Quick primer for those who are not familiar with Heroes of Newerth: It's the incredibly popular Warcraft III
mod, Defense of the Ancients, but built on a brand new, custom-made engine and released as a standalone game by developer S2 Games. Yes, I know, we've heard that promise before with Demigod
, but this game doesn't take quite so many liberties with the formula. In its beta build, it already has clones of almost all the original DotA heroes, as well as some new ones built by S2. Combat takes place on exactly the same map. Basically, this is
DotA, rebuilt to be strong enough to stand on its own two legs. It's currently in a closed beta, and should release sometime this year (I think) for $30. I'm not sure if its going to be digital distribution only of it'll show up in retail, but something tells me the former.
So I think I'm allowed to talk about it? The NDA says I can't post any screens, so you get a logo and a big ol' wall of text, but that's better than nothing, right? Oh, and before you ask, I'm out of invites. But if you ask really, really
nice, I'll pass your email along to a bro and he might invite you.
Let me get this out of the way right now: I never played Defense of the Ancients. I played through most of Warcraft III when I borrowed it from a friend, but I never bought the game, thus I could never play online and get into the custom game scene. I had friends who did, though, and they're the same people who got me on HoN. Point being, you're getting impressions from someone who has very limited experience of this game's direct predecessor. This means two things for you: first, that I will be unable to comment on some of the more subtle changes between the two games, such as character tweaks, map changes, etc.. Second, it means that I'm going into the game fresh. I think this should make for a more objective opinion on the games core strengths and weaknesses, regardless of whether or not they were present in DotA.
Taking a cue from Jon Holmes, I'm just going to use the bullet point format. Let's start with the pros.
Things I like about it:
-General aesthetic of the menus, even if it is mostly stolen directly from Warcraft III
(see: all the typefaces, menu panels coming in on chains), is extremely well put together and functional. Lots of great original art was created for this game, and it all works very well.
-The interface has been streamlined to more directly address the core gameplay. Again, this is something I can't directly comment on, being that I wasn't a DotA player, but it's worth noting that I found the HUD and controls extremely easy to learn.
- The core mechanics are solid. The minute-to-minute gameplay is very enjoyable. You simply focus on controlling your hero and coordinating with your team members, stripping away the micromanagement elements that drove me away from RTS's in general. You still have to pay extremely close attention to your minimap (which looks very much how you'd expect it to if you've ever played an RTS) and you'll quickly learn how important the location of your hero is, but overall you should have a good time playing HoN.
- One of the biggest advantages of making DotA into a standalone game is that it instantly solves many of the issues that plagued it. To hear my DotA veterans explain it, issues related to players disconnecting and finding games of the appropriate type have rendered DotA nearly unplayable at this point. You're extremely lucky, they say, if you can find a game that lasts more than 15 minutes with each player remaining in the game. That was the kind of thing that drove S2 to want to make a standalone game, so naturally great effort has been put into the games browser, as well as the way it handles connections to the games themselves.
- The graphics. Again, it doesn't stray very far from its Warcraft III roots, but the engine is much newer, allowing for great special effects. S2 has done a great job with models and voice work for all of the heroes. The end of you match is punctuated by an extravagant destruction animation as your opponents' final structure falls.
- You have the ability to call a vote for your team to concede, which means if your team has essentially already been totally outclassed by your opponents, you don't have to protect your leave percentage by standing around and letting them beat on your team until your final tree falls. This conveniently tends to lead to much shorter games.
- It supports voice chat, which is a nice bonus and should help the all-important team play aspect of the game.
- I'm not totally convinced this should be in the 'pros' category, it's more of a simple observation, but this game is amazingly
postmodern. I mean, here we have a game that theoretically will be marketed as its own product, independent of any other game. And yet it's still a mod. It retains all of the ridiculous tropes that made it so painfully obvious that DotA was a fan-made project. When you kill another player, the kill confirmation reads 'Player X pwned Player Y's head!', just as it did in DotA. Hell, it even has the damn Quake
sounds! I mean, they're not the Quake
, but when a team is doing particularly well, enormous red letters flash across the top of your screen as a deep-voiced announcer proclaims BLOODBATH
. And that's just one of many
phrases this announcer has. I could really go on about this guy and how he effects the game, but you might be better off finding out for yourself.
Things I don't like about it:
- The userbase. This is sort of a problem that's bleeding over from DotA, as the vast majority of HoN beta testers are DotA vets. As such, they have a very low tolerance for noobs. Disconnecting when a game is going poorly is still a problem, though it is mitigated somewhat by the concede option I mentioned. Still, though, the userbase is a serious problem in the beta, and if they don't expand their audience when the game finally releases, I don't see myself being able to tolerate them for very long.
- Stat tracking. Oh my god, stat tracking. Everything you do in this game is tracked in an extremely wide variety of ways, and its all put on display for absolutely anyone to see. The result is that people become stat whores, for lack of a better term. They'll refuse to play on teams with poor stats, and they'll change their play style to better protect their stats from harm. I mean, the tracking is a fine idea in theory
, but it's really all too public at this point. The fact is that engenders play and behavior that is simply not fun, and it could really hurt the game in the long run.
- It's kind of a small complaint, but I'm not really a fan of how the game currently handles clans. My friends and I made a clan so we could more easily keep track of one another within the game, but because being in a clan assigned us all with a giant, obtrusive [FTM] before our names, we found it very difficult to find opponents who were willing to stay in a lobby when the entire other team was sporting the same clan tag. We abandoned the clan very quickly.
- Even though the core mechanics are easily nailed, there is an incredibly punishing learning curve at work for players like me. The fact is, in order to be an effective player, you have to know the exact moveset, abilities, and strengths and weaknesses of every single hero
. And there are more than 30 of these guys. Then there is an incredibly deep item purchasing system in place that also needs to be mastered, lest you be endlessly pestered by your teammates, calling you such colorful names as 'mega nab' and 'bad bad baddie'. Yes, seriously. If you've never played DotA, you're in for a very rough first few games. And by first few, I mean first few dozen
So what's my verdict? If you were ever a fan of DotA, definitely look into the beta if you can. You'll have to decide for yourself if DotA is worth $30 to you. Because at the end of the day, that's what HoN is. I'm simply not convinced that they've put enough into it to set it apart from its predecessor. read