After around a month of playing the Heroes of the Storm beta, I think I have enough experience to make an informed judgment about the game and its place in the genre. I already wrote an article about the game and its perks, which you can find here, but I didn’t say much about what’s wrong with HOTS. I did bring up the fact that Blizzard should implement some way to blacklist specific maps, since the Quick Match queue places players into games on a random map, but there’s a lot more that Blizzard could do to make Heroes of the Storm more than just the best ARTS on the market.
While MMORPGs have the holy-trinity of healer, tank and dps, ARTS have a similar holy trinity of support, initiator and carry. Heroes of the Storm doesn’t have carries per say, since it has no items, but Blizzard’s “assassin” role fulfills a similar function. The initiator runs in and causes havoc, while the support heals and buff allies and the carry does a majority of the damage while staying away from harm. The problem with supports in Heroes of the Storm is that, unlike in more farm-heavy ARTS like League of Legends or DOTA, heroes in HOTS all scale with their team, meaning that the support heroes will be just as effective as their team’s initiators and carries. This leads to supports that continue to be incredibly powerful, which wouldn’t be much of a problem if they couldn’t use the same tools that they use to keep their allies alive on themselves. In normal ARTS, the strategy is to separate a team’s support and carry or initiator and pick off the support while they are alone, but HOTS’ global experience means that a support is just as effective on its own as with its team. A good support that makes its teammates invulnerable is also capable of making itself invulnerable if necessary, making it incredibly frustrating to fight against a good support hero, even if the proper strategy is followed to a T. There are plenty of ways that Blizzard could work on this problem, whether they choose to nerf support hero effectiveness on themselves or whether they make heroes like Rehgar and Lili more well rounded instead of making them stupidly good at only one aspect of gameplay. At this point, just about anything will help, as the current state of strong support heroes is in complete contrast to Heroes of the Storm’s overall focus on fun over enabling douche-bag elitist behavior, the latter of which has helped create the toxic garbage-pale-kids community that plays games like League of Legends and DOTA. If Blizzard would rather their game end up like their competitors’, then that’s fine too, but I doubt it can find a niche within that market and should instead focus on being the ARTS that is actually fun to play for a majority of its players a majority of the time, rather than only being fun when a player is completely shit-stomping their opponents.
Blacklisting or Revamping Maps
As I said in my original article, so much of Heroes of the Storm revolves around the map and its objectives, meaning that the outcome of a match is highly dependent on the RNG (random number generator) of getting a specific map in the Quick Match mode. If Blizzard is content with the maps that they currently have available, then allowing players to blacklist specific maps is a great way to resolve many issues that players will find with the game. I would gladly sacrifice an instant queue for the guarantee that I never have to play on Blackheart’s Bay ever again. On the other hand, if Blizzard would rather force their players to suffer at the hands of the RNG-gods, then I would be content with them making a few slight changes to their maps instead:
- Blackheart’s Bay needs two drop off points, making it more akin to the Tomb of the Spider Queen, which just so happens to be my favorite map. The problem with BHB is that once a team pays off Blackheart, they are able to snowball at an incredible rate, dealing siege damage to their enemy’s base, while also maintaining control over the middle of the map, which guarantees that their opponents will never have a chance to compete for the objective. Having another drop off point to pay Blackheart allows at least a little wiggle room for the losing team to make a comeback, as the winning team would need to spread their resources around more to maintain control over the map. While a lot of HOTS’ maps have a snowball effect of objective control leading to further objective control, BHB is unique in that it almost feels hopeless for the losing team to return from even one missed cannon barrage. Although this isn’t necessarily true in reality, that feeling of hopelessness does absolutely nothing to further Blizzard’s attempt at making HOTS fun and only helps to ruin the experience for half of the player base.
- Cursed Hollow is similar to BHB in that it is very easy to get overwhelmed and lose half of your base because of one failed team fight. The problem is that tributes are so easy to capture and bad placement on a giant map where tributes spawn randomly in predetermined locations makes a team’s success too reliant on RNG. Oooh, a tribute spawned bottom right after our Nova killed their Gazlowe? That’s a free tribute, leading to a curse, which then leads to our team destroying half of our enemy team’s base, which further leads to an inevitable win. The problem here isn’t that objective control leads to wins, which is actually HOTS’ strongest feature, but rather that one successful objective can lead to a win being inevitable, but not instant, which means that the losing team has to suffer for another ten to twenty minutes while they are crushed under continually dwindling odds. My suggestion for the Cursed Hollow is that Tribute gathering should be more difficult for a single player. Instead of having each player channel their tribute capture ability individually, I suggest that players share Tribute capturing. A team should take 30 seconds to capture a tribute, but each new player attempting to capture the tribute lowers the shared channel time appropriately, meaning that a team captures it quicker for each player that is capturing it. Capturing a tribute in 6 seconds seems like an appropriate reward for winning a team fight without losing an allied player, but that shouldn’t always be the case. Tribute sniping feels REALLY bad for the losing team and feels even worse when that tribute sniping leads to a loss, even after only one curse.
- The Sky Temple temple activation should be more varied. Having only one temple open at a time feels great, since it guarantees a balanced team fight among two teams of good players, but two temples active at a time almost always feels bad for someone, as one team will always have the advantage. Whichever team has the stronger communication can at least control one temple while disrupting the control of the other and losing control of a temple half way through capturing it, while also taking siege damage from another is the worst feeling in Heroes of the Storm. My solution is simple: have more instances of triple temple activation and single temple activation than dual temple activation. Having two temples up at a time isn’t necessarily bad, but it feels worse than the alternatives and shouldn’t be the main mode through which the objective is captured.
I know that Heroes of the Storm is in beta, but a fair amount of talents feel either boring, useless, out of place or a combination of the three. Activated talents that deal a stupidly small amount of damage may be effective in a very small set of builds for a hero, but that doesn’t matter when the talent itself could be replaced with something much more interesting and effective. The beauty of the Talent system, which is shared with the World of Warcraft talent system, is that each choice feels interesting and important, but when one talent outshines the alternatives in a majority of the builds or match ups, the whole system falls apart. Blizzard only needs to work on a few talents to make the entire mechanic really shine, which I hope happens before the game’s official release.
Sylvanas Is Bad
When I say bad, I don’t mean not effective, because Sylvanas is probably one of the strongest heroes in the game. What I mean is that Sylvanas’ design is awful, leading to a hero that is not only boring, but also way too strong at something that doesn’t even make sense for her thematically. The Queen of the Forsaken is known for being a banshee, an archer, an expert at controlling enemies (her Ultimate in warcraft 3 allowed her to possess enemy units) and an elusive jerk. The only thing that Blizzard managed to accomplish with her HOTS design is that elusive aspect, as she is one of the most annoying heroes to hunt down and kill. Her being the Queen of the Forsaken might lead a designer to make Sylvanas a hero adept at controlling enemy units and laying siege to the enemy base with her minions, but Blizzard’s design team seems to have lost something in translation, as Sylvanas is now the strongest siege hero in the game, but not because of her army of Forsaken allies. Instead, her innate ability (what dense League of Legends players call passives) allows her to stun enemy minions, mercenaries and structures with her basic attacks. This means that she can take down structures with complete impunity, clear mercenary camps without breaking a sweat and completely obliterate creep waves with ease without anyone else’s help. This is not the Sylvanas I know. Besides needing to be toned down significantly, the biggest problem with Sylvanas is that her Warcraft 3 counterpart could have made a very interesting addition to the Heroes of the Storm cast, while fulfilling a similar role. Her Black Arrow ability would allow her to trade mana for a curse that would rise her slain enemies as skeletons to help her siege enemy bases. This would work perfectly as an innate ability, instead of her current one that makes absolutely zero sense (what is she scaring enemy towers into not attacking?), and it would help keep her thematically sound without changing her play style too much. A revised Black Arrow ability would also work amazingly with her Withering Fire spell, which is really cool in and of itself. The problem is not Sylvanas’ ability to take down bases, but rather the fact that she can do so without anyone else’ help and without taking even a scratch of damage from the enemy base. The skeletons that she’s so well known for summoning in other games would allow her to maintain relative impunity against towers, with an added limit of the skeletons’ health, instead of simply being invulnerable to enemy towers’ attacks. In her current state, Sylvanas is both stupid and over powered, but a simple change to her innate ability would allow Sylvanas players to accomplish a similar strategy with the added requirement of having to kill minions to gather a small army before being able to destroy an enemy base with ease.
Abathur Makes Everyone Feel Bad
While Heroes of the Storm is one of the most interesting ARTS in terms of hero design, especially for a game in its beta stage, this also leads to some very unique interactions, which do not always lead to fun gameplay. Abathur is a great example of a very cool hero that is either incredibly good or incredibly fucking awful, depending on who is playing him. This, combined with the problem stated above about over powered support heroes, means that a nearly invincible enemy hero at low health is not only possible, but almost guaranteed to happen when an Abathur is on their team. His design isn’t an issue necessarily, but it does cause problems that need to be resolved, namely that he is one of the most powerful support heroes without putting himself at any risk. If an Abathur player ever dies, then they are bad and should feel bad. Abathur’s downside is that he does not count as a ‘body’ for his team on maps where capturing objectives and collecting resources is the main key to success, but that hardly feels like a problem when he can effectively duplicate an allied hero, while also making his other allies nearly impossible to kill. My suggestion is simple: if an Abathur’s Symbiote target dies, he takes damage, if his Ultimate Evolution dies, he dies and if his Toxic Nests die, he takes damage. If Blizzard forces Abathur players to actually deal with the consequences of their actions, he’ll become less of a mindless celestial being of support and become an actual specialist, as his role suggests he should be. In an attempt to resolve the issue of Abathur being an awful pick on maps where capturing points is essentially, why not allow Abathur to count towards capturing objectives as long as his Symbiote target is on a capture point? This isn’t a necessary change, as I think Abathur player’s should suffer for their sins of picking such an obnoxious hero, but it might be a nice consolation prize for actually having to think instead of just throwing their skills around the map at global range.
All In All, Heroes Of The Storm Is Amazing
The problems stated above may detract from my enjoyment of the game, but that isn’t to say that HOTS isn’t the best ARTS on the market currently, even in its beta. Blizzard has proven itself to be a daring and talented addition to the genre and has shown that it wants to make HOTS the best game out there, while also pushing ARTS design forward, rather than keeping it stagnant and boring. The only problems in HOTS come up because of Blizzard’s devotion to making the game fun, which it mostly is, but a few slight changes would do wonders for making each and every match of HOTS a memorable and enjoyable experience, regardless of whether or not the player wins or loses.