Heroes of the Storm (previously known as Blizzard All-Stars, previously known as Blizzard DOTA) makes small changes to the MOBA standard of 5v5, three-lane-style gameplay that add up to create something that feels wholly fresh. The development team at Blizzard has done away with the item shop, there's no gold to be farmed, characters ride mounts instead of purchasing boots, leveling up happens as a team rather than individually, neutral monsters help push a lane instead of dying when defeated, etc.
However, out of all the changes Heroes brings to the genre, I found myself most drawn to the way the game handles having multiple maps. In-game, these maps are referred to as "Battle Grounds," and though that may sound like a minor distinction intended to sell the "we're different!" angle of the game, I'm okay with changing up the nomenclature.
Blizzard games have historically featured strong single-player campaigns that are remembered long after they come to an end, whether it's Arthas' overzealous cleansing of Stratholme in Warcraft 3, taking control of the Zerg swarm as the newly christened Queen of Blades in StarCraft, or wading through the depths of Hell itself to dispatch the Lord of Terror in Diablo.
Heroes of the Storm's Battle Grounds take challenges and environments fit for a single-player experience and translate them to the MOBA genre with sublime results. Garden of Terror, the Battle Ground I played, featured a day and night cycle with the bonus objective of hunting down Night Horrors.
Night Horrors are special monsters that, when slain, drop seeds. Should your team collect 100 seeds, you can – for a limited amount of time – become the Garden Terror, a giant plant monster with a ridiculous amount of health and powerful abilities.
For example, the Terror can drop a curse which turns enemy players within the area of effect into plant zombies, neutralizing them for a short period. Even more devastating, however, the Terror can summon a mass of vines to disable and damage enemy structures, making it an invaluable ally when pushing against enemy defensive structures.
When I took control of the Terror, I was reminded of missions like "Media Blitz" from StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty, where players can control the Odin - a special, ultra-powerful unit not normally playable. The decision of whether to hunt down seeds or keep pushing the lane adds strategy to the game, and such objectives prioritize teamwork and communication instead of an individual seeking glory.
Another Battle Ground, called "Cursed Hollow," features capture points which must be sought out, fought for and guarded. When one team holds three at a time, the opposing team is cursed; their minions have their health reduced to one, and towers can no longer attack. The fight becomes more desperate, and defenders must work extra hard to keep themselves from being overrun.
In both of the above situations, it's important to pay attention not just to what you and your team are doing, but what the enemy team is up to as well. This keeps gameplay from feeling too simplified, and players actively engaged. It's different, and I can't wait to see what twists other Battle Grounds will have in store.
Heroes of the Storm feels different from other MOBAs I've played, and more importantly, it feels fun. If the price for that is a swap from calling the place I crush my enemies a "map" to a "Battle Ground," so be it. In other words, I don't care what the locations my chosen character fights on are called, just give me more.