Along with our group-selected 2015 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as one of the year's best.
MOBAs can be complex and threatening games. They have dozens of characters with unique abilities to learn, item stores filled with wrong choices to make, and a demanding mechanical barrier to overcome. But Heroes of the Storm manages to emphasize everything that makes a MOBA fun while reworking or removing the things that make them intimidating. The focus on streamlined mechanics coupled with some of the most interesting map and character design around, and it’s no wonder Heroes of the Storm managed to find an audience in a genre dominated by League of Legends and Dota 2.
During its beta, one of the most common criticisms I heard about Heroes of the Storm was that it was “MOBA-lite”, a casual option for those who weren’t good enough to play in the big leagues. Now, six months later, I agree that Heroes of the Storm is a more casual MOBA, but I mean that in a positive way. It still has a high skill cap for competitive players, but it’s also a game that I can jump in and out of on my own time. I can play a few rounds with my friends without feeling the pressure of all the things I don’t know. Removing items, skill points, per-player levels, and last-hitting means there’s less to think about for the individual player, but that doesn’t mean it gets rid of the potential for high level strategy.
A lot of that strategy comes from the battlegrounds. Having so many different maps—each with their own theme, objectives, and tactics—is a huge reason I'm still playing Heroes of the Storm. It keeps the game fresh when you don’t know what world you’ll be fighting on, and I immediately fell in love with all of the tiny details on each map. They have their own music, announcers, mercenary designs—and some of my favorite maps have nothing to do with the gameplay. I am not a huge fan of Blackheart’s Bay’s layout (I prefer smaller maps like the now retired Haunted Mines) but you're giving doubloons to a ghost pirate. What more do I need?
And, of course, if you're familiar with Blizzard’s other games, then there’s just something special about sending Diablo into battle against Thrall. It’s the Smash Bros. effect, and similar to Nintendo, Blizzard has done a great job of making all the characters feel at home together. Weird and cool character designs like Abathur, The Lost Vikings, Murky, and most recently Cho’gall fit into the lineup of otherwise recognizable and relatively standard options. The creation of a new world, The Nexus, lets them all live in a middle ground so that no single franchise feels more at home than the others. The addition of two Diablo themed maps actually feels like an odd misstep until they balance it out with some Warcraft and Starcraft maps as well.
Blizzard didn’t reinvent the MOBA, and the one they made is by no means perfect, but what makes this game so impressive is that—for potentially the first time ever—they’ve made the genre accessible to a wider audience. That doesn’t make it better or worse than the likes of League of Legends or Dota 2, but it isn’t a small feat considering its competition prides itself on complexity. Learning how to play Heroes of the Storm never felt like doing homework, it just felt like playing a game. I enjoyed the hundreds of hours I put into getting good at League of Legends, but Heroes of the Storm was a MOBA I could enjoy right off the bat—and one I don’t need to devote my life to keep enjoying.