HoS Map – The Haunted Mines

Gah, I got busy and didn’t get to play all the characters from last week’s free rotation! /cry

But Sonya (D3 Barbarian) is up this week and I’m playing the hell out of her.

(Honestly, she feels a little weak to me, I need to spend some time skulking in the forums and see if I can find what I’m missing.)

Alright, map number 2 on the list – The Haunted Mines! Continue reading

HoS Map – Cursed Hollow

Hello again!

By virtue of the RNG giving me a couple back-to-back games in Cursed Hollow this is where our map tour of Heroes of the Storm will start.

I did my best to grab shots that highlight different aspects of the map… when I remembered.

And don’t worry, I’m grabbing all these shots in AI practice games so no one else had to rage at me wandering all over hell’s half acre on my photography shoot.

Some of the map basics that I’ll cover today are common to all (or most) maps. I’ll try not to repeat them too much in the later posts, but this post will probably be the largest just to cover some of those features common in Heroes.

Without further delay, here is the first of the four map installments – Cursed Hollow. Continue reading

Heroes of the Storm – Innovations

OK, thought I would switch gears a little bit to stop bitching and start talking about the good stuff. I mean, I do really enjoy what I’ve seen of the game so far and I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression (especially since – can’t stress it enough – we’re still in alpha).

Innovation 1 – Pre-game character selection. At least for solo queue. (I will talk about group queue when I find someone to play with.)

Huh what?

Yeah, crazy.

So you log in and choose which type of game you want to play: Practice, Co-op, or VS.

You select your character.

You join the queue. (And wait a while…) Continue reading

Heroes of the Storm – Continuing Concerns

Yesterday we looked at a few concerns about issues that I would like to see addressed.

Part of the problem (a huge part) is that this is a technical alpha – really the infancy of the game and the first time the developers are allowing someone to hold their baby and comment on it.

My first concern, about muting and reporting, can most likely be chalked up to alpha status. I can’t imagine Blizzard actually releasing the game without those features. The same goes with concern #3 regarding some method of dealing with AFK players.

There isn’t a lot of basic information available, even to the testers. I’m not sure if it was my timing and getting my invite right before the weekend or if it is deliberate, but there doesn’t seem to be as much Blue interaction in the alpha forums as there was in the D3 beta forums.

When a new WoW expansion comes out, we pretty well know what to expect – another chunk of WoW with a new coat of paint and a couple new tricks, but nothing really ground breaking. WoW isn’t going to turn into an FPS overnight. (Leave that for Titan?)

When SC2 came out, we pretty well knew what we were getting – Star Craft; better and faster and prettier and bigger, but still the same space-based RTS we enjoyed for a decade.

For D3, we knew it was a dungeon hack-and-slash loot grind. The ability to respec on the fly might be one of the craziest changes to the franchise.

All three built off an existing franchise.

When Hearthstone came out, I saw a few references to Magic and a couple other collectible card games, but for the most part people didn’t know what to expect and just let it all happen. Most seem to be pleased with the result of this entry into a relatively small game genre.

But Heroes of the Storm dares to tread where there are not only big names such as LoL and DOTA, but there a probably two dozen of the little guys trying to claim a piece of the MOBA pie.

As such, comparisons between them (which I’m sure happened when WoW first came out against EQ and happens every time a new game comes out to “compete” with WoW in the MMO space) are inevitable.

This is really where concerns 2 (compelling players into VS mode for quests) and 4 (gold acquisition/character advancement) come in. Any time it looks like Blizzard is trying a new approach, it’s met with “BUT LOL DOES IT THIS WAY AND THAT MEANS THAT ALL MOBAS HAVE TO DO IT THAT WAY.” Which I find really amusing since even in LoL you can progress in co-op mode.

What we have so far from Blizzard is, “A FRESH TAKE ON THE TEAM BRAWLER,” and “THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN TEAM,” or “BATTLEGROUNDS THAT SHAPE GAMEPLAY.” (All taken from the “GAME” page.)

Not, “LOL BUT WITH MAGIC COWS, DEMONS, AND ALIENS.”

But still not so much on the details of what the exact nature of this “fresh take” is.

We know Blizzard. They bring the gaming experience to the masses. Raiding in WoW has changed from the 1% to everyone can at least jump in to a flex game as their schedule allows. Hearthstone is pretty quick and painless. SC has a single-player campaign and matchmaking for multiplayer (I don’t know how effective the multiplayer is, I haven’t played since the days of the original bnet.) In D3, I can solo play to my heart’s content or co-op with friends.

So even as they advance into the world of MOBAs, the likelihood of creating a LoL/DOTA clone is slim. The very nature of the Blizzard experience is to be inclusive rather than exclusive. For people like me, this represents an incredible opportunity. I like the mechanics of the characters, the maps, the objectives… I don’t like the people. (And really haven’t since the days of the original bnet – which is pretty much what soured me on the PvP environment in the first place.)

Combine the vague “we’re doing something new!” with the people expecting/demanding a LoL clone with Blizzard skins, and add in a health dose of Blues only responding to threads dealing with specific bugs like character clipping, the forums are mostly just back and forth between the “hardcores” and the “casuals” and whether one or the other has any more “right” to earn gold in the game.

There is so little information about the game play, that sometimes we don’t know if something is a real bug, a placeholder, or a deliberate design.

For example, I leveled my account to the point where I unlocked the daily quests. Which you then had to have read the patch notes (under a section about an XP cap) to discover that daily quests can only be completed in VS mode. The game itself doesn’t say that and if you started after the release of the patch notes you probably wouldn’t know to look for the notes (not to mention it was under an unrelated header). Oh, and that patch notes were sort of tucked away, as they were old news by the time my invite came through.

But there has to be a couple dozen threads, “BUG: Can’t get completion credit for daily quests.” I try to be smart and look for similar threads before I post, and those people certainly could as well.

And I wish they would, because it pushed my question down the page about how many daily quests should I be getting and when they are supposed to reset. Other people are getting 3. I’m getting 1. Sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t reset. But we don’t know if this is a bug or an issue tied to my level or my time zone or what.

So I know a lot of my concerns are probably being considered somewhere, we just aren’t getting any Blue responses to acknowledge most issues. And that feeds concern 5 very strongly – does Blizzard have a clear design in mind and they just don’t have time to tell us or are they in a ship being tossed about in the storm of the community and the destination will depend on which side blows the hardest?

Previously, Blizzard has always staunchly stood by a line of not allowing community demands to influence game design, but that hasn’t always held true. Ultimately, they play the balancing game of what is good mechanical design and what will keep people plugging in quarters.

The gaming world has changed a lot in the past few years. When I was first playing SC, I never thought anyone would ever win significant chunks of money for sending swarms of zerglings across the map. But they do now, and as Tir pointed out to me the other day, the lure of eSports seems to hook deeply into Blizzard. The alpha forums don’t seem to think that eSports are a contributing factor, but with as hazy as the design is, we’ve got to consider it.

MOBAs are popular eSports. They are fast to watch and generally don’t require a lot of commentary to get the gist across. Instead of watching dozens of units, you can focus on only a handful of heroes running around. You can root for your favorite character, independent of the person playing it.

The decision to move the quests (and any account progression at max level) into VS mode only could have happened for any number of reasons. There was a short Blue response concerning they felt it was “too easy to farm rewards,” which is easily fixable with reduced rewards. With another option available, the given reason feels… flimsy. Usually when the answer to something is “too easy,” Blizzard goes to great lengths to tune the encounter appropriately. This was like saying, “Well, everyone can beat this raid boss so we’re removing it from the game.” That isn’t how Blizzard works. They tweak the encounter until they are happy with the pass/fail rate.

Maybe they wanted more people in the queue to improve wait times or stress that specific portion of the game. Maybe they want to watch account progression with less co-op mode. Or they are testing the waters to see if they should try to be more of a hardcore LoL/DOTA clone or if they do have enough of a co-op player base to make it worth their while to support co-op play. Or maybe they have the end goal of being the next hot item in eSports and they want us all in VS mode now so we won’t be disappointed when co-op gets no support later.

We don’t know. And we don’t know if they know. (But do they know that we don’t know if they know?)

Anyway… more mechanics, less politics! (I know I said that yesterday.)

Concern 7 - Clunky movement.

Movement is point and click. And click. And click. And click. CLICK.CLICK.CLICK.CLICKITY-CLICKITY-CLICK. Coming off a couple days of playing D3, with its smooth “hold down the mouse button to move” this was an absolutely jarring experience. Outside of the constant clicking, sometimes the heroes don’t feel very responsive and are slow to change course. Thankfully, you can click on the minimap to move long distances, but you’ll hear more about that later.

Concern 8 - Lack of a party frame.

Want to see if one of your teammates is low on health? Has enough mana to cast their ult? Too bad. You can hold the TAB key to bring up a list of your party members, but no useful information outside of experience earned, kills (sorry, “takedowns”), deaths, etc. Since the HUD is roughly a reskin of SC2, we do have a huge 3D portrait in the lower left that does nothing except an idle animation. Your character basically just watches you and breathes heavily. Creepy.

InGame

The shrines are online! Quick, get the dragon knight!

Concern 9 - Shrinky-dink map.

Again, due to the (hopefully temporary) use of the SC2 HUD, the minimap is pitifully small for the level of detail trying to be shown. Each character is represented, each merc camp, the towers, your projected path, and any map objectives (some of which sparkle and pulse on the map, taking up even more space). The minimap tends to be a blur of red, blue, black, and yellow with some bits moving around and covering everything up. Trying to use the minimap to get to a distant point is a bit of a crap shoot as it just sort of gets you in the general quadrant of the map you are trying to get to.

Concern 10 - The chat log is primitive.

I’m sure this one will get better over time, but currently we have a very tiny box that shows only 3-4 lines of chat/pings with no timestamps and no way to scroll back. On the one hand, I may have been brutally insulted in a game and just happened to miss it, but on the other I may have missed an important coordination explanation.

Concern 11 - Very difficult to review a character’s abilities.

From the character selection screen, you can click on a character and see their starting abilities. It looks like you get all of these out of the gate and that’s it, right?

Character Abilities

Nope.

Your heroic ability will be a choice when it unlocks, but you start with the others. Doesn’t say you only get one heroic, you just have to know that.

And… as you level you will unlock new talents that will either modify the starters or be new abilities entirely.

Where do you go to see these? (Outside of actually being in a game.)

The shop, of course! Even if you OWN the character, you have to go to the shop to review your build options.

Character Talents

Where you can’t even see the talents on the same page as the abilities they modify. You have to go to a separate talent page to see what you will be asked to choose from in the game. And from this page, each level unlock is showcased separately. And you better hope the talent isn’t very wordy. Anything past the first four lines gets cut off with no way to expand the content.

But the opposite problem is usually true – the descriptions are too short or incomplete.

Diablo has an ability to collect Soulstones as he kills things. You collect these and then have the option when you die to use the stones for a 5-second resurrection instead of the usual 10 second to 60+ second wait. There are two talents to modify this ability. One increases the carrying capacity to 200. One decreases the number of stones needed to 75. But nowhere in the base ability or character description does it say how many he can carry or how many it costs as a baseline. (We can guess his baseline capacity and cost is 100 stones, but it’s just an educated guess.)

While you’re in the shop and reviewing your character’s options, you can’t be in queue. While in queue, all you can see is the same items as from the character selection screen.

You can see your abilities in game – and I’ll try to get to that next time!

If there’s anything in specific you want to see discussed or screen shots taken of, let me know!