Heroes of the Storm Alpha Preview

Gaming / PC

Turns out I was one of the lucky ones to get into the Heroes of the Storm Technical Alpha. With the Alpha winding down, what better time to give you a preview and some first impressions of the latest offering from Blizzard? The caveat, of course, is that this preview is based on an Alpha build and anything could change between now and final release.

Warcraft-Orcs-vs-Humans-Screenshot

We’ve come a long way since Warcraft!

I’m an avid gamer, but I find more often than not that I only have bite sized chunks of time for gaming. I’ve also been a long time fan of Blizzard’s previous offerings back to the Warcraft days, continuing on with World of Warcraft (thankfully I kicked that addiction!), Starcraft series, and on to Diablo 3. With the exception of the World of Warcraft, most of these games can be enjoyed in relatively short sittings. Blizzard has continued with this strategy in Hearthstone and now Heroes of the Storm.

Heroes of the Storm is a MOBA – multiplayer online battle arena, or as Blizzard likes to call it a “hero brawler.” Other popular MOBAs include DOTA and League of Legends. I tried DOTA ages ago, but for whatever reason couldn’t really get into it. I’m not sure if the matches were just too long or it felt like to much micro-management, but the game never really grew on me. So when I first heard of Heroes – back when it was called Blizzard All-Stars – I was hesitant but signed up for the Beta anyways.

Fast forward to a few months later when one day an icon for Heroes showed up in my Blizzard launcher. Knowing almost nothing about the game aside from the fact it was some sort of online game featuring characters from all the other Blizzard games, I fired it up and took it for a spin.

Heroes represents more than 20 years of Blizzard gaming history, settings, and iconic characters, all mashed up into an epic, off-the-wall team brawler. Fight out classic showdowns such as Tyrael vs. Diablo and Arthas vs. Uther, or settle those late-night debates you’ve had about who’s the stronger leader—Raynor or Thrall? Could Zeratul take down Illidan in a fight? Who’s more badass . . . Kerrigan or the Demon Hunter from Diablo III? The combinations of Blizzard heroes and universes are endless.

~Heroes of the Storm Website

Gameplay

Heroes of the Storm features 5 versus 5 gameplay. In the Alpha, you could play in Practice, Co-operative, or Versus mode – Draft and Custom games have placeholder buttons in the game menus and will be coming eventually. Each player selects a different Hero (more on that later) with a different style made up of  Specialist, Assassin, Support, and Warrior classes of both the melee and ranged variety. The goal is to take out the opposing team’s Core by utilizing coordination, liberating camps of mercenaries to assist you, and Battleground specific perks like gathering seeds to grow a Garden Terror which you can then control, or turning in Doubloons to a pirate captain to give you a significant, but temporary, advantage.

Each game goes relatively quickly – the fastest I recall was around 8 minutes, the longest being just under half an hour. The average game took about 15 minutes or so, so going back to my previous comments, this really fits into being able to sit down for a quick game or two without having to make a huge time commitment.

At the conclusion of each battle, you gain experience and gold depending on your performance, the game type, and any daily quests that you may have completed that match. Blizzard is really pushing the team mode here, you’ll find you do much better if you coordinate with the rest of your team as opposed to going it alone and trying to do your own thing during the match.

Leveling

Leveling in Heroes is interesting as there are three “types” of leveling, so to speak. The first type of leveling is tied to your actual account and represents your level as a player. Gaining experience accumulates and levels up your account and rewards you with gold, daily quest access, or unlocks character slots for you to have more choice of what hero you choose to play with.

Heroes-of-the-Storm-Account-Leveling-Rewards

Gold, daily quest access, and character slot rewards for account leveling.

The second type of leveling is tied to each character. Every match you play with a specific character has that experience tied to it. Leveling a character unlocks more talents, gold, portraits, mounts, and finally a master skin you can purchase with in-game gold once your character hits level 10.

Heroes-of-the-Storm-Leveling-Screenshot

Heroes of the Storm has player and character leveling tiers.

Finally, the third type of leveling happens in the battleground itself. At key levels, your character unlocks another talent slot and can choose between available talents. The higher level your character is in the second type of leveling, the more – and better – talents you can choose from.

The Heroes

The major draw, for me anyways, is the fact that almost every Blizzard hero imaginable is playable in Heroes of the Storm. Whether playing as the assassin Kerrigan, the broodmother Zagara, or the rock god himself E.T.C., there’s a play style for everyone. Each character is varied enough with unique talents that combine well with other heroes when played right as a team. As mentioned above, each hero starts off with a base set of talents, but as you level up you gain access to expert – and finally all – talents to use during each match. All talents are unlocked once that character reaches level 4, which really only takes about ten matches to reach – less if you tally up bonuses for winning in versus mode or by playing in the same battleground as friends.

Heroes-of-the-Storm-character-selection-screen

A wide variety of Blizzard Heroes are playable – including one of my favorites Nova, a Dominion Ghost.

Free to Play

And here we go… the dreaded Free to Play model – often referred to as Pay to Win. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Blizzard appears to be doing things right and their F2P model is no exception. I have no problem at all tossing some money to a good Free to Play game, and I have in the past with both Neverwinter and Hearthstone. A pretty big deciding factor for me to do so of course is quality of the game. As well, I’m more inclined to support the developer of a decent F2P game if I don’t feel like I HAVE to buy into it in order to advance further in the game.

Heroes of the Storm features weekly free hero rotations.

Heroes of the Storm features weekly free hero rotations.

So how does Free to Play work with Heroes? Every week Blizzard offers up 5 heroes (7 if you’ve unlocked the additional character slots) in the F2P rotation. That means every week, you get a new set of heroes to play with and level up. Players are encouraged to try out different characters with the daily quests which include tasks such as playing 3 games with a Starcraft hero or winning 2 games with a specialist hero. As mentioned previously, gold is also earned at the end of each battle. Should you decide that you like a hero enough, you can unlock it via in game gold or purchasing it using money.

Anything else that you unlock, such as costumes and mounts, can be unlocked with gold or money. Some of these items however can only be purchased with money, while others – such as the Master Skins – can only be purchased with gold. The key here however is that all these items are cosmetic only and don’t affect gameplay at all. So if you want to go ahead and drop $20 on a special Unicorn mount – go right ahead. If you’re one of those who’d rather not drop the $20 for that mount, you don’t have to feel like you’re at a disadvantage just because you don’t have that specific mount or outfit.

Heroes-of-the-Storm-Skins

Heroes of the Storm skins range from classic to fun and are purely cosmetic.

Final Thoughts

Upon first launching I was pretty much blown away by the amount of polish Blizzard had applied to what they tagged an Alpha. Even though they made some major changes to the interface, and some of the gameplay mechanics throughout the Alpha, the game played – and felt – like a late stage Beta. As with Hearthstone, I feel like Blizzard has nailed the Free to Play balance with Heroes of the Storm as well given that outside of actual characters, all the purchases that you can make with gold or money, are purely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay at all. I’m looking forward to going gung-ho once the game comes back online knowing that this is the last (forseen) account wipe, as well as seeing more players come on board for the Beta (sign up if you haven’t already), which will hopefully decrease the match wait times. Heroes is fun, quick, and a real hoot to play – especially with all the Blizzard history and range of characters, and I’d highly recommend it. Still not sure why they changed the name though, Blizzard All-Stars describes it perfectly.

Now excuse me as I have to go squeeze in as much time with my Blizzard “All-Stars” before the game is taken offline for more than a week of extended maintenance! If you’re playing as well, let us know your thoughts in the comments below, or on Google+, Facebook, or Twitter.

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