Me, Pierre and Heroes of the Storm

I’ve been noodling at a post about Heroes of the Storm for a little while. I’ve been making nots on how I feel about it, what I’m looking for out of it, what online gaming used to be about for me – instead, I think I ought to write down what I’ve done with it.

For starters, I downloaded it on the morning of May 20th. I didn’t pay a cent for it, but it’s a free-to-play game. It had just gone into open beta (public testing) at the time; it officially launched (think the difference between when a shop opens and its actual Grand Opening a little while later) in early June.

And since then, I’ve been playing it. But not a lot. I’ve been ignoring its siren song for a while – although said song has been pretty darned quiet so far, I will admit. A sign of maturity?

If I fire it up, it’s usually because I spot my mate Pierre online and I have an hour to spare. Pierre and I met in Sydney shortly before Vickie and I got together; he lives in California and getting together with him over Skype while we play a couple of battles has been great fun. We’ve caught up with each other as much as talked tactics, and I’ve got to know one of his sons and a nephew while playing. We usually wind up playing on a Saturday or Sunday, at around mid morning to lunchtime.

That might be why I haven’t played a great deal. I made myself a rule a while back: I don’t play online multiplayer unless I can actually chat over a voice channel with the folks I’m in the game with; and as I’m most likely to have a good time with folks I already know, I’ve been happy to do other things (even housework) instead of go hunting for a quick match of folks I don’t know.

The last time I was seriously into multiplayer was in the late noughties, when I discovered playing Halo 3 over Xbox Live. I made some pretty good mates in the female-focused PMS Clan, some of whom I’m still in touch with now, but when the not-so-well received fourth Halo game, Reach, came out, there was a scattering toward Call of Duty, which I have zero interest in. By the time Halo 4 came out everyone was talking about how good Halo used to be.

It was a shame, really; I loved Reach for introducing the multiplayer modes Invasion, where you and your mates had a mission to accomplish and an opposing team to try and stop you, and Headhunter, where you basically ran around like crazy backstabbing each other trying to collect each other’s skulls and run them back to a scoring point before someone killed you and you dropped all the skulls you collected.

But, still, Halo 3 was where it was at for competitive multiplayer for me; when my Xbox Live Gold subscription (for those of you not familiar, Microsoft charges you a yearly rate to play multiplayer on its game consoles) lapsed around the end of last year, I cancelled the renewal and haven’t really missed it much – my Xbox 360 tends to sit neglected in the lunge room entertainment cabinet nowadays.

Yet, while I thought those kind of days were firmly behind me, I’ve been warming to Heroes of the Storm lately. I’ve put a bit of time into learning how to get better at the game, even checking out some hints and tips videos online. I’ve played some random matches with folks on the Asia and Americas zones (I seem to get better connections with the US servers, which seems odd) and I’ve even played a few versus-AI games (there’s another advantage; I can play offline if I want to, with computer controlled allies and enemies).

This video came in particularly handy. And don’t you love this guy’s voice?

The game itself is a little more up my alley than those Halo FPSes; about as fast paced but nowhere near as frenetic. It’s what some call a “hero brawler,” others a “MOBA” or “multiplayer online battle arena;” a five-on-five battle to destroy the big building at your opponents’ end of the playing field before they destroy yours. Other MOBAs include Defense of the Ancients (and its sequel, DotA 2) and the heavy-hitter in the field, League of Legends.

Another thing Heroes of the Storm has going for it is its cheekiness. It’s by Blizzard Entertainment, the folks who made the online RPG World of WarcraftThe main hook for me was that it mashes up characters from Blizzard’s various worlds – the high fantasy world in Warcraft, the science fiction action universe of Starcraft and the dark fantasy of Diablo – into one big, multi-dimensional brawl. The idea just tickles me. (Given that they’ve chucked some characters from their older games in there, I’m hoping to heck that they throw the roster from their upcoming shooter Overwatch in as well.) Plus, I’ve just discovered the joy of playing with the hero E.T.C., a glam metal minotaur who powerslides across the map, laying down licks that lay enemies down.

E.T.C. rocks on.
E.T.C. rocks on.

Then there’s that it’s pretty quick to play. I tried League of Legends once or twice, and found it comparatively lengthy, fiddly and stat-heavy. There was a lot of walking just to get to or back to the action, and the average game went for three quarters of an hour. With Heroes of the Storm, a game wraps in twenty minutes and action never felt far away, plus managing your hero’s experience and abilities rarely feels like I needed to do a few hours’ homework before even going near the game.

I’ve put a little cash down on it, buying my profile on the American servers a starter bundle of three heroes, a horse and a “stimpack” which accelerates earning experience and the game currency of gold a bit quicker for seven days. While I’ve not actually bought anything real with the money, I look at it as paying Blizzard for the entertainment their game has already provided me.

One thing I’ve not done is gone looking for people to play with, like joinging the PMS Clan back when I was looking for folks to play Halo 3 with. Okay, I did once or twice, but didn’t really make any connections.

But you know what? That’s fine. I’m more than happy to have Pierre as my regular gaming buddy, and if we meet anyone new or bump into any other old mates online (or even drag them kicking and screaming into it), well, that’s icing on the cake.