Heroes of the Storm continues to educate MOBA noob Dave Cook. In this entry he tackles PvP against actual, living humans and well, the results aren't all that pretty.
”I was at gamescom in 2011 to see the first DotA 2 International tournament, and I'm not joking here; it made my head hurt, although admittedly that might have been a side-effect of the amount of German sausage I had eaten that week.”
Looking for part one of this series? Go here.
In Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard Entertainment looks to give MOBA noobs like yours truly a less-punishing route into the genre, and in this series I decided to put that to the test. I hadn't experienced the genre before this game, largely because the competition in titles like DotA 2 and League of Legends has always appeared too fierce and unforgiving. It's as if the world has been playing it for too long already, to the point that a newcomer like me simply can't compete.
I'm probably wrong of course, but this is how I imagine Call of Duty virgins must feel looking at videos of trash-talking prats using a DSR-50 to no-scope their way to a 30-1 victory in a Hardcore TDM match on Carrier. See, I bet at least one of you reading this has no idea what I just said there.
That's how I feel when I observe MOBA fans talking about how much DPS their favourite character's active skills do against a particular enemy while buffed with a specific ally's ability. It all sounds like gibberish to me. In fact, I have an easier time deciphering Teletubbie-speak than trying to make sense of my mates discussing ideal Champion match-ups in LoL down the pub.
I was at gamescom in 2011 to see the first DotA 2 International tournament, and I'm not joking here; it made my head hurt, although admittedly that might have been a side-effect of the amount of German sausage I had eaten that week but that's besides the point. Meat-packed colon aside, the pace of those matches intimidated me but here I am now, at least trying to understand what all the fuss is about.
While researching for my first Heroes of the Storm blog, I definitely found myself growing accustomed to Blizzard's rules and the responsibility that comes with these games. I'm a long-time Call of Duty player and by nature, a bit of a lone wolf online. That's just how I roll, and I quickly realised that going solo in a MOBA is just plain wrong. It's ineffective play, and it lets down your teammates.
So imagine my trepidation as I went into PvP for the first time, an arena that demands team-work and communication to succeed. The multi-tasking involved in supporting my squad, covering lanes and participating in each map's meta-challenges - like the skull gathering I mentioned in part one - stresses me out just thinking about it, but I love my work, and for your reading pleasure I decided to put myself through the wringer to see if I could hack it.
Here's how it went:
Diving into PvP, I decided to give Nova a whirl as she was free as part of Blizzard's character rotation. She's a great character who fits into the roster's medium difficulty tier, and is capable of dishing out great damage over long range with her sniper rifle, and cloaking to avoid detection. However, I found finding a Versus game almost impossible, and was advised in general chat that it was probably because of Nova's popularity.
You can only have one Nova per side it seems, so I decided to go Tassadar (below), a character who is less popular due to being part of the 'Very Hard' bracket. Rather than endure an uneducated beating in PvP, I decided to try him out in practice mode against the AI, and I have to say, I actually enjoyed his skill-set and came away from my first match pleasantly surprised. He can't dish out or receive too much damage, but what he lacks in brawn he makes up for in support skills.
His Protective Shield ability casts a temporary aura around himself or allies that acts as armour. I found it was possible to stack the skill many times until my health bar was extended to an insane degree. Combined with Void Shift - which makes Tassadar invincible and invisible for two seconds at a time - he really can become a formidable opponent. After levelling up a few times in battle, I was also able to pair these moves with an impenetrable Force Wall, which let me unleash ranged beam attacks at a safe distance.
Historically, I prefer to go tank characters in RPGs, partly because cool-down timers, buffing and de-buffing gives me a multi-tasking headache. But as I enjoyed using Tassadar, it just goes to show that despite my initial fears over his character type and the MOBA genre as a whole, all it takes is a little practice and understanding.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. I still haven't even made it into a PvP match. Using the gold earned through levelling up, I bought more Heroes from the in-game store to improve my chances of finding a match. First up was my previous favourite character Demon Hunter - who was no longer free since the last progress wipe - along with StarCraft 2's Tychus, as well as World of Warcraft's flying cute-a-thon Brightwing and cuddly Pandaren fighter Li Li. They look like Saturday morning cartoon characters compared to the likes of Kerrigan.
This time surely?
”We won our second game with ease after about 13 minutes and although I was still ‘green’ I definitely felt like a more-valuable part of the team than in the first match.”
As you can see above, wait times for matches were coming in at around 117-120+ seconds, and after about 300+ seconds of waiting per match, I just had to give up and try again with a different character.
It's not really the game's fault though, seeing as it's in alpha and the amount of active players is being kept limited for the time being. I found the best way to get into games was to simply busk for invites in the open chat bar. Within moments I was inundated with requests.
So there I was, hopping right into my first ever game filled with real human beings. How did I do? Well, not so good. Our group consisted of Stitches, Witch Doctor, Demon Hunter, Diablo and myself, Nova, and while we won the first match I didn't feel like I contributed all that much. All of those fears I had about multi-tasking lane defence with advancing, collecting skulls and helping my allies actually didn't cause me that much grief. I was worrying about nothing.
But man, being honest here, I was killed in seconds so many times when engaging enemy players in battle. It just goes to show that without buffing each other or waiting for AI grunts to come and back you up, you really can't expect to win battles solo. It's just not the done thing, and I'll admit that I found that out the hard way. See, Nova is a harder character to master as she's more of a lone wolf dependant on cloaking to get the drop on unsuspecting players. She's not a point blank fighter.
After dying about four times early into the match I decided that my time was best spent being a disruptor and support role, so I ventured into the middle of the map to help capture Mercenary Camps, which adds more higher level grunts to your army for every encampment defeated. While the tougher human players were slugging it out along the top and bottom lanes, I was sniping AI brutes in the centre, while using Nova's decoy clone to trap them in pincer attacks. It worked, and at long last I was actually contributing to the fight.
The same went for when the undead mines opened up a few minutes into the match. You might recall from part one of this blog that these crypts contain AI zombies that drop skulls when killed. Whichever team collects more skulls before the mines are cleared gets to summon a more-powerful golem than the other. These hulking beasts are almost like having another human player on your side, so it pays to have the stronger version.
Again, while the stronger characters lie Diablo and Stitches were whittling down the enemy's defensive walls and forts topside, I was down in the mine slaughtering as many undead as I could. We acquired the stronger golem in the end and it helped us push into the final third of the map before it keeled over and died. We were getting really close to the enemy core by that point, and while I kept on getting killed, it was clear whatever we were doing was working.
Nova levelled up often during the latter stages of the fight, but even then I was being murderised quickly in battle. I guess I'm just not used to playing a game like this and not being a tank-like character, because I really do prefer close-quarter melee classes in RPGs. So while we won our first battle as a group, I really didn't feel like my presence meant all that much. Everyone was perfectly courteous however with a round of 'GG' messages at the end followed by some more invites from the same group. I was amazed they even wanted me back.
Round Two. Fight!
”No one person wins a match in Heroes of the Storm, and I think that collective pooling of strategy, skills and reactivity to what’s going on across the map needs to be synced so that you can function as a strong unit.”
Determined to do better next time I went for a more all-round character to see if I could hack it, so opted for Raynor, seeing as my favourite character Demon Hunter was already picked by another player. She's bloody popular, and given her versatility it's not hard to see why. We readied up and entered another battle in the Haunted Mines map, and straight away the level of communication was much better than the previous bout.
No one was using voice chat, but I noticed much more strategy in the text box, with players typing down proposed plans before the round started. We decided to cover all three lanes, placing greater emphasis on the centre so that we could capture AI encampments as soon as they went active. I felt good about that, because I certainly didn't fancy my chances against the other team's Diablo. I knew I could handle a batch of AI grunts at least, so we rode out mounts to the middle of the map once the game began.
I was so much more confident and active in this game, to the point that I felt really good about backing up my team. For starters, Raynor has a skill called Inspire that raises his attack speed and power, as well as the stats of those around him, so I used his ranged cannon to hand back a bit to shoot grunts and human enemies from behind our tanks, while buffing after each cool-down. We utterly stomped our way through the map by pooling our efforts.
The only major slip up I made was going down into the mines solo when the rest of our team were clearly pushing forward on the surface with great success. I was lone wolfing it to get skulls for our golem when I should have been helping out up top, and as a result of being too hasty I found myself killed as soon as the other team's heroes emerged underground. I didn't stand a chance.
We won our second game with ease after about 13 minutes and although I was still 'green' I definitely felt like a more-valuable part of the team than in the first match. More congratulatory messages were given, followed by another round of invites for the next game. By that point I was feeling good about my progression and soldiered on into more rounds, eager to improve my own understanding of the game and the MOBA genre, but you know what? I'm actually starting to get it.
”Do I feel confident now? Well, I'm definitely no expert, but I reckon I've become a better Heroes of the Storm player after a few days of practice and PvP play. I think I'm definitely more-valuable on the field than I was at the start, but there's still much to learn.”
People will likely correct me if I'm wrong about this – bear in mind I'm a MOBA noob! - but to me this type of game is all about the micro management of skills and little variables that must be considered on a second-to-second basis.
It's in the little details like watching cool-down timers, chipping away at single forts or encampments instead of trying to conquer the whole map in one swoop, and to simply be there for your teammates when they need a boost in the field. It's about collaboration, not personal, singular glory.
No one person wins a match in Heroes of the Storm, and I think that collective pooling of strategy, skills and reactivity to what's going on across the map needs to be synced so that you can function as a strong unit. Unless that bond exists, you're going to have a rough time, as my floundering gameplay, unhelpful deaths and early foolishness proved.
Keeping cool under pressure is also advised, but that's something that truly does come with practice. Once you understand the flow of a particular map, and the benefits of all of the secondary objectives, you'll likely grow more confident.
Do I feel confident now? Well, I'm definitely no expert, but I reckon I've become a better Heroes of the Storm player after a few days of practice and PvP play. I think I'm definitely more-valuable on the field than I was at the start, but there's still much to learn about how my favourite heroes fare against other characters and what strategies work best in practice. It'll come in time though, and I think my solid footing owes a lot to Blizzard's opening tutorials and plain-English mechanics.
So I'm not quite a MOBA winner yet, but I don't feel utterly lost when playing Heroes of the Storm. That's definitely an improvement however you cut it. Will I move on to the likes of Dota 2 or League of Legends? Maybe.
Disclosure: to assist in writing this article, Blizzard Entertainment sent Dave a Heroes of the Storm alpha key.