Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Technically Alpha Of The Storm

I've never heard of a "technical alpha" before an email from Blizzard indicating that I was now part of one for the upcoming MOBA Heroes of the Storm.  My first take was that it was a Phishing scam, as I had not heard of anyone else in this test, but I typed in by hand and sure enough, my account was flagged for what it described as a "beta".  There's probably a definition somewhere that isn't "this is what used to be called a beta, but that term now has so much marketing hype that we have to technically call it an alpha", but no matter.

(Also, despite being technically alpha, there is no NDA - Blizzard continues to show admirable lack of fear of showing their cards with extended public testing.)  

The Game
So far, I'm liking what I'm seeing.  I was never the core MOBA demographic, but for the occasional pop-in PVE against bots I can see little reason why I'd ever use League of Legends for that purpose now that Heroes of the Storm is arriving.  I'm sure the competitive players greatly enjoy the strategy of forcing the other player out of lane to heal or finding a time when it's safe to return to base to spend your accumulated gold on necessary item upgrades.  I'll take Heroes' talent system (pick one of several abilities every few levels) and healing fountains (which the enemy can destroy) any day. 

The engine is smooth, the UI is clean and polished, and the game is full of Blizzard's attention to detail and sense of humor.  In an era where we show players stories rather than telling them, I'd much rather be playing characters I know from over a decade of Blizzard's lore than possibly deep League backstories that never really intrude into the game itself. 

The game starts with a tutorial in which Uther explains quickly to Jim Raynor how he has ended up in a world of cross-franchise battles, and then it's off to the races. 

The Business
A testing bundle of ten heroes for just under $30

The "invite" (there was no key or I would have considered raffling it off, they automatically applied it to my account) is somewhat wasted on me due to how the game's incentives work.  Like Hearthstone and League of Legends, you earn rewards including an alternate currency for unlocking stuff as you play the game.  Thus, there's little to no reason why I'd invest significant time on this test only to see my progress reset when the game goes live.  Likewise, there is a partially functional cash shop up and running for in-game purchases, but these purchases will be "refunded" dollar for dollar in Blizzard credit; there's zero reason I'd take that deal since I might want to spend more or less money if offerings change between now and launch.  

What is in the cash shop will be relatively familiar to League players.  Characters run for $4-10 or some amount of in-game currency.  These are allegedly based in part on the complexity of the character and seemingly with little basis in popularity - Raynor and Malfurion sit in the $4 tier, most characters including Tassadar, Illidan, and Diablo sit at the $7.50 price point, and only a handful, most prominently Kerrigan, occupy the $10 tier.  Cosmetic skins are pricier, generally either $7.50 or, $10 and not available with in-game currency, but are reasonably well done and very clever.  In addition to minor or comedic variations, there are cross-franchise outfits -  Kerrigan as a WoW succubus, or Uther as a Starcraft Terran Medic - and alternate realities such as Arthas as a human and a fallen demonic Tyrael.  Once you own the skin, you can unlock color variants in-game only.  There are also apparently cosmetic mount variants (everyone gets a free basic horse), including a $20 rainbow unicorn, because why not. 
You can take the healbot out of Azeroth....
A promising first look....
It may be technically alpha, but it looks well polished.  League will survive fine due to its massive userbase, but I'd be very worried if I was running any less prominent MOBA when this game hits wider release. 


Video Game Philosopher said...

This looks really interesting.

MOBAs aren't my thing either (though if Riot Games asks, I'm all about them, I'd love to work for their studio), but I did enjoy DOTA when it was part of warcraft 3 (in the early days before shit got complicated). I also like games that reward people for actually playing (not grinding, not rushing to get to the level cap, actually putting time into the game). I'm wondering if this will be a free to play game like Hearthstone (likely as they are all marketing ploys to get people to sub into WoW and buy stuff on their cash stores) or if it will be a true stand alone.

Green Armadillo said...

I don't see the possibility of generating additional business for WoW and Blizzard's other properties (including Titan if it ever re-emerges from development) as mutually exclusive from HotS being highly profitable as a stand-alone.

They're going to make decent money selling access to characters to people who don't want to wait to grind them out - this part is a carbon copy of League - and really good money selling $10 skins. The brilliance of all these crossovers is that maybe I don't care about the DIII Barbarian until I can also pay to dress her in the Wrath warrior tier set from WoW. I don't know how many I'll actually buy, but there are more already in the alpha that I'd be tempted to buy than in all of League.

One thing to watch is whether they add an additional sink for gold, other than just using it to unlock heroes. League has its pricey runes. Marvel Heroes (not a MOBA, but they explicitly modeled the system for unlocking characters in-game off of League) has team-up heroes and various consumables. In the current alpha, there is no other use for gold, and I could see that driving down cash sales of heroes.