Wednesday, 5 November 2014

HotS Alpha: First Impressions

When you see a game like Heroes of the Storm (from here on HotS), labelled as "Technical Alpha" you know the term lost all its meaning if it ever had any. In all my time spent in the game in this past week and a half, it crashed only once, yesterday. The game looks like finished product. I would argue it has less bugs than some released games, not to mention that HotS is still in development. Well, I do not know what they are still developing, but I appreciate Blizzard's zealous commitment to testing their games until all the bugs are squashed. Mostly because I know some bug will still escape and make it into the "released game", but it will be a lone case, not a common issue.

The game is rather different than other big MOBAs I played. Those would be League of Legends, DOTA 2, and for brief period of time Heroes of Newerth. HotS is in comparison fast-paced game full of action with close to nothing of downtime. The moment when you get to relax and do nothing in HotS is when you either die and wait to respawn, or when you finish the game. This brings us to first real issue of the game. It is a constant blitz. While that gives us fast games that rarely go beyond twenty minutes it also introduces rather annoying snowballing effect.

If you are familiar with the history you will know that there is no real counter against an opponent fighting blitzkrieg. You can only hope your opponent runs out of steam or overextends. This means, that in HotS, which was meant to be casual game for casuals, is becoming because of its very nature suited more for the hardcore audience than others. First kills are important, because whoever grabs the initiative can play the rest of the game safe, focus on objectives, and victory is his. Rarely do you see a team that is getting crushed come back in the lategame. And once there is three or more levels difference between the two teams, it is really hard to make up for the difference.

All five maps that I had chance to play at are designed with the objectives in mind. Rare if ever will a team win the game if it disregards the objectives on the map. Be it collecting coins for Captain Blackheart, collecting souls in Haunted Mines, or capturing the shrine to awaken Dragon Knight objectives really do matter. Simply because they are on the map to speed up the game. I am certain that without the objectives and jungle creeps you can beat into submission to fight for your side, the games would last as long as they do in LoL or DOTA 2. And because objectives, and jungle minions have such weight on the game, everyone is focusing on them. Which brings us back to that whoever gets the first teamfight usually wins.

There are exceptions. If the two teams are rather balanced, and really played it safe until the endgame, the one who gets to the given objective first will end up winning. For example, both teams have two tributes for the Raven Lord. In order to garner his favour you require three. Now let us imagine that both teams only have Nexus, and the last pair of keeps and turrets standing. Whichever team gets that last tribute will end up victorious. Because they are able to disable all these turrets and take them out without loosing any of their minions. And the opponent will not be "wasting time" killing minions, when those minions are protected by the whole team of heroes. That would be suicide. So we once again end up with the snowball effect.

That brings us to the conclusion that in HotS, death does matter. And it matter a lot more than for example in LoL. If a Support killed you four times in LoL you fed only the Support. Not really a big deal, you can manage it somehow. If a Support kills you four times in HotS you are screwed. Not only did you feed that one Support, you fed the whole team. Their assassins, warriors, and specialists also got the experience for the kills their Support got on you. Experience is shared. And because of that mistakes of one individual can really hurt the whole team. You cannot carry your team in the sense like you can in DOTA 2 and LoL, but you can ruin the game for your team all by yourself if you are not careful.

The game is joy to play, and really entertaining. The interface is clean and neat. You can easily navigate around the menus, and in the game itself everything is as it should be. There is no confusion, no wasted space. The tutorial meant to ease you into the game is well-made and does its job without bearing over you too much. It shows you where the key things are, and how to make the most of them. To most who played any other MOBA, this will all feel very familiar, but it is still something you cannot avoid in any case.

I play mostly with Tyrael. I know what I like to play, what I want of my heroes, and characters, and I stick to that. If I love vanilla, there is no reason to go out of my way for chocolate. I did try out other heroes before I could buy Tyrael. I played Tassadar, Raynor, and Muradin. Because of daily quests I had to play with Support, Warrior, and Assassin hero types. I must say they are all rather entertaining, but they cannot compare with Tyrael. This is my personal preference though, and there is no point to discuss about taste. Some, like Nova for example even too good. If she does not get nerfed any day now, there is no justice in this world.

That said, the game really does encourage the players to try out different roles, and heroes. That is done with the help of daily quests. They are varied and easy enough to be completed in a couple of games without any problems. Rarely does a daily quest state you must win, it is mostly just play this or that kind of hero. I guess this is the only "casual" part of HotS. The daily quests need to be completed regularly for one other reason. They are aside from levelling up all of the heroes your main income of gold. And if you want to buy any hero, you need either gold, or real money. From a single game you will only get 20 or 30 gold. 20 if you lost, 30 if you won.

That is pittance in comparison to the prices of the heroes. The cheapest ones like Muradin, and Jim Raynor cost 2000 gold, or 3.49€ (I imagine prices in dollars are lower because fuck Europe). That is the first price tier, after that we have 4000 gold or 5.99€, 7000 gold or 7.49€, and the priciest of them all 10000 gold or 8.99€ for one hero. What determines the price of each hero I do not know. It does not appear to be the case that newer heroes cost more. For example Lili was released after Tychus, and yet Lili costs 2000, while Tychus is priced at 4000 gold. . You can buy the upper echelon hero by just doing the daily quests for a week or so.

While the price in gold appears reasonable, the prices in real money are quite ludicrous if you ask me. I've bought whole games that were cheaper than one hero at the price of 8.99€. And don't get me started on the salty prices of the mounts. That is just insane. Giving up to 12.99€ for a skin, or up to 17.49€ for a different mount is insane in my honest opinion. You can do it if you want, I won't judge, but you are completely mad if you ask me. For those that do not know, euro is stronger than dollar. so those 8.99€ equals $11.28, 12.99€ is $16.30, and 17.49€ is $21.94. To be completely honest, even if these European prices were in dollars I would still consider them too expensive.

I understand this is supposed to be a free-to-play game, but this is rather greedy if you ask me. The only normal prices I found in HotS shop were at bundles. There are various bundles, and still I consider them either unnecessary, or too expensive. I bought the Starter Bundle which is currently 80% off for I do not know how long, which cost me 3.89€. In it I got Jim Raynor, Malfurion, Muradin, (all three cost 2000 gold each) and a special mount that is only in this bundle, an Armoured War Steed. Plus the "reward" mount that I got for helping out in testing the store. And believe me, had it not been that armoured warhorse in the bundle, I would not have bought it.

Lastly I would like to talk about the progression system. I think it is a great idea to lock various alternative colour schemes for the default look of your hero behind progression wall. You need to reach level 6 to unlock first mount colouration, level 7 to unlock the first colour scheme for the hero etc. What I find unbelievably stupid and counterproductive is locking the abilities and talents behind a progression wall with the excuse that you don't want to overwhelm the player. You know what I don't want? I don't want to get crushed in the game just because I am unable to pick a talent and a skill that is objectively superior to the ones I have on my disposal just because I never before played a certain hero.

That needs to go away as soon as possible. It goes against everything that HotS is supposed to be. Where is the fun in trying out new heroes if you do not have any power over what talents you will choose in that game? What is the point of it? Keeping the things that are essential to the players behind a progression wall is just insane. And for some reason Blizzard still does it. Yes, we know it is super effective, and keeps players playing but the amount of grief it causes among the playerbase, and the resentment it breeds, it should be changed by now. Keep the colour schemes, and portraits behind progression wall if you want. But give us the damned abilities and talents from the get-go.

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