If there’s one thing Blizzard seems to love, it’s revamping games. They never seem to be able to go very long without some sort of major overhaul to one of their titles. The most recent game to get this treatment is Heroes of the Storm, having recently been given a quasi-relaunch as “Heroes of the Storm 2.0.”
I used to be a big-time Heroes player, having been invited to the technical alpha and playing regularly up to the official launch and for some time after. However, I had started to lose interest in recent months.
2.0 seemed like a good opportunity to revisit the game, but would it reignite my love for Heroes of the Storm or drive me farther away?
What’s in the Box?
Most of the 2.0 changes focus on revamping the game’s progression and rewards systems. These changes are too complex to be declared entirely good or bad; it really depends on who you are and what you want.
2.0 is clearly taking a lot of cues from Overwatch, and while the two systems are not necessarily identical, you’ll definitely see a lot that’s familiar in Heroes if you’ve played Blizzard’s shooter.
Firstly, leveling has been redesigned. Account level is no longer its own thing but is simply the sum of your total hero levels across all characters. Whenever a hero levels up, you earn a loot box full of random cosmetic rewards, with certain level milestones offering boxes of a higher quality. And of course you can also buy boxes for real money if you so desire.
I may have argued in the past that the furor over lockbox mechanics has gotten a little out of hand, but I’m still not a particular fan of the idea, and it’s hard to celebrate when a game suddenly embraces them with open arms.
That said, for at least some people, this system can be seen as an improvement. Before, if you didn’t want to pay cash for cosmetics in Heroes of the Storm, you were simply out of luck. There were very few mounts or skins available for in-game currency, and they required a lot of grind to acquire.
Now, you can earn every cosmetic in the game without spending a dime. At least in theory. If you’re unwilling or unable to pay real world money, this update is bound to be a huge boon to you.
On the other hand, if you can pay, the news is much less positive. Whereas before you could get whatever skin or mount you wanted whenever you wanted (more or less — mounts tended to cycle in and out of the store, but they always came back eventually), now only a very small selection of cosmetics will be available for direct sale each week. If what you want isn’t available right now, your only choice is to gamble.
And while you can potentially get everything from loot boxes, the odds of actually getting what you want are not great. In a rather transparent attempt to keep people chasing the good stuff, Blizzard has clogged the game with reams of new items that I can’t imagine anyone really wants.
There are banners that only deploy under certain “blink and you’ll miss it” circumstances. There are announcers that are barely heard since they don’t cover map-specific call-outs. There are voice lines that are mostly just copies of the dialogue your characters are always saying anyway. There are tiny sprays no one really uses. And there’s a dizzying variety of emojis, for those who want to add a personal touch to the all-caps bile that is the chat in any MOBA.
Through various veteran reward systems, I received over fifty loot boxes when I first logged in after the update, and out of the all that, I got nothing that I actually wanted.
Now, to be fair, there are some systems in place to limit the negative effects of RNG. As in Overwatch, if a duplicate of something you already own drops, it’s converted to a special currency (called shards in this case) that can then be used to unlock items directly, even if they’re not part of the current sales.
So while I didn’t get any drops I wanted, I did get enough shards to buy several several skins and a mount. It wasn’t everything I’d hoped to get, but it was something.
The loot boxes can be a positive or a negative depending on your perspective, but the other changes to progression skew more heavily toward the negative.
The leveling curve has been rebalanced to provide a much steadier curve. This means that higher levels are now earned much more quickly, which is a necessary change given we are now expected to keep leveling heroes indefinitely, but it also means that the lower levels go by much slower.
One of the best ways to earn gold in Heroes of the Storm has traditionally been to level as many characters as possible to level five, due to the 500 gold reward for doing so. The reward is still there, but it’s now much more of a time investment to achieve, so it feels much less worth it. This doesn’t seem like a good move for a game that derives so much of its appeal from constantly trying new characters.
Also, while high levels are earned more quickly, “quickly” is definitely a relative term here. Getting new loot boxes is going to become quite a grind after a while.
I’m also a little torn on what’s been done with master skins. Instead of being a mark of progression, they’ve now been thrown into loot boxes alongside all the other skins. Used to be if you saw someone with a master skin it meant something, especially if it was for a difficult or unusual hero like Abathur or Cho’Gall. Now it doesn’t mean anything.
That said, a hypocritical part of me is happy to be able to get master skins for characters I don’t play as much. I always loved Sonya’s master skin, but I don’t play her enough to justify the grind it would have required under the old system. Now I’ve just bought it with shards, which is simultaneously gratifying and demoralizing.
A Trying Challenge
Something else that deserves a mention is the recent Nexus Challenge 2.0 event. Like the previous Nexus Challenge, it sought to woo Overwatch players by offering rewards in both games for those who play a certain number of Heroes matches while grouped with a friend.
This event was a bit more rewarding than its predecessor, with four tiers unlocked over four weeks, each of which offered significant rewards for just five matches. However, the final three tiers all required that you play in PvP modes, whereas the previous Challenge only required versus AI games.
It’s a nice idea, but it didn’t work out so well in practice. The queues swarmed with inexperienced players, but what’s worse is that many of them weren’t interesting in learning how to play Heroes of the Storm and simply sought to throw games as quickly as possible. This was a miserable experience for veterans, and I can’t imagine it was a good introduction to the game for new players who are genuinely trying, either.
I don’t begrudge Blizzard’s desire for cross-promotion, but I have to believe they could have come up with a better system than this.
Status Quo 2.0
In the end, though, the bottom line is that Heroes of the Storm 2.0 isn’t as radical a change as Blizzard’s marketing department would like you to believe. When you get past all the pomp and pageantry of the new progression mechanics, the actual game isn’t much changed.
That can be good, and it can be bad. If you liked Heroes before, you’ll like it now. If you didn’t, I doubt lockboxes are going to bring you back.
I’m not really sure where I stand with the game. I’ve had a lot of fun with it in the past, and there’s still much about it I appreciate, but after so much time spent with it, I am a bit burnt out, and there are some things that have been driving me away.
All of my favorite heroes have been nerfed into uselessness or revamped into something unrecognizable. I swear the game was more stable back in alpha; now that it’s launched, I ought to be able to trust that my characters will maintain some kind of singular identity.
I’m also not thrilled with the direction the meta-game has been taking. Right now it seems dominated by increasing power creep, especially around burst damage. Heroes used to be a more laid-back take on the MOBA, but increasingly it seems to be the sort of game where a split second’s mistake will spell total doom.
I may find my passion reignites at some future date, but I don’t think the 2.0 update will be the cause.