First things first – this is a fun game. But it is in alpha which means everything is in flux. The list of concerns below is not intended to be a negative rant, just my agressive-sounding grocery list of things that I would like to see addressed. And it will be multiple posts.
On to the rant!
Got the invite Thursday evening, installed overnight. Easy peasy through the Battlenet launcher. I played most of Friday and Saturday.
I do have *some* previous MOBA experience, I may have even blogged about my LoL shenanigans. However, LoL is pretty much my only prior MOBA so any comparisons I make are limited to that. And my LoL install is buggered so I couldn’t log in real quick to check on a few things and it’s been awhile. So comparisons are also at least a year old.
The available play options are:
- Practice – you with a team of 4 AI bots against a team of 5 AI bots
- Co-op – you plus 1 or more friends (up to 5) against a team of 5 AI bots
- Versus (VS) – you plus 4 other people against 5 other people
Character selection is like LoL with a rotating group of free characters and you can pay to own a character. This week’s characters are:
- E.T.C. (a tauren representing the WoW band)
- Muradin (WoW dwarf)
- Tassadar (SC protoss)
- Witch Doctor (D3 class)
- Zeratul (SC protoss)
- Arthas (WoW Lich King, only available after your account is level 7)
Each character is classified by a role:
- Assassin – deal high damage but low defenses
- Warrior – deal moderate damage and are more “tanky” than assassins
- Support – healers and buffers, limited damage
- Specialist – weird shit
There are 4 maps randomly available, each with a unique mechanic (Note that the names are not accurate, I didn’t write them down and they aren’t neatly showcased anywhere):
- Pirate – collect doubloons to bribe the pirate captain to turn his ghost ship’s cannons on your enemy’s structures
- Cursed Hollow - earn the favor of the Raven Lord by collecting three of his tributes – cursing the enemy’s forces (structures will not fire and have half health, minions are 1 HP each)
- Haunted Mines – fight topside like normal, but when the mines open, go below and kill undead to collect skulls – the team with the most skeletons raises the more powerful golem to wreak havoc upon the enemy
- Dragon Knight – control the sun and moon shrine to briefly claim the Dragon Knight as your ally (replacing the character model of the player who claims him)
And there are quests. These are very similar to Hearthstone and include things like, “Play a game with a StarCraft hero.”
Of course, there is a shop to purchase new heroes, skins, and mounts.
Oh yeah, there are mounts. Everyone has the basic pony model right at the start.
Your account levels up as you play games and earn experience. Leveling your account unlocks new features (like an extra free hero and accessing quests) and provides a small amount of gold.
There is currently no ranked matchmaking system in place. This is something in progress so is not, in itself, a concern. But it does mean that all players in VS mode are in the same pool based loosely on account level. And, like a traditional MOBA, it looks like we’re already attracting toxic players.
Concern 1 – There is currently no report or mute feature.
But there is a practice and co-op mode, why don’t I just play those?
I actually really enjoy the practice mode and play it almost exclusively. Since this is an invitation-only alpha, I don’t have any friends to co-op with. A pre-made co-op of strangers doesn’t seem that different to me than a VS game. The game might be a little easier against the AI instead of human opponents, but it’s still 5 people more or less randomly grouped together.
And here’s where it gets tricky.
There is a daily XP cap for combined practice and co-op modes. I’m OK with that.
But there are also quests. And quests are the best source of gold. (Only source once you are at max level.) Quests were originally available in all game modes but were suddenly moved to VS only.
It looks like I’m not in a minority when I say that I want to play games with my friends or by myself. With a leveling cap in place for my preferred game play style, and quests being the only real option for earning gold, I (and many others) feel compelled to play in VS mode.
So us “filthy casuals” are trying our best to enter the VS world.
See first paragraph about no ranking or matchmaking system.
Can you see where this is going?
Concern 2 – Putting quests only in VS mode compels non-PVP players to enter the PVP environment.
This wouldn’t be so bad, except for the lack of reporting and muting. And somehow, even though this is an ALPHA there are people that are already god’s gift to Heroes of the Storm demanding to know why everyone isn’t as uber elite as they are.
And there is no “all” chat – you are limited to your own team mates to spew venom at.
So many non-PVP players are AFKing in a match just to get their daily quest done. I’ve done 4 VS mode games and I’ve been lucky so far. Either I’m pulling my weight and playing well enough to fly under the radar or the people are nice/as new as I am. (I really doubt the former.)
Concern 3 – There’s no way to report or remove AFK individuals. And if someone does leave, I hear you get an AI bot.
Now all the PVPers are upset because the casuals that were getting abused decided it was better to just walk away from the keyboard and get quest credit rather than even bother trying. And there’s nothing they can do to remove those players from the game. No one is happy.
Concern 4 – Gold acquisition is painfully slow and comes from limited resources.
As far as we can tell, you get a little gold through the leveling process, but this is limited as there is a cap at level 40. Other than that, gold is only available in quests.
I am perfectly fine with VS getting more gold than practice or co-op. I’m playing practice to relax and just enjoy playing. I recognize that in game design terms, that isn’t as challenging as someone going toe to toe with another human. (There’s also a recognition that for some people, the AI is probably more than enough of a challenge, but I think everyone can agree that other players tend to be more unpredictable and are generally considered to be more challenging.)
But without being able to earn gold outside of VS mode, I will hit cap, buy the 2 or 3 characters I can afford with my hoarded gold, play those until I’m bored, and then walk away.
A bottom tier character is 2000 gold. Mid is 5500, and top is 10k. (Currently, prices are subject to change.)
I’m at level 9 and have 6700 gold. The biggest chunk of this was a 2k bonus for hitting level 4 (the only bonus of its size that I am aware of). Then I’ve done 4 quests at about 250g each. The rest came sporadically from leveling with a level being worth 600g after level 4.
Skin recolors are already locked behind heroic quests (which I will have access to at level 10) and I believe are available in VS mode only. Why also lock earning gold for champions behind VS mode?
Concern 5 – Blizzard doesn’t know what type of game they are trying to make.
Obviously they are trying to make a MOBA. But their advertised emphasis so far has been this will be the new MOBA that appeals to a wider variety of players (read: more wallets). And it’s true. So far in the alpha I’ve seen the forums pretty evenly divided between non-competitive players (practice and co-op mode) and the competitive hardcore traditional MOBA players. If anything, I would say the scales tilt a little heavier towards the casual side.
Someone made a good point about this on the forums – most of the hardcore players will stay in LoL or DOTA or whatever they are currently playing because the technical aspects of the game is what holds them.
Heroes is a simplified game compared to LoL. There is no gear to buy during the game. You choose your talents, but every talent you are presented with has at least *some* benefit for your character. You might not pick the ultimate best talent for your team composition, but you can’t take anything that is completely useless.
You also level as a team so there is a significant loss of self-importance. Try as hard as you can to level yourself and you drag your team right up with you. (Which is awesome for support. I can feed a lane partner creep kills in LoL all day long but then I have to spend my meager earnings on wards and lag behind the rest in gear acquisition. Here I unlock skills with the rest of my team.) The recorded stats are virtually non-existent so there isn’t much basis for individual bragging rights.
With all that, the game play itself screams, “Hey! Just join and have fun playing a character. The size of your epeen is irrelevant.”
So Blizzard has advertised for and successfully attracted much interest from the more casual player that wants to play a low key MOBA. But then they go and build account progression around either competitive play or deep wallets – or both.
Concern 6 – The hero pricing model is ridonkulous.
In LoL, I could pick up a champion on sale for about $2. Actual cost would vary based on how many Riot Points were purchased at a time. A newer champion would be closer to $7 or $10. I didn’t buy any skins, but I looked at a few and decided that the price point was acceptable if I stayed with the game. And all those items could be earned by grinding up Influence Points if I didn’t care to shell out the cash.
Right now, there are a couple bundles on sale in Heroes.
Wowsers! 60 and 70% off!
Now, the basic premise of a bundle is to group items together and offer at a better value than purchasing the items individually.
So let’s look at the Starter Bundle at 70% off.
Note that original price of $96.40.
That is the actual cost of buying all these items individually. (The unicorn mount is the most expensive piece at $19.99 all by its lonesome. Yep. Another $20 sparkly pony. Although this one does appear to shoot rainbows out of its butt while it runs.)
The bundle itself isn’t on sale for 70% off. The “sale” price is the reduced price one gets for purchasing the bundle.
And bundles can only be bought with cash. (I don’t really have a problem with that, but it ties in to the next points.)
As of right now, and this could just be because we’re so early into development and have a limited roster of only 25 characters, there are no true “sale” characters.
There are the three tiers and there are the bundles. But there is no “This week get Malfurion for 1500 instead of 2000 gold!” or “This week get Malfurion for $1.99 instead of $3.99!”
This could be a deliberate difference in the sale structure, but I prefer the LoL rotation that allows individual characters to come on sale instead of being forced into an entire bundle to get a deal.
And I prefer to have the opportunity to buy heroes on sale individually with gold. Especially since earning gold will effectively be nonexistent once I hit level 40 – unless I want to go muck up a VS match to complete my quests.
Skins can only be purchased with cash, either through a bundle or individually. Again, I’m OK with this. They have to make their money somewhere.
For only $7.49 you can lose the hat! (Rumor has it you also get a new voice and new lines for the “Death Knight” skin, but overall, you’re paying $10 to turn off helm visibility.)
Recolors of skins appear to be locked behind hero quests which become available at level 10. My understanding from the forums it that these are also VS mode only. So again, If I want the pink Diablo recolor I’m off to potentially ruin someone else’s competitive game play just long enough to unlock a pretty pink prime evil.
For me, LoL’s shop was perfect. There was a good rotation of characters on sale, and could be bought with time or money. The items that were cash only were vanity only items, priced reasonably (not an 8 buck hat removal service), and could also be purchased on sale.
And, most importantly, you can earn IP (slowly) in a co-op environment.
Back to concern 5, Blizzard has set up the shop in such a way as to nudge people into VS for skin recolors from hero quests (totally OK) and the purchase of champions will require VS to earn gold through daily quests.
But they are attracting the more casual crowd that just wants to play with a couple friends and relax. And then telling these people they have to frolic in VS to earn their champions.
Vanity items (skins, recolors, and mounts) are great things to require cash or use to “incentivize” VS modes.
Having a couple steady heroes to choose from is probably going to be important to a lot of players. I know it is for me. I like to pick 2-4 characters and really learn them. Heroes are the most important thing in the game and for a player like me, knowing that I have a couple I can call upon when I want to relax instead of picking someone new to learn based on the random rotation that week means a lot.
Here’s a fun psychology tidbit about me: If a non-vanity item is available to me with the choice of a long grind doing something I like but is also available for cash, there is a chance I will purchase the item as a small convenience or a reward for a tough week at work. If it’s locked behind something I don’t want to do or only available by cash I get stubborn and walk away.
Moral of the story: Just because I can get something for free doesn’t mean that I won’t pay for it.
But if you can earn all the heroes for free grinding in co-op, why would anyone else pay for them?
You could ask the same question of the people in VS mode. If you can grind out all your quests in VS mode and enjoy it, why would you buy any characters?
If you get to play the game in the way you want and earn rewards, why can’t the rest of the people play the game in the way they want and have access to similar non-vanity rewards?
“Challenge” isn’t a good answer. Blizzard doesn’t get anything more from you playing a “challenging” game versus a player playing a less “challenging” game. If bots or farming is the worry, lessen the reward for practice/co-op. (It’s not like we haven’t seen win trading or the like in the competitive PvP world. Or even bots in AV…) But unless Blizzard has some sort of PvP-powered generator and that’s what’s powering the servers that support the game, it makes no difference what mode the game is in to offer rewards.
D3 and WoW are both great examples. Want really nice gear? Play at the higher difficulty levels. Want to experience the game in a relaxed manner with some friends? Skip through on normal or flex. But you will still get rewards. Not as shiny or not as fast, but the carrot is still there and that’s what keeps us coming back.
And who knows? Maybe after hitting level 40 and earning a few champions in “casual” mode, maybe I’ll find the one that really clicks and I’ll gladly wade into VS. But to be successful, anyone making the transition should do so willingly and not because they feel it’s the only way to advance a character.
We did see a Blue briefly pop into one of the threads and comment that they were taking it all under advisement, so we’ll see what happens.
But we’re nearing 2500 words, have to save some for next time!
And the next one will be more nuts and bolts, less “what is Blizz trying to do here.”