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Heroes of the Storm review

Tom Morgan
30 Jun 2015
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Our Rating 
Free to play (microtransactions available)

The perfect introduction to online battle arena games, with accessible characters and simple yet superb gameplay

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, Mac

Blizzard was arguably the company that kicked off the craze for Multiplayer online battle arena games, otherwise known as MOBAs, when the Defence of the Ancients mod for Warcraft 3 became popular enough that other game developers started borrowing ideas from the community for their own titles. Riot Game's League of Legends and Valve's spiritual successor DOTA 2 are the two biggest names in the genre today, but now Blizzard is returning to the fold with a MOBA of its own – and it's bringing the biggest characters from the WarCraft, StarCraft and Diablo universes with it.

Essentially an action real-time strategy game where you control one unit from a isometric perspective, rather than an entire army, Heroes of the Storm pits two teams of five against each other in a race to demolish the enemy's Core, a well defended base protected by several layers of defensive walls and turrets. An unending wave of AI-controlled minions marches from your core towards the enemy, slowly breaking down defences until you can rush in and finish the job. With multiple routes to the core, it becomes a balancing act of pushing weak lanes while sometimes falling back to defend, and testing the waters with quick attacks rather than an outright race to the objective. Falling foul of your opponents isn't the end of the world, either; you respawn at your Core after a short delay and get straight back into the fight.

Heroes of the Storm - spider queen

Each Hero falls into one of four classes, each of which has unique traits and abilities that can give you the edge in a fight, provide your team with defensive buffs and heals, or temporarily weaken the enemy. The fact that the entire roster is comprised of familiar faces from Blizzard's biggest games immediately makes Heroes of the Storm more accessible than either DOTA 2 or League of Legends, and naturally sees you gravitate towards faces you know while you learn the basics, before stepping out of your comfort zone and trying other characters.

Unsurprisingly WarCraft characters make up the majority of the roster, as there's a huge amount of lore and backstory for Blizzard to reference, but it's great to be able to play as some of the minor StarCraft and Diablo characters like such as Siege Tank Operator Sgt. Hammer and Tyrael the Archangel of Justice.

Except it's not quite so simple. Heroes is a free-to-play game, but only five heroes are available at a time, and they rotate each week. You have to unlock the others through extended play time, or by parting with real-world cash. Prices vary depending on the complexity of the character, but it could typically take several hours of play to earn enough to unlock one, let alone the entire roster.

heroes of the Storm - mercenary camps

With 37 heroes available to play at the time of writing, it could cost as much as £170 to buy every single one separately. There are better-value bundle packs available, and so far we've played over 30 hours without spending a penny, but it's difficult to ignore the payment model when a Hero you really want to try suddenly drops out of the free rotation. Custom skins and mounts, such as horses, unicorns and flying scarabs, which help you traverse the field of battle faster, are also available for an added fee; you could see this as a good thing if you don't want to dedicate hours to a single title, but it could get costly if you keep opening your wallet every time you fancy some new threads for your Hero.  

Other MOBA-type games typically have one or two maps at the most, instead concentrating on the sheer number of available characters to add variety. Heroes of the Storm takes a different approach: although more characters are being added all the time, and each one has their own talents and abilities to unlock and level up, it was the varied seven-map rotation that kept us coming back for more. Each one has a unique element that forces you to work as a team, either to power up a boss monster which will fight on your behalf, collect items to temporarily disable your foes' turrets or to turn one of your team into a nigh-on unstoppable monster for a short time. The map rotation adds an extra layer of strategy and complexity that's missing from other games in the genre, and the short cutscenes at the start of each round do an excellent job of explaining the basics to new players.

Heroes of the Storm - Core attack

Heroes of the Storm only left beta this month, but it still has a long way to go to catch up with the likes of League of Legends or Dota 2 - unless you're happy just playing against computer-controlled opponents. There's currently no way to prepare a team of specific Heroes before entering a player-vs-player match, unless you've hit rank 30 and are playing in the Hero League – it means you could enter a game with a hopelessly lopsided team made up of five melee warriors, when you really need a good balance of all four character classes.

As it stands now, Heroes of the Storm is still an excellent introduction to the genre, whether you're a fan of Blizzard's characters or not. The simple gameplay and presentation, varied maps and mechanics, and surprisingly accessible online multiplayer go a long way to make up for the micro-transactions, and the quick, action-packed matches are always a joy to play. If you ever wondered what the fuss about MOBAs was all about, this is a great way to find out.

Availability
Available formatsPC, Mac
PC requirements
OS SupportWindows 7, Windows 8.1 64-bit
Minimum CPUIntel Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+
Minimum GPUNVIDIA GeForce 7600 GT / AMD Radeon HD 2600 XT
Minimum RAM2GB
Hard disk space10GB

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