Heroes of the Storm is taking its cosmetics out from behind a paywall

"We weren't a great free-to-play game before..."

Today Blizzard announced what is arguably its biggest update to Heroes of the Storm yet. Dubbed "Heroes 2.0", the update will completely revamp the game's account progression systems and cosmetic rewards, including adding Overwatch-style loot chests filled with new announcer packs, in-game sprays, and more. 

"We weren't a great free-to-play game before," Heroes of the Storm production director Kaeo Milker told me. "I think we were a really great game, but we weren't really a great free-to-play game." The 2.0 update is a significant change in strategy for a game that has previously locked nearly all of its cosmetics behind real money paywalls. Access to those extras have now been opened wide up, and Milker says he thinks "the barrier to entry is really low now."

The cornerstone of the change comes from Blizzard's decision to uncap hero and account leveling, which previously stopped at 20 and 40 respectively. Now both numbers can just keep going up, and your account level is simply the sum of all your hero levels combined. Milker said the goal was to introduce "frequent meaningful progression with rewards." The hero leveling experience curve has been significantly lowered as well, where before it could take up to 15 hours to get a single level up with a hero between levels 10 and 20, Milker now says it will only take two or three hours at most.

A comparison of the XP gaps between levels in the old system and the new one.

Each time you do gain a level, you are now rewarded with a loot chest containing four items. You'll also get special loot chests guaranteed to have higher rarity items at certain leveling milestones, as well as hero-specific chests to make sure you get skins or items for the heroes you are playing more often than others. "It's a lot of loot chests that you're going to get," as Milker puts it, even if you don't purchase any with real money. 

Just like Overwatch, the items in chest have various rarities and can include current things like skins or mounts, as well as any of the newly introduced cosmetics items (listed below). You'll be able to spend regular in-game Gold to reroll the contents of a loot chest, but you can also still buy specific cosmetics outright by purchasing a new currency called Gems. Otherwise, you can craft items with another new currency called Shards, which you get from loot chests and duplicate items. Milker told me that "there was a lot of content that [free-to-play players] just couldn't even touch," and that this was an opportunity for them to unlock that stuff for an audience that simply didn't want to spend money. 

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Flip through the gallery above to see some of the new cosmetics.

The new content being added significantly expands what players can expect to get from those chests too. The cosmetics being added with the 2.0 update are:

  • Battleground Announcer voice packs that change all but the unique map announcements to the voice of a specific hero (yes, including Murky).
  • Hero voice lines which can be equipped and used mid-match, similar to Overwatch.
  • Sprays which also function similarly to Overwatch and can be placed on the ground anywhere on the map.
  • Hero-specific Emojis that can be used anywhere you can type in the game, including mid-match. Every hero has a full set for themselves, and standard text emoticons are automatically replaced if you have the Emojis for the hero you are playing unlocked.
  • Banners which will now be automatically planted on the map whenever you destroy a fort or take an objective.

These join currently available items in loot chests like portraits, skins, mounts, and even heroes themselves. Skins and mounts will have their three color variations broken apart, each becoming an individual collectible rather than tied to your level, and there will be certain things you can only find in loot chests like the newly announced Prime Evil Diablo skin. Players have been wanting things like this Diablo skin and announcer packs for a long time now—and it turns out Blizzard has been wanting them too, as Milker mentioned that they've "wanted [announcer packs] so much that we've been recording them from the very beginning of the game."

All of these changes are coming with another long-requested addition in the form of a new hero called Cassia, who is based around the Amazon class from Diablo—specifically the Javelin build of an Amazon. The Heroes 2.0 update isn't too far off either, planned to hit the PTR later today before going live on April 25. You can see more about all the progression changes here, or hear game director Alan Dabiri talk about the 2.0 update as a whole here.

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