Heroes of the Storm, the MOBA-like hero brawler from World of Warcraft developer Blizzard, has been in a closed alpha test since March. Every few weeks, the developer launches a new update, adding new content, changing balance, and reworking character progression. With an upcoming patch, the team intends to make Heroes of the Storm stand out even further.
We were able to talk to game director Dustin Browder and learn more about the map, hero, and design changes coming to the game in the next patch. We also took the opportunity to ask about the game's future, its esports potential, and its competition.
First and foremost, players will get to battle as a new hero named Rehgar. He's an agile character who is inspired by the shamans of Warcraft. "He's a pretty cool and aggressive support character," Browder explains. "He can change into his mount form whenever he wants very quickly. He turns into a ghost wolf and runs around. He's a very special kind of support character, and a lot of fun to play. Basically, Rehgar is a shaman with a bunch of elemental abilities. He's a classic Warcraft III Shaman build."
It's called Garden of Terror, and it's a dynamic map similar to others in the game. "You're trying to collect seeds to be able to create this big plant monster that you can become," Browder says. "[It's] kind of like [how] you can become the dragon knight in one of our other maps. It gives you the chance to be this giant monster that runs around, gums up the map and slimes enemy towers with this evil plant stuff. [It can also] choke off enemy towns, preventing them from fighting and making your pushes [into enemy territory] very effective."
In addition to the map and character, Blizzard is also implementing a sweeping array of UI, performance, and progression changes. Most significantly, the developer is overhauling how you advance your heroes in and out of battle.
Firstly, the team has reworked cooperative gameplay so that you can now earn experience without entering into competitive arenas. Browder explains, "We want to give players the opportunity to earn experience and complete quests in cooperative play, but at the same time we didn't want to feel like it was wrong to play Player vs. Player modes. So we've changed the whole system, [and now] you do get a win bonus when you play cooperatively."
There will also be more items for you to work toward, including new cosmetic items called Master Skins. To make this work, the developer has made leveling up individual heroes much more important: "We've got this idea for a master hero skin that you'll earn if you play a hero for a really long time, so we've redone the entire leveling system. A lot of it is [now] about leveling up individual heroes. We had six hero levels before; now we're up to 10 different hero levels. So it feels like a much more meaty experience."
Finally, the team has redone the way you earn the gold used for microtransactions, to make it both more rewarding and more useful. This includes the addition of artifacts, which actually allow for an entirely different way of hero customization. Browder says, "We've gone to a gold-per-game model, or a gold-per-win model. It was just too long between rewards, so we've rebalanced the whole economy around [this new] model."
He continues, "We've added a whole new system to the game, an artifact system, and this allows players to customize a lot of the core stats on their heroes. This is one of the things we had a lot of requests for from the players. At the same time, they didn't really want it to be a part of the talent system--they wanted the talent system to be more focused on skill, heroic abilities, all that stuff--so we thought it might be kind of cool to give the players the ability to customize the stats on their characters before the game launches. So now you can go in and you can get these artifacts and you can slot them into your hero.
"This also ties into a request from a lot of our players for something more to do with gold. a lot of players will purchase a couple heroes and be totally content with that, but say 'I'm earning all this gold, what else can I do with it?' We thought this could be a cool thing you can do with your gold--buy better and better artifacts and customize your hero."
"No, Garden of Terror will go into our regular map pool," Browder states. "We haven't decided yet if we're going to do special maps for special types of play, it's possible when we get to ranked play, we might say, 'Okay, these are the ranked play maps, they're a little different from unranked maps.'"
"No, we're still doing the realms of the Nexus [right now]," he explains. "We're still exploring new worlds that allow us to be crazy and creative with the space. You'll see us explore more of Blizzard's environments in the future, and we will also have some of our other more classic worlds going forward."
Browder argues that Heroes of the Storm is fundamentally shaking up the MOBA formula by encouraging teamwork and a focus on individual hero customization. "We're doing things with team leveling where people are really asked to do things together as a team, and it's not about getting ahead on your own and being the carry," he says. "We really feel like it's making a difference and it's really showing a lot of what the genre can be. There're a lot of different things you can do in the genre.
"We really feel like it's making a difference and it's really showing a lot of what the genre can be. There're a lot of different things you can do in the genre."
"We've got lots of different maps with lots of different map mechanics. We're trying to make each map as unique as possible. We're doing things with our talent system. We're moving away from the traditional shop system and really giving players a custom set of options per hero. We can have items that are range bonuses on heroes. We can give a hero who specializes in melee attack and give him a +3 range bonus, and now he's a short-range hero. If we put that in a shop that's generic for all, that would break the game.
"That's been a huge win for us that's distinguished us from other games in the genre. We've got something legitimate to offer. It's not for everybody, but we feel that we're gathering an audience of players that's very excited that we're taking these types of risks."
The game is certainly inspired by League of Legends, Dota and Dota 2, but it is becoming increasingly driven by the community, Browder states. In the future, it'll be the players who determine if Heroes becomes an established esport.
"We owe an enormous debt to the modders in Warcraft III who helped develop the genre, and all the other developers who iterated on that even further," he says. "Early on, we were looking at those games a lot and learning from them, but at this point in our alpha, we're learning more about our game from our game. Our game and our players, that has become the focus and that teaches us what to do.
"It's not up to us if this game is an esport, it's up to the players. Do players start forming leagues, do shoutcasters show up? If they do, we'll be there for them. It'll be interesting to see where these people take the game."
"Nope. We're still making sure the technology is good and safe," he explains. "You have to understand, when we go into a beta, we'll end up connecting up to Blizzard's other games. So you'll be able to chat with people in WoW, you'll be able to chat with people in Diablo, you'll be able to chat with people in Hearthstone and StarCraft. When we go to that point, if we make a mistake in Heroes of the Storm, it's not impossible that we could crash WoW. That's bad.
"So we're adding a few people every week to the alpha, and we're still testing the infrastructure. Once we're in a position where we feel like we're good to go, we'll roll over into the production hardware and into the beta."
"You can always look for more heroes, changes to the HUD, and changes to the progression system," Browder promises. "We're also updating talents as often as possible. But we've also got another milestone before then."
The patch looks to change things up pretty dramatically, and it'll be interesting to see how the new progression systems work out. You can check out Blizzard's Twitch stream tomorrow at 11 A.M. PDT for more information and a first look at the update. Keep an eye on GameSpot for more news about Heroes of the Storm as it becomes available.
What do you think about Heroes of the Storm and how Blizzard is trying to make it unique? Let us know in the comments!
The fourth-ever Dota 2 International--the MOBA game's worldwide championship tournament--was won today by the team known as Newbee--which is now more than $5 million richer.
In a best-of-five competition that took place in Seattle today, Newbee defeated Vici Gaming in four games. Vici won the first game before Newbee reeled off three wins in a row, earning the team a little over $5 million. A full recap of the games can be seen at onGamers, and you can watch a replay of the fourth and final game below.
Newbee, which was only formed earlier this year, is comprised entirely of Chinese gamers: Chen "Hao" Zhihao, Zhang "Mu" Pan, Zhang "xiao8" Ning, Jiao "Banana" Wang, and Zhaohui "SanSheng" Wang. Vici also consists solely of Chinese players.
The members of Vici, as runners up, take home just under $1.5 million total, while the third-place team, North America's Evil Geniuses, gets $1 million total.
This year marked a significant moment for The International and esports as a whole. ESPN broadcasted the event through ESPN 3, and a finals preview aired on ESPN 2 on Sunday. More than $10 million in prize money--the most-ever for an esports tournament--was up for grabs in the International as a direct result of fans purchasing the Compendium (which earns buyers in-game items and contributed money to the prize pool).
Did you watch any of this year's International? Let us know how you followed the tournament in the comments below.
Many of us desire peace in our twilight years. In Wayward Manor, the sentiment is equally true for an old, sentient house, which yearns for a tranquil retirement. This means that the boisterous family that lives there has to go, and it's your job as the manor's loyal poltergeist to move them out. Wayward Manor is a modest puzzle game, featuring plenty of good-natured charm and slapstick humor. But you're not the only one haunting the manor's creaking halls; an array of game-ending glitches provide more worriment than the game's dancing shadows, while the lack of challenge turn the second half into a snooze.
As the manor's sole guardian, you must move from room to room, scaring away the unwanted guests. You approach this goal by manipulating certain objects in a room marked with an eerie spectral glow. Using your paranormal abilities, you prey upon the family's deep-seated fears and anxieties, or frighten them with tactful snares, including mousetraps and a pirate ghost that slashes at them from a painting. You can rattle a stone bust, which grabs a victim's attention long enough for you to send a bottle flying toward her head, shaking her constitution. The sight of a rat sends the family maid into a panic, so why not have one scurry across her path, causing her to jump with fright? A successful scare rewards you with a green skull. The more skulls you earn, the stronger your presence in a room, allowing you to manipulate even more objects as you frighten the pants off various intruders. Once you collect six skulls, you activate a ghastly whirlwind that whips up loose objects, sending your hapless victim screaming out the door for good.
At first, there is a sense of discovery in solving Wayward Manor's puzzles, but the excitement dissipates more quickly than a specter in the sunlight. By the time you hit the third chapter, a cursory glance is all that is required to figure out each level's mystery. Gameplay stagnates, and there are only so many times you can whack one of the dopey characters on the head with a bottle before boredom seeps in. As you enter the game's third chapter, the lack of variety turns puzzle solving into more of a mechanical motion, over one that promotes the enjoyable analysis of the working parts. If you do find yourself at a loss, creatures such as cats, birds, and gargoyles located in the rooms offer advice on how to approach the puzzle.
The story is penned by Coraline author Neil Gaiman, and the game draws influences from the surreal book-turned-film. Narration is spoken in a storybook style, and Gaiman himself lends his smoky voice to the living manor during brief moments of exposition between chapters. Though the dated visuals of Wayward Manor won't win any awards, the game fully embraces its peculiar art style, which I found alluring. The multistoried manor is warped and cartoonish, yet still macabre, its dusty rooms lit by flickering candles or by azure moonlight creeping in through windows. The family inhabiting the manor is made up of diminutive caricatures exhibiting charming mannerisms, their voices replaced by the sounds of various musical instruments.
Unfortunately, I won't remember Wayward Manor for its interesting characters or art style, but for the menagerie of bugs and game-ending glitches that invoke far more tension than what my spectral hijinks could match. The most innocent of the issues include the whirlwind, which forces objects to clip through walls and people, and some occasional animation foibles, such as characters sprinting backward. Among the worst, however, is the surprisingly frequent gameplay bug that causes the puzzle and characters to freeze, unperturbed by my dismayed flurry of mouse clicks--there is nothing more to do than restart the level. In my playthrough of the game, I encountered the bug more than a dozen times. The final level was especially irritating, because a necessary puzzle piece refused to move into position, requiring me to restart about five times before the object finally clicked into place.
Wayward Manor, with its brevity and elementary one-button approach to gameplay, is not a complicated game. It's unfortunate, however, that the number of bugs infesting it make things so problematic and frustrating. The game's spooky ambiance and appealing nature are enjoyable, but not enough to overshadow the humdrum puzzle solving, nor to distract you from glitches. Wayward Manor puts a lot of trust in your abilities to remove unwanted guests, but it would have found equal success in calling pest control.
Considering 12 years have passed since Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire were released on Game Boy Advance, graphical improvements are to be expected from their upcoming 3DS remakes, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. But if, like me, you haven't seen Ruby or Sapphire recently, you might not realize just how much of a change the games' visuals have undergone by simply looking at screenshots of the 3DS versions.
Luckily, Reddit user YouDontKnowThisUser has compiled a comparison of three dozen screenshots that pit the 3DS remakes against very similar (if not identical) scenes from the original games, which you can see below. The most significant change, of course, is the shift from the sprite-based 2D graphics of the older Pokemon games to the 3D-graphic style introduced in Pokemon X and Y.
The gameplay is similarly not being left untouched: a new type of evolution is being introduced called Primal Reversion, new mega evolutions have been added, and players will now be able to design their own secret bases that can be shared through StreetPass.
Alpha Ruby and Omega Sapphire are scheduled for release on November 21. If you plan on picking up the game, which version will you choose? Let us know in the comments.