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Heroes Of The Storm Alpha Update: Orcs & Artifacts

Post of the News, Update of the Game

"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):

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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 beta profile page.

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