The QM changes and the upcoming XP changes have finally turned a light to a problem that's been growing in HotS over the past few years. The community and the devs have conflicting opinions on what this game is meant to be.
We finally see this conflict coming to the surface because the changes to QM have brought it into focus. Up until this, no matter what happened to the "balance" side of the game, the QM crowd could ignore it, hit their favorite hero and go to QM's weirdness. Many complained about balance problems in the game mode, but many also accepted that the cure would be worse than the disease.
But this is the tip of the iceberg for many other endemic problems in HotS. Here's a few:
- Shared levels create a lowest common denominator for team strength
- Individual power level is often irrelevant, leading to marked difficulty in "carrying" resulting in a diminished feeling of contribution to victory or defeat. Perversely, this is why solo pushing as a specialist has always been a "problem" in the game. It was a tangible and direct way to contribute to victory.
- While the game originally pitched with diverse ideas for maps including concepts like tower ammo, those have been peeled away. Concepts like Garden of Terror's seed collection or Haunted Mine's skull collection have been either reworked or removed while being derided continuously for non-competitive modes.
- The "soft" timer on games being set at 20-30 minutes, created by ever increasing minion damage and push, puts larger value on wave clear to the point where any character lacking it must be significantly overpowered in other areas to compensate. Even then, a character with wave clear is generally preferred.
- Related, hero design has become increasingly bland and by rote. As builds cannot develop through the purchase of items, creating strengths out of weaknesses as you'd see in LoL, all characters must come with their predefined role kit. Tanks, for example, can only be viable with an engage/disengage, a CC ability, and one survival/utility ability. Many, many of the heroes in this game have the exact same core kits with mild flavor variance and a little reshuffling of where you find it. Heroes that get to double dip on categories become overpowered (Mal'ganis, for example).
- More alarmingly, under the heralding of "balance", unique hero kits are being erased in favor of more bland substitutions. Azmodan, for example, started out as the Commander of Hell's forces, leading his minions into domination across the map. His rework, and to a greater extent the map homogenizations, put infinitely more value into his mage damage turning him into a long range mage and minimizing his map control effects.
- Returning to individual power for a moment, skill ceiling on most heroes is pretty low. Or I should say attainable skill ceiling. Too many factors work against any one player's performance. Despite the claims of pros and those who love esports, the average player cannot create a skill gap large enough in an MMR defined match to feel powerful. Whenever something slips through balance that does allow this, such as on release Li-Ming, it is immediately torn down by the community as being overpowered because within the warped balance of the game itself, it is. Effective, all skill gain is kneecapped to keep power levels equal and that feels bad.
So, there's a start. I think there are solutions as well. One thing I think would be interesting is a return of the "on fire" mechanic where you are given incremental power buffs for going on kill streaks with falls to break points on death. A dramatic return to the specialists roles, map manipulation, tower ammo. Innovation in map design, more mulitple objective maps, more bizarre effects of objective wins. Throw out the rule book on hero kit design, return to the concepts of Abathur, Lost Vikings, or Cho'gall. Break the game and make it fun.
Otherwise, it will continue this malingering death by a thousand cuts.
© Post "Heroes of the Storm’s Identity Crisis" for game Heroes of the Storm.
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