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Opinion: How Heroes of the Storm and Infinite Crisis Shakes Up the MOBA World

Despite (or perhaps because of) their popularity, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 have gained a reputation for being difficult to learn, which is exacerbated by an often toxic player community. However, Heroes of the Storm and Infinite Crisis could be the games that can change things for the better.

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The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre of gaming has grown in magnitudes since the days of the original Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) mod for Blizzard’s Warcraft III. Obviously there are the heavy-hitters like Riot Games’ League of Legends and Valve’s DOTA 2 but there are also plenty of other options for MOBA fans to sample including Zynga’s Solstice Arena, S2 Games’ Heroes of Newerth, Nival’s Prime World, and Stunlock Studios’ Dead Island: Epidemic, to name a few. I have played these and others over the years and I have discovered that, of all the different MOBA games I have dabbled in, there are two that stand out both because of their brand recognition and their accessibility. Those games are Infinite Crisis from developer Turbine and Heroes of the Storm from Blizzard.

Problem: MOBAs Are Too Complicated and Toxic

Even if you’re not an experienced MOBA player, you likely know about the insulated and often toxic nature of the community. Most MOBA games have a steep learning curve, which is compounded by the fact that many hardcore MOBA players would rather scream and curse at a teammate who is (often unintentionally) failing to pull their own weight instead of take the time to help them. Developers like Riot Games have been trying to fight this toxic presence for years, with initiatives such as a program that rewards League of Legends players for good behavior and a player-run tribunal system. But these efforts can’t do much to change the already deeply-ingrained public opinion of both League of Legends and other MOBAs. Blizzard hopes that doing away with some of the advanced elements of traditional MOBAs will help prevent communities of hostile players from flourishing.

On paper, Infinite Crisis and Heroes of the Storm (HoTS) actually have quite a few things in common. Both are developed by high-profile developers, both are currently in beta-testing, and both utilize themes and characters from a pre-established fiction. That, however, is where the similarities more or less end. Heroes of the Storm aims to be a more casual-friendly experience and stars playable characters from several different Blizzard franchises including Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft. Infinite Crisis, meanwhile,transports players into the world of DC Comics and uses various superhero-themed elements such as destructible environments and a roster of both classic and lesser-known DC heroes and villains to shake up the MOBA formula.

Heroes of the Storm Sweeps In

Even before it was officially announced, HoTS already had a bit of a reputation, having been the end result of a minor dispute between Blizzard and Valve over the use of the name “DOTA” back in 2012. The two companies eventually settled the dispute with Valve getting to retain the rights to the name and Blizzard changing the title of its then-in-development game from Blizzard DOTA to Blizzard All-Stars. It wasn’t until October of 2013 that Blizzard officially unveiled the game under its even newer title: Heroes of the Storm. The game retains many elements of a typical MOBA including lanes and creeps, but does away with technical elements such as last-hitting (a bonus granted to players for dealing the killing blow to enemy creeps) and individual character levels. Instead, an entire team shares one overall “team level” that all players contribute to.

Heroes of the Storm entered its closed beta phase back in early January after an extended technical alpha period. As someone who played the game shortly after the technical alpha kicked off, I can say that it has come a long way since then. It is still just a beta, so there are some caveats. Both the playable hero roster and the player community are a little thin at the moment, although Blizzard is working hard to fill those ranks as quickly as possible. The roster currently stands at 33 different heroes, which isn’t anything to sneeze at, but also isn’t quite as large as those sported by more established MOBA’s like League of Legends (123 playable champions at the time of this writing) or DOTA 2 (112 total playable heroes).

What Heroes lacks in depth, it more than makes up for in accessibility. Despite being in its beta phase, the game has a comprehensive tutorial system that teaches everything from the basics to advanced strategies. Heroes also ditches the typical gold-collecting/item-buying system for a Talent system (similar to the ones found in World of Warcraft and Diablo III), which allows players to shape how their chosen hero plays over the course of a typical match without having to worry about min/max item builds. Since more advanced talents unlock over time, new players aren’t overwhelmed by options when they first start playing as a new hero and instead can ease into their desired playstyle over the course of several matches.

Having cut my teeth on MOBA’s such as League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, I found Heroes of the Storm’s more casual, accessible approach to be a welcome change of pace. The simplified game systems still allow for a lot of complex strategy thanks to unique elements such as minion camps (A.I. minions that are defeated in a map’s jungle regions can temporarily join your team and help push lanes) and towers with limited ammunition (encouraging lane pushes that result in faster matches). The unique map-specific objectives that are built within each of the game’s maps also help newer/less-skilled players feel like they’re contributing even if they’re not racking up kills. It may still only be in an early beta phase, but Heroes of the Storm has already done a lot towards making the MOBA genre less intimidating for newer, more casual players to break into.

Infinite Crisis Summons Alternatives

Turbine’s Infinite Crisis openly embraces many of the atypical MOBA elements that Heroes of the Storm does away with but it also mixes things up enough to stand out from the crowd. First announced way back in March of 2013, Infinite Crisis features a story in which several different worlds (each with their own versions of iconic DC characters) collide and begin bleeding into each other. Unlike Heroes of the Storm, Infinite Crisis retains gameplay elements such as last-hitting, item-building, and resource-collecting but it also has unique features such as objects that can be manipulated by heroes with certain powers and augmentations. Environmental manipulation allows players to drastically alter how a hero operates in a match.

Thanks to its “Stolen Powers” mechanic, which functions similarly to the Summoner Powers from League of Legends, Infinite Crisis sports one of the most malleable character rosters of any MOBA I’ve played. Want to play as a Batman who can hurl cars with super strength and see stealthed players with X-Ray vision? How about a Wonder Woman who can directly heal her allies and move quickly using super speed? These and many other combinations are possible thanks to the Stolen Powers system which is further bolstered by both generic and hero-specific powers.

Turbine also dove head-first into the idea of using heroes and villains from multiple worlds, incorporating them not just as alternate skins but also as entirely separate characters. If you are a casual MOBA player, you’d naturally assume that Gaslight Batman is just an alternate skin for regular Batman. Not so in Infinite Crisis; while Batman is a standard melee brawler, Gaslight Batman is am entirely separate character who functions as a ranged marksman thanks to his twin sonic pistols.

Merging the different worlds of the DC universe not only treats fans to lesser-known versions of their favorite heroes and villains, but it also dispels pre-conceived notions of how a character should operate. Think you know how Wonder Woman or Green Lantern or Joker would work in a MOBA environment? Try playing as Gaslight Joker or Atomic Wonder Woman or Arcane Green Lantern and prepare to have your mind blown. Infinite Crisis may currently only have a roster of 39 characters, but thanks to its Stolen Powers, augments, item-building, and multi-world presentation, it feels like a lot more. 

Infinite Crisis may not be as casual-friendly as Heroes of the Storm but it’s definitely a game that newcomers should consider. Ithas a comprehensive tutorial system that grants peremenant access to six different champions once completed, and it also includes co-op vs. A.I. support on three of its four current maps, which is perfect for trying out new champions and builds. Cooperative modes aren’t a new phenomenon, but few games are as dedicated to ensuring new player understand its mechanics as much as Infinite Crisis does.

Conclusion

Heroes of the Storm and Infinite Crisis aren’t the only games shaking things up. Hi-Rez Studios’ third-person mythology-themed Smite is fast making a name for itself. Nor are they the only MOBAs to be based in pre-established fiction. Stunlock’s Dead Island: Epidemic and CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher Battle Arena both do. However, they do the best job of balancing accessibility and appeal. Since neither game has seen a full release yet, new players can come in without the fear of being beaten down by seasoned veterans. Both games also smartly incorporate elements from the pre-established fictions in which they’re based, helping to draw in players who might not normally be interested in playing a MOBA game. 

Freelancer
From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 30, 2015 1:00 PM

    Nathaniel Hohl posted a new article, Opinion: How Heroes of the Storm and Infinite Crisis Shakes Up the MOBA World

    • reply
      January 30, 2015 1:41 PM

      If HoTS is less toxic than other MOBAs, it's because there's no voice chat and matches are shorter, meaning you are teamed up with the people flaming you for less time.

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        January 30, 2015 1:50 PM

        Also because you can't communicate with the other team.

        There's still a lot of toxicity, though.

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          January 30, 2015 2:15 PM

          It got way worse with beta : (

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            January 30, 2015 2:25 PM

            Yeah, it did. Went from 1 out of every ~10 games to a full third or half.

            And it's always people with account levels less than 12, and almost always playing Nova or one of the "god tier" heroes.

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        January 30, 2015 1:52 PM

        I have yet to try it out but the removal of the store seems like the biggest change to me. It removes a big part of the gameplay that people are just supposed to know about in advance and those are often the things players seem to get bitched at about in my limited experience.

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          January 30, 2015 2:44 PM

          Yep, that steep learning curve element put me off DOTA2

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          January 30, 2015 2:58 PM

          There are still assholes. Don't play with people who aren't your friends.

          These F2P games encourage the lowest common denominator to just be fucking dicks to everyone.

      • reply
        January 30, 2015 2:54 PM

        [deleted]

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      January 31, 2015 4:54 PM

      Just got the Beta thanks to Shacknews key giveaway. I'm normally not a MOBA player due to many of the reasons stated in this article.

      I'm having a blast with HOTS though. The single most important change for me, is the the fast pace due to smaller map size, faster level ups and map objective design. Big fights happen every 2-3 minutes, and the game is usually over 20-25 minutes with 20+ kills on each team when evenly matched.

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      February 3, 2015 11:01 AM

      If you haven't played Infinite Crisis yet or in a while, I highly recommend it! It is by far the best community for any MOBA I have played. Really helpful team mates and if you ever have any questions the forums having amazing presence.

      Of course, the twitch following is great as the people who stream are always willing to help new commers. Check me out if you are interested in that part http://www.twitch.tv/gottlos_holzmundel

      Even if you don't do twitch or want to mess with the forums the tutorial they have implemented is AMAZING! Check it out get some free champs and hopefully I will see you out there!

      Lastly, if you don't have an account already use this link to sign up for the hook up!

      https://account.infinitecrisis.com/en/registration?utm_source=e89947f3-b4a7-e211-b679-bc305b234d58&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=IC_RAF

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