as WarCraft’s Sylvanus. Supports are mostly healers, like WarCraft’s Malfurion, but they can also be a mix of healing and DPS like Tassadar or Tyrande. This is true of every category, actually. Blizzard hasn’t stuck to strict rules for their heroes and there is a lot of variety in each class.
The Butcher, played by Secon in this eXcursion, is a melee assassin. He picks up fresh meat, looking like drops of blood on the map, in order to increase his attack damage. The Butcher’s main abilities are: a hamstring attack that damages and slows enemies, a brand which grants his basic attacks a self heal, and “Ruthless Onslaught”, a nasty charge that stuns one character on impact. When you hear him growl “fresh meat” just before he starts his onslaught, it’s time to head for higher ground.
For his Heroic ability, The Butcher has the choice of either “Lamb to the Slaughter” or “Furnace Blast.” Heroic abilities are powerful skills that only become available at level ten. Like the other talents, there’s always a choice between two. For The Butcher, “Lamb to the Slaughter” chains the nearest hero to a post for four seconds, keeping them in place. “Furnace Blast” is a big, fiery area-of-effect explosion that, while it takes three seconds to charge up, and requires some skill to land properly, can be very effective. For this game, Secon went with “Lamb to the Slaughter.”
Lt. Morales, played by yours truly, is a support character. She’s very much a healer and has some of the lowest damage output in the game. Her trait is “Caduceus Reactor”, allowing her to regenerate health every second after not taking damage for four seconds, which is great because she’s the only support incapable of directly mending herself. Her abilities include “Healing Beam”, which she can train on only one hero at a time, healing them every second it’s activated; “Safeguard”, which grants damage reduction to a single hero (even herself); and “Displacement Grenade”, a skill shot grenade fired in a straight line that damages and knocks away enemies. Her Heroic offers players the choice of either “Stim Drone” or “Medivac Dropship.” “Stim Drone” grants an allied hero a huge boost in attack speed and a smaller boost in movement speed. “Medivac Dropship” calls up a dropship in which allied heroes can load up and zoom to another location on the map.
The combination Secon and I were interested in trying out involved dropping “Stim Drone” on The Butcher, who – when fully buffed out with fresh meat and talents – has an insanely high attack speed. Add “Stim Drone” to that and oh my… right?
An Old System
Heroes has some matchmaking issues at the moment. It’s based on the StarCraft II matchmaker, which works really well for a 1v1 game like SC2, but has had growing pains in Heroes. The system has gotten better in recent weeks\ but still has a ways to go, and Blizzard is working on a new matchmaking system from the ground up. On one occasion our team warped onto the battlefield at the beginning of the match we discovered we had a strange composition, but far from the worst I’ve seen. We had the bruiser, Artanis of Legacy of the Void fame, Brightwing and myself as healers (usually you’ll only have one full healer, if you get a healer at all in some quick matches), my buddy Felonis as the ranged assassin, Raynor, and Secon as The Butcher. The other team had a similarly strange make up: Valla as ranged assassin, Tyrande as half of a healer and Rehgar as a full healer, Gazlowe for pushing down the lanes and Sonya, another bruiser. There were no true tanks on either side, but plenty of healing to go around. It made for an odd match, but not totally unbalanced.
Selecting a quick match randomly chooses your battlefield. We found ourselves on Cursed Hollow. It’s a fun, three lane map. Every so often, the Raven Lord spawns tributes in a random location. If one side manages to gather three tributes, the losing side is cursed: forts will not attack and minions are reduced to 1 health each for the duration of the curse. These tributes force teams to fight over them. You can choose to ignore a curse here and there and push a lane or two instead but, as a rule – particularly in quick match – teams head for the tribute as soon as it spawns.
The early laning was tough on both The Butcher and Morales. The Butcher needs to pick up a fair amount of fresh meat in order to truly shine, which takes some time (and he loses all or most of it when he dies, depending on talent choices). Morales, if she’s not careful, can quickly run out of mana in a fight and find herself without a heal to give. We lost the first tribute, and The Butcher suffered his first death when we were separated during the team fight. However, we easily took the second tribute, wiping out Valla, Gazlowe and Sonya in the process. From there, it was mostly downhill for the opposing team. We’d hit our stride, so to speak. Like in most sports this inertia, this teamplay, this momentum, is a real thing in Heroes of the Storm. Sometimes it’s impossible to stop. Sometimes it runs straight into a wall and your team crashes and burns. One great thing about Heroes is the ability to turn a rout into a rally, often after a late game team wipe, meaning all five members of a team have been killed. But our opposition wasn’t so lucky.
We took the third tribute and burned some towers and forts on our way to the enemy core. Nearly the entire game we were at least two levels ahead of our opponents, which makes a huge difference in team fights.
But the most fun came at level ten when we all gained our Heroics. As I stated previously, I chose “Stim Drone” in order to buff The Butcher and turn him into an even nastier death dealer. He’s a bit terrifying when he’s churning forward, slashing madly, with only the depths of hell in his soul. In this match, it worked out flawlessly. When I dropped the “Stim Drone” on him – which lasts for a full ten seconds (an eternity in a team fight) – he would go nuts, often chaining someone with his “Lamb to the Slaughter” and then mercilessly chopping them down.
Ultimately, we won the game, taking down their core in twenty minutes – the average length of a Heroes match for most maps. This is considerably shorter than most League of Legends or DOTA 2 matches, which another selling point for Heroes since matches in other MOBAs average around 45 minutes or more. The enemy team managed to grab two tributes, but never attained the third necessary to drop the curse on our team. “Stim Drone” was a hit, although we didn’t have quite as much luck in some of the other matches with the same duo. It happens. The enemy team did manage six kills throughout the contest. The Butcher died three times, but one or two of those deaths might have been my fault – sorry brother! I didn’t die at all, which is rare for Lt. Morales. She is generally targeted as an easy kill. My thanks to Brightwing, my fellow healer, for saving my arse more than once. It’s rare to have two full healers on the same team but, this time, it worked out.
Fun Fun Fun
Yep, Heroes is fun, fun, fun. It’s also addictive and, although it’s free-to-play, it can be rather expensive if you start buying skins and mounts and such. These are not available for purchase with the in-game currency. I’ve already spent a small fortune. Still, I love the game and, as I mentioned, I’m not a MOBA kinda guy. This match was a blast. We won this one but, even when I lose, it’s still a hoot since you’re always learning the game. Heroes allows both casual and try-hard play, but the most fun for me comes from hopping into chat with friends and just playing for fun, whether it’s a quick match or a serious Hero League game.