Heroes of the Storm (2015) ★★★
Heroes of the Storm (2015) ★★★
Review by Lowell-San
Published on July 23, 2016
Developed by: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform of Record: Personal Computer
Distribution: Optical Disc, Digital
Genre: Dota (?)
Congratulations to Blizzard, for figuring out that the best part of this lousy genre, and the one place where dota has a leg up on comparable action games, is the team battles. Between mounts, the smaller maps, the talent tree, and the mission system, Heroes of the Storm is built to get players to those battles, and then does away with everything that runs counter to that goal. Goodbye to last-hitting, goodbye to items, goodbye to all the archaic nonsense, and for the most part, goodbye to that entire disgusting mess of a laning phase. Getting rid of dota's ugly body fat, even if it doesn't lead to "LOLESPORTS", can only be a bonus.
So most dota games are punctuating the boredom with short, quick battles, but in Heroes of the Storm, the battles are EVERYTHING, and you end up with a loose pace of play where matches move fast and there's no downtime between "missing in action" and "OH CRAP SURPRISE ATTACK". And unlike a Dota 2 or a Heroes of Newerth, you can actually learn the game on the fly, because that spell you've never seen before is no longer a death sentence. What a novel concept: A videogame that can be played without a guide!
But then the gag reflex is that Heroes of the Storm removes the skullful elements from the genre, and that the game lacks depth. But the dota genre lacks fun, so what the fuck is your point? Newsflash: Satisfying depth is the combination of satisfying mechanics with satisfying visuals, and the depth in dota is neither. The genre NEEDS the tedious shit to provide the depth because the formula is so limited in the first place! And it is only when you remove these tedious things, that people realize how limited the genre actually is.
You see, Heroes of the Storm struggles with the question of depth because the genre's pacing has been fucked from its inception. Dominating victories still require players to tear down towers and base defenses in an orderly fashion, and much like traditional strategy genres, successes in the dota genre are cumulative, so placing too much distance between players can make for the situations common to Dota 2 and League of Legends, where the losing team is delaying an inevitable defeat. Blizzard is betting on the idea that a game where victory is always in reach is a hell of a lot more interesting than a game where things are quickly beyond doubt. And while that may not make for a more skillful game, it makes for a better game, and as far as this genre is concerned, it's a necessary evil.
Oh, and yeah, that "graphics" thing is also kind of important, and Heroes of the Storm is easily the best-looking game in the genre, not only featuring varied and interesting retreads of the Blizzard experience, but getting a special assist from the Super Smash Bros. Theory of Visual Design™, in which you pair a stupid premise with a stupid theme. So why not pair dota with Blizzard characters from every world they've created and go nuts? In doing this, the company has apparently learned from the mistakes of StarCraft II and Diablo II, and with fewer moving parts to worry about in the dota genre, they've replaced the more democratic graphics settings with enough color and detail to set it apart from its competitors.
And along with the improved art direction, Heroes of the Storm is centrally played around more than one map. Not that it's the only dota game to do this, but it does it better than any of those games. And such a compliment may seem weird to those of you who have been playing videogames since, I don't know, Pac-Man...but dota kind of prides itself on being a sport for toddlers, so many of the games have a single map, because sports have a single "map", or something. But since videogames simulate worlds, and worlds usually have more than one locale, going to war is always a lot more fun when there's places worth seeing on the way there.
So the way to sell the situation is that Heroes of the Storm is the best successor to Defense of the Ancients because it plays the LEAST like Defense of the Ancients. And I wouldn't expect anything in the direct image of Dota to top this, because anything that makes dota "better" will emerge in the form of the genres that do a better job of "play an awesome general who leads your forces into battle". The game is still bound to the limitations of the dota genre, an action game for people who haven't played proper action games and an RTS for those who don't don't play RTS. It's a diversion from the other, more interesting games that you can be playing.
But as I've said before, the height of this genre is best defined by the games which do the fewest dumb things. So almost entirely by default, and occasionally by merit, Heroes of the Storm gets to be best in its class and nothing more.