Time for another non-article post. I’ve got a few big posts that are all kind of waiting to be finished but keep growing larger and larger (hey, I heard that audible groan). In fact, they actually started out as one and split due to length and topic spread. MMO-related, in any case. I was on a slight MMO binge and, as always, it makes me think of how flawed the genre has become over the years; how a games “success” is rated, how unwilling any developer is to take a chance – yet when they attempt to create a carbon copy of a successful product they miss out on the subtle but integral things that made the initial target so appealing… many thoughts, many words to write.
One game that I have absolutely fallen in love with lately, and find myself hard pressed not to ponder about at work, is Heroes of Newerth (“HoN”). Being created by S2 Games, the developers behind the Savage series (of which I have some experience), HoN aims to replicate the experience of DotA, a Warcraft 3 map which has evolved into a phenomenon and a tournament game. Frankly, given the long time success of DotA I am surprised someone hasn’t done this already, although we did see Demigod attempt to earlier this year being the same style of game – it just failed immensely on, again, realizing what made the original game popular (one thing everyone enjoys about DotA is the wide character selection, currently the game has over 90 heroes to choose from – Demigod has 8). Also seeking to claim some of the DotA landscape is League of Legends, which is in beta as well. So, the competition will certainly be there, and it will be interesting to see what DotA players think of the games, and if the majority of them will even be willing to change. HoN seems to claim the most interest because it is a very faithful reproduction of the original game. The developers have essentially cloned DotA up until a point, and are now brewing up new heroes of their own device and tweaking existing ones. It’s also interesting to note that since HoN is a full game and not a Warcraft 3 map as DotA remains to be to this day, it has some pretty significant advantages – namely it’s extensive statistic tracking. It should be very easy for the developers to see which heroes are being played the most, which might seem out of the ordinary, common item builds or possible exploits and so on. As well, HoN contains some features that DotA players would absolutely die for – such as the ability to rejoin a game if disconnected. Being that HoN games commonly go for 45 minutes to an hour or more, disconnects are not an uncommon thing, and the ability to rejoin a game is immense as people dropping is a huge problem in the oiginal game. As well, HoN implements a “leaver” system where it will track your percentage of games left unexpectedly and go so far as to let players disallow certain leave percentages from joining their games. This was another huge issue in DotA as, since everyone was essentially anonymous and there was no way to have statistic tracking for a custom map, if people were doing poorly in a game they would just leave, thus in many cases ruining a possibly good game for the other 9 players.
Every aspect of HoN oozes with strategy, even from the very first game screen there are significant metagame elements involved as each team chooses their heroes; counter-picking one another or choosing random (which lets you start with extra gold), letting the timer run out to hide a pick, one player picking a hero in a draft early and swapping it with a teammate later – these are just some examples, and the game hasn’t even loaded at this point.
When the game does load, you’re bombarded with a slew of more choices to make. What skill build are you going to go on your chosen hero? Possibly more importantly, what item build? There are many items which you can buy and eventually combine with one another to turn into powerful weapons. After choosing some starting equipment, you need to figure out which “lane” you are going to go to. Lanes are the main pathways from each team’s base, and there are 3 lanes, with 5 heroes per side. This means one hero has to “solo” a lane, which has many interesting side effects as they may have a harder time going solo, but they will also advance more quickly since they gain more experience from being alone.
As the game progresses, each side fights to push the lanes toward the enemy base. Waves of allied NPC units (“creeps”) that spawn at your base and traverse down the lanes, fighting whatever comes in their path, assist in this goal. When you finally enter the enemy base, destroying key buildings can make your creeps stronger and creates a lot of pressure on the enemy base. The ultimate goal is to destroy the opposing team’s main building at the back of their base.
While the environment and items make up a huge part of the game, the heroes really steal the show with their unique array of abilities. From summoning a voodoo doll that transfers damage it receives to its target, to making an impassable boundary by tearing a fissure through the ground, to literally picking up and throwing one enemy at another one; there are a lot of possibilities for very interesting combinations of heroes and abilities. Again, this really enhances the metagame aspect of picking the right heroes and making sure your team has good synergy. Your team might have an incredible ability to deal damage, but no stuns or disables and thusly can never finish an enemy hero off. Or your team may have too much of an emphasis on disables and not really have anyone to do the big damage necessary to capitalize on them. Of course, there are always items to fill in the blanks with activated abilities like being able to go invisible, or apply a reflect damage buff, or disable an enemy hero by transforming him into a critter for a few seconds. There are endless possibilities and somehow, through it all, the game manages to be incredibly well balanced.
Heroes of Newerth is currently in beta, but invites can be found pretty easily. I’ve got a couple left myself so if you’re looking for one feel free to drop me a line with your e-mail.