Heroes Of The Storm Alpha Update: Orcs & Artifacts

I know it would be embarrassing to change the name again but ... I mean, come on.

“Me too!” cries Heroes of the Storm as it sprints after big siblings League of Legends and Dota 2. “No,” they say as they slip behind the bike sheds, “you can play when you’re older.” Infinite Crisis titters in the background, the nerdy friend who gets in because it does their homework. Heroes of the Storm stamps its feet and sulks. It just wants to share its new patch.

I’d basically forgotten about Heroes since Pip’s hands-on report in April. The ongoing “Technical Alpha” is still invite-only and mostly unavailable to regular humans, but Blizzard are still blitzing out information about the patches to the general populace. The latest adds a new map, a new hero and changes customisation and progression options.

The biggest change is likely the artifact system, which bears more than a striking resemblance to LoL’s runes (but absolutely nothing to do with Dota 2’s runes, because who doesn’t need more confusion in the genre we can’t even settle on a name for?). It’s an unlockable series of slots that are customisable with items bought and upgraded with the in-game currency. These provide a variety of effects, usually buffs to stats like movement speed, attack damage, health and so on. The numbers are unlikely to be final, but a fully upgraded one will set you back 5,500 gold or around $7.49 at the current exchange rate.

Reaction from the community was mixed to say the least. It’s a controversial system combined with the ability to buy advantage with real money, which isn’t possible for League’s analogous elements. Quite why Blizzard are following the model of game-affecting items being purchasable when Dota’s proved so satisfactorily that it can work without is a mystery. The cosmetic possibilities when drawing from the myriad universes Blizzard hold could be even more enticing than it Valve’s wizard clothes.

Meanwhile, the new hero is Rehgar Earthfury, an orc shaman mostly seen in the World of Warcraft comic series. His announcement rundown is over here, while the hero page goes over his skills and abilities. The new map, Garden of Terror, was detailed last week. It involves gathering seeds to allow one player to turn into a giant plant golem, all while doing the usual three-lane dance. From what people in the alpha have told me, Heroes’ appeal is the bigger differences between games when compared to peers but new maps are required to keep it fresh. In that vein, there’s also been a shake up of the progression system for players and heroes.

All the changes were summarised and discussed in a hour-long livestream yesterday, including a pre-recorded shoutcast of a match on Garden Horror from the perspective of a Rehgar player (skip to 25 minutes if you’re not in it for trailers and voice actor interviews):

There’s no word on when things will progress to a more open beta stage, though European servers went up earlier this month. There’s still talk of several account wipes, so we’re likely a ways off from release. You can sign up for a shot at access on your Battle.net beta profile page.


Top comments

  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    the genre we can’t even settle on a name for
  1. BooleanBob says:

    Pay to win, huh?

    I mean, if it was EA, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But Blizzard? Colour me surprised.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      How so? Since.. well, some time during WoW’s lifespan I noticed they started to display more affinity for maximising monetisation. This carries through to Starcraft 2 (pay three times for one game) and Diablo 3’s real money AH.

      Blizzard may not have been like this, but now they’re just greedy.

      • Zorlan says:

        Eh? Bobby Kotick? HELLO? Evil incarnate?

        Good old Blizzard is dead, matey.

  2. pkt-zer0 says:

    “Quite why Blizzard are following the model of game-affecting items being purchasable when Dota’s proved so satisfactorily that it can work without is a mystery.”

    Did it? I mean, clearly DOTA2 is doing well for itself, but if LoL is making WAY more money even so, that would be a compelling argument still. (as long as you’re willing to sacrifice game design for money, anyway)

    I don’t keep up with MOBAs, but F2P games in general are still in a pretty bad place, with the most exploitative of business models still finding a large enough audience for publishers to keep churning them out. So that scenario seems quite plausible, unfortunately.

    • Koozer says:

      League of Legends doesn’t sell its runes for real money, only the in-game currency. On the other hand, you can buy heroes/champions with real money, while Dota 2 has them all available from the off. How dire this is to people varies greatly.

      • Moraven says:

        But they sell IP boosters, which in essence is buying the free currency, allowing you quicker access to a more variety of runes.

        • Hmm-Hmm. says:

          Even so, it’s hardly difficult to scrape together enough IP (the currency you can earn by playing). It won’t even take that long if we’re talking about a single rune page.

      • honuk says:

        it is naive to say that LoL doesn’t sell runes for real money. directly, you are correct: you can only purchase runes with in game currency. however, that same currency is used to purchase the characters. and most of the characters, of which there are 119, cost a great deal of this currency. so unless you’ve been playing for years, you have to choose how to spend your IP: do you want runes, so that you are on an even playing field, or do you want new characters, so you can learn more of the game/have more fun? Riot’s answer is obvious: use IP on runes and buy the characters! in practice, this means they charge “soft” money for runes. but they get to say that you cannot purchase runes, so everything is fine!

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Anyone calling LoL pay to win is an absolute moron, end of story.

    • Zelos says:

      Yeah league makes more money, but I think that’s a result of playerbase rather than model. Over three times as many people play league than play DOTA.

      Valve just made ~40mil on compendium sales. That’s incredible. Not only that, but they have the steam market. Of course here we can really only count the DOTA2 transactions, but valve is still taking a huge cut from every single transaction. The randomized nature of chests also means the whales are spending even more money to get what they want. Want the new kunka set? You might have to buy up to 7 $4 chests. Or you can buy it on the market for $9 from someone who already bought a shitload, and valve gets to profit from the sale of the item twice.

      I think DOTA2 also likely has a higher buyer conversion rate. At a bare minimum, valve makes money on non-spenders who sell their items for steam credit.

    • Jools says:

      Any studio (Blizzard included) that thinks “we need to beat League” is both delusional and really bad at decision making. Riot being where they are is as much about time and place as it is about any individual game or business model decision that they’ve made. To put this into perspective, League was already absolutely huge when Dota 2 was still in “closed” beta and yet Dota 2 already has between one quarter and one third of its user base. It’s unlikely that Valve or anyone else is ever going to actually overtake them no matter what they do, but Dota 2 is still absolutely fucking huge.

      You don’t need to have League’s unique monthly user count to be successful, and companies that are copying League’s model are making the same idiotic mistake as every developer that looked at World of Warcraft and said “yeah, we can do that.”

  3. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    the genre we can’t even settle on a name for

  4. Tiberius says:

    I’ve been in the Alpha for a few months and have been loving it, but this is one of the systems that kept me away from other MOBAs in the first place. At the high levels of play it’s no problem (because everything is already maxed), but it does nothing but deter newer users. Especially those who don’t buy heroes with real money – now we’re split between buying a hero or runeslot that feels stupid but obligatory.

  5. hideinlight says:

    How exclusive is this Technical alpha? I’ve been invited but still haven’t gotten myself to try it.

    • Zelos says:

      Very exclusive.

      • honuk says:

        I really wish my invite was a code that I could have sold, rather than something magically tied to my battle.net account. I’ve played the thing twice and I don’t see myself playing it again.

    • Jools says:

      For what it’s worth, I know six people (myself included) who signed up and got in. The interesting thing is that the player count in game has been mostly steady and/or decreasing. On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of the game so I’ve only jumped in every now and then to check out new hero rotations.

  6. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    Poor Infinite Crisis. It has a great thing with the superheroes, at least.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ben Barrett says:

      I have a statue of one of the Wonder Woman alternate skins because it’s rad as fuck, but I have no intention of playing the game.

  7. Moraven says:

    which isn’t possible for League’s analogous elements

    Each player has to still buy the runes with the free currency, I never have a full set of T3 runes to be able to have more than 4-6 solid configurations.

    Want more move speed? Nope need the speed runes first, and the free money(IP) to buy it. Riot will sell me IP boosters helping me earn more quicker. I rather use IP on new champions than filling out my runes. I’m sure a large proportion of the population now has a good set but a new player will be limited.

    I think this change is caving to the complaints of no items and lack of customization. The talent system I feel has enough customization and they should just keep balancing that out. It was great to be free of runes and in game items and having to worry about who has what generic stat boost.

    They have been changing a lot of things already and I hope they do not keep this one.

    • SuddenSight says:

      This is what endedy brief, two week long run at playing LOL. Learning that I’d have to play for 15+ hours just to unlock the basic spells (flash mostly), only to later learn I’d have to play for a couple hundred hours to get a decent rune set. As someone who had watched a lot of streams before deciding to try it out, I was disappointed that I couldn’t do the things the high level players were doing without tens of hours of grinding (complete lack of skill not withstanding).

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        It’s absolutely nothing like that amount of time to get together a couple of decent runepages. Different configurations from there are sidegrades at best and while it might take a decent amount of time to unlock ALL the runes, it wont make a blind bit of difference to your performance having a tiny bit more ArP compared to Attack Power or something similar. You were and are greatly overvaluing their importance and chose not to continue with the game because of some misguided slight about it.

        • SuddenSight says:

          Probably not if you play 2+ hours per day like many of the LoL/Dota2 players I know, but I was not willing to devote that kind of time to the game. I am definitely a casual and will continue to enjoy watching streams, but LoL is not a game I will be devoting much time to.

          • InternetBatman says:

            The more casual you are about the game, the less runes make a difference. Runes give a slight but definite edge. That slight edge is only important when you’re engaging in high level play against opponents of equal skill. Items and player skill will destroy a robust rune page in most pug games.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            You are missing my point. Internet Batman put it succinctly. What I was trying to say is if the only reason you stopped playing LoL is that you couldn’t instantly have a dozen runepages, that is extremely silly. It makes very little/absolutely no difference until you get to a good standard. You probably need a lot of games to get to that stage anyway, by which point you will have enough IP to fiddle with runepages. If you were enjoying the game, runepages shouldn’t stop you, they aren’t that big of a deal, people just make them out to be because people love to bitch about “pay2win”, this is not, in any way, pay to win.

  8. Hydraulic Meerkat says:

    Still doing the top down view thing after Smite? How quaint.

    Also, Blizzards latest offerings are as bad as old game boy commercials for showing barely anything to do with the game.

    • Zelos says:

      Smite is generally considered to be not very good in comparison to LoL or DOTA2. It’s an ok clone, but in the end it’s still an inferior clone. The only people who play it are superficial people who think the 3rd person view is better for some reason.

      • Hydraulic Meerkat says:

        I think it takes more skill to play Smite, having to aim everything manually, and i find it much more dynamic and exciting. Although the top down view with auto targeting is more accessible. People who sneer at FPS games and call them ‘twitch based’ because they require fast reflexes would be more at home in LoL than Smite.

        • Stupoider says:

          There are countless heroes in Dota that require you to control multiple units, something you can’t do in a third person view, and something many FPS players struggle with.

          To each their own. Personally I think for an ARTS the top down controls are much better, and for an actual FPS then twitch-based control is much more understandable. SMITE feels like a wonky amalgamation for familiarty’s sake.

          And what’s with this pomposity? “How quaint”? Are you a caricature? I’m more wary of SMITE’s continued success because of HiRez’s track record with free to play games. Anyone remember Tribes Ascend?

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            “How quaint”
            Simply a way of him overestimating his opinion as fact when compared to that of the countless millions playing Dota and LoL and the designs of one of the most successful PC game companies around, nothing more.

        • Jools says:

          It’s kind of funny to see someone put it this way. I have a few pals that I play Dota with and we all play Smite occasionally when we’re looking for something light and easy to blow off steam in. I’m not saying it isn’t a good game since I actually like it an awful lot, but I’d consider it to be much more shallow than either Dota or League. To each their own, though.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Honestly as someone who plays a lot of FPS I just found Smite a very poor effort at a 3rd person action game. It has none of the strategic element of LoL or DOTA due to the view being so restrictive. It’s basically just a bunch of hopping around aiming skillshots with MOBA style abilities. I’d rather play a good FPS.

  9. dmoe says:


  10. GeminiathXL says:

    I think people are overreacting to the artifacts. To me, this is another way to not only customize my heroes, but also a progression that will make me keep coming back for another game (for another bag of gold).

  11. Low Life says:

    No offense to Mr. Earthfury, but why are they adding this character to the game? I haven’t even heard of him and I’ve played WoW for 8 years. Are they planning to do something with him in Warlords of Draenor and need to make sure people know who he is?

    Why not add, say, the Warchief of the Horde?

    • Nevard says:

      Honestly my feeling is that they’re working on at least ten heroes concurrently and are just releasing the ones that are closest to done rather than doing them in any particular order. I can’t think that there’s any other explanation for why they’d release so many specialist/support heroes in a row. Alpha testing and all that.

      There’s no doubt that Mr Thrall will get added eventually, bits of him already exist in the files. He’d probably be more of a Tank or Damage role than Rehgar, who is a Support/Healer, there are enough Warcraft Shaman abilities to fit probably five or six characters, and Vol’Jin’s pretty certainly going to appear eventually too (his Shadow Hunter abilities would also give him a much different role than Rehgar has). Not sure which of those two you were referring to with the “Warchief” comment!

      • Low Life says:

        Vol’jin of course ;)

        Didn’t even realize Thrall’s not in the game yet. That’s just silly.

        • Nevard says:

          Ah yeah, most people’s main complaint was “why this orc shaman rather than Thrall?” and I don’t think that many people on RPS keep up with Warcraft canon.
          I wouldn’t worry about Vol’Jin’s chances either though.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            Also don’t forget they don’t want to add all of the well known characters in Alpha, then release the game and all of their future character additions are stuff people have never heard of. They need a bigger roster of characters at the moment whilst saving some of the main additions for post release or at least open beta announcements.

  12. Phendron says:

    The artifacts can be completely purchased with the free currency, pretty much matching LoL’s system of runepages.

    I’m interested in this change, I’ve found talents to be good but somewhat shallow at the moment.