Last week, William talked about League of Legends being the superior MOBA title in comparison to Heroes of Newerth and DotA 2. Today, I’m going to point out why he’s wrong. First, going on a point William made in his article, yes, every MOBA/ARTS (Action Real Time Strategy) title is essentially the same thing: teams work together to kill the enemy base, as well as enemy towers, heroes, and NPCs along the way. But there’s a certain way that Heroes of Newerth is able to do this that helps it stand out above the rest. Not to mention that at its inception, it was a straight up port of DotA, including the port of many heroes, as well as the obvious inspiration in some of the heroes made by developer S2 Games in their favorite DotA heroes, and unique ones as well. League of Legends actually tends to go out of its way to not play like HoN or DotA; you can’t deny enemies, barracks/inhibitors respawn, intsead of juking through trees bush automatically makes you hidden, you don’t lose gold when you die, etc. By doing this, it eliminates a large part of the strategical element that makes these games so much fun; I should not be able to go from playing a 1/5 Twisted Fate, purchase the proper items, and then proceed to ring up 11 kills in a row, all while picking on the other team’s Twisted Fate because he’s a squishier hero.
Let’s go back to the moniker ARTS, one that is preferred by the legions of angry fanboys on the interwebs, as well as myself, for a specific reason: it contains the word “strategy.” See, HoN, LoL, and DotA are all strategy games. HoN and LoL were born from DotA, which was a mod from WarCraft III, a strategy game. The basis for DotA was a map called “Aeon of Strife” from StarCraft, also a strategy game. Removing strategical mechanics from a strategy game doesn’t make any real sense in my mind. For example, let’s look at denying, which was removed because “it increases the early game imbalance between ranged and melee champions” and it “leads to passive gameplay.” I don’t know about you, but 1.) I’ve done a lot of denying as melee heroes in HoN and 2.) if I’m, say, a ranged hero with a long attack range and I see someone being anxious to deny, I’ll just attack the enemy hero, which will give me creep aggro, which will drag them towards me, which will make it harder for them to deny the creeps, which gives me the chance at more XP and gold.
The chess matches that occur in the middle lane between heroes who keep positioning enemy creeps to make it easier to last hit and deny result in some pretty active gameplay. Perhaps the greatest part of HoN is the challenge the game offers. Make no mistake, this is a difficult game to play; even when you do everything perfectly, a Pebbles or Fayde can come out of nowhere, gank you with their combo, and before you finish blinking you’re dead and all your hard work and farming is all for naught. The penalty for death is steep and when one team gets going, there’s usually very little to stop them. Sufficed to say, the entry level for newcomers is quite steep compared to LoL, but once you get over that initial curve, the game becomes more fun and, as mentioned before, more strategical.
There are those who say that, unlike League of Legends, which contains mechanics that help the game’s balance between teams be even regardless of momentum, that once a hero or a team gets going in Heroes of Newerth, the game is essentially over. However, this is actually quite false. While yes, it’s hard to overcome a farmed Emerald Warden or Flint Beastwood, it’s far from impossible; truth be told, the heroes are actually quite balanced, with a couple of minor exceptions, and for the most part, there’s a couple of important factors that determine the outcome of games if your teams are evenly skilled. First, there’s the counter picking and item aspect of the game. For example, the current meta game lends its way to a tankier hero lineup, so you’ll often see picks like a Predator to counter a hero such as Armadon. One thing to keep in mind with hero picking: you can’t pick duplicate heroes per team. Second, there’s hero placement during fights; even if you’re a farmed Emerald Warden, you’re quite squishy and without proper placement and items, you can be CC’ed down in no time. Hero placement is vital in HoN, especially since dangers lurk around every corner and adds a tactical feel to the game that is only magnified when you factor in that the game’s pace is significantly faster than that of both LoL and DotA 2. The faster pace gives the player an adrenaline rush during the heat of combat to where everything can change in the blink of an eye and can result in some highly entertaining matches to watch. The enemy team is too grouped up as they push? Here comes a Tempest portal key and ult to set things up, but Tempest gets stunned out of it and the tide of the team fight turns in a heartbeat as HONCaster “breakycpk” tries to keep up with the action as it unfolds; Dreamhack Winter 2011 featured some of the best matches the genre has ever seen, thanks in part to the pool of 100+ heroes being able to bring about new strategies and team combinations never thought possible in a meta game that changes on the fly. While, yes, HoN is nowhere near the population team wise as LoL, the summer months are shaping up nicely with a Dreamhack Summer 2012 tournament planned with a $60,000 prize pool, as well as, hopefully, the release of HonTour and it’s six figure prize pool.
Then there’s, in my opinion anyway, the best thing Heroes of Newerth has to offer: the aesthetics. I’m not going to sit here and mention how I think the game features the greatest graphics ever produced, because they don’t. What they do offer, however, is a more realistic, gritty look, all in high res, with a fantastic UI, brilliant replay system that allows in-game stat tracking, a spectator system to watch your friends fail miserably or carry their way to victory, and announcer packs. Yes, announcer packs, so you can hear a British gentleman decree your awesomeness or Duke Nukem himself John St. John shout out “Kiss My Ass!” as you taunt your enemies. All of this comes together to make the game feel more alive, competitive, and entertaining.
Like LoL, there are alt skins to choose from for your heroes, and while they are expensive, something about them just screams that the developers have fun making the game. Take for example, Rampage, a hero who rides a rhino and charges his enemies. Have you meet his alt skin Rainbow Rampage? The jungle life can be a bit hard for Legionnaire, but not for his counterpart Lumberjack Legionnaire! The grunting of Predator too much for you? Here’s his Easter friendly skin, Bunny Predator! And finally, there’s Moraxus, the hero who talks in nothing but axe puns…oh wait, that’s his main skin; the alt skin for Moraxus is Chainsaw Moraxus. The challenge is definitely there, the tactics and strategy are present, and the competitive scene is ready to thrive; Heroes of Newerth‘s gameplay far exceeds anything else the MOBA/ARTS genre has to offer and is poised to take center stage at one of the premiere LAN events in the world this summer. With S2 Games turning a corner in becoming more consumer friendly, even reportedly offering the free to play hero pool becoming a static 30 heroes, Heroes of Newerth , behind stellar game mechanics, interesting heroes, and a fantastic aesthetic vibe, is ready to show the MOBA world what it’s truly capable of.