It’s easy to understand why hardcore veterans of the MOBA genre look askance at Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm. The genre has a reputation for a punishingly steep learning curve, and mechanics that mean the community doesn’t suffer new and unskilled players lightly.

For many, committing to learn the genre takes a thick skin, and scores of often thankless hours both in-game and theorycrafting online. Small wonder those battle-scarred gamers look at Heroes and all the concessions Blizzard has made in the name of accessibility, and deem it inferior to other games they’ve already put so much of themselves into.

Dota 2, League of Legends, and others like them are all superb games played by millions of people every day – and for good reason – but there’s also plenty of scope for a MOBA experience that speaks to gamers with less time and little interest in the highly competitive, frequently toxic environments these games unfortunately thrive in.

Heroes of the Storm flattens everything. There is no gold or items. Teams level together. Objectives vary level by level. Best of all, a game that runs to 30 minutes is rare. It’s a MOBA for gamers who are interested in the genre, but who don’t have the luxury of time that these games usually demand. That’s a profile that fits the team at Gameplanet pretty well. Every week, we’re turning over dozens of different games in our heads and in our hands, and it’s why we’ve been following Heroes closely since November last year. In June, we sat down with Heroes of the Storm senior game designer Richard Khoo, to learn what’s changed since we last looked at the game, and what’s up next before the game can move out of the current technical alpha and into beta.

“Since November we’ve done a large number of improvements to the game, most noticeably from a visual perspective,” begins Khoo. That includes a number of minor fixes, such as displaying all talents at once, and adding a new hot-key system for assigning skills on the fly, through to more visual feedback based on gameplay.

Catching up on Heroes of the Storm
Catching up on Heroes of the Storm
Catching up on Heroes of the Storm

In the future, Blizzard also plans to overhaul the game’s death screen. “We’re planning to do is to revamp our death encouragement system to an awesome accolades system,” says Khoo. “It’s designed to encourage you for the things you’ve done. We’re a very team-based game. We don’t want players to feel like they’re competing over resources with things like Last Hit, but we still want to [encourage] players to carry-on.

“One of the features that we’re working on for the next push is the concept of a Bounty system, so if someone has five kills, they’ll get a crosshair over their head so that the other team knows they’re doing good, and can gank him,” continues Khoo. “It’s also a nod to the person who has been doing extremely well.” The first iteration of the system – not yet implemented in the public, technical alpha, adds effects such as piled skulls or a flame graphic for players on killstreaks. Khoo compares it to NBA Jam: “He’s on fire!”

In addition to new characters introduced into the rotation, a number of characters have also been overhauled. “The biggest changes have been to Illidan,” says Khoo. “We’ve redesigned Illidan’s kit and reimagined him.

“If you remember Legolas from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, that barrel scene where he’s jumping around, doing everything? Kent-Erik Hagman, who is the designer of the original Illidan saw that, and was like, ‘Rich, I’ve gotta change this hero, man.’”

The changes Blizzard has made to Tyrael are emblematic of the company’s design process, says Khoo. “As our game evolves, our design philosophy will evolve with it. We’ve actually cut two of his abilities and made him more useable. He’s a little bit clearer in what he does, and he can actually help his allies a lot more.”

Catching up on Heroes of the Storm

There’s still a long way to go before Heroes of the Storm goes into beta, says Khoo. The kinds of changes that we discussed are constant, he adds.

“The core game is looking good but we still have a long way to go. We want to make sure all our systems – social systems, ranked play, good observer UI, watching, community stuff, the shop – are all fleshed out.”

Other features are still sitting in the pipeline. Blizzard is working on a per-hero progression system for each character. “We want to make it really sexy, show people how far they’ve completed each hero. We want to give you colour tints for getting really far.”

In fact, Khoo’s wishlist is extensive. “Then we want to get into match history and profile summaries, make sure there are a lot more character portraits. More, more, more… That’s what’s holding us back.”

“If anything, I get in trouble when I ask for too much stuff to get it,” he concedes. “Production goes crazy: ‘Why are you changing this!?’ And I’ll reply, ‘I just want to make a good game!’”

Now is the right time to sign up for the Heroes of the Storm alpha. Blizzard has just begun a massive in-take of New Zealand and Australian players, and set up servers in Sydney to deliver an optimal experience.

Interested players will need to opt-in on their Battle.Net Beta Profile Settings page.