Heroes Of The Storm Proves That A New Warcraft Strategy Game Could Work

Heroes Of The Storm Proves That A New Warcraft Strategy Game Could Work

Heroes of the Storm is a really fun game. But playing it as a Warcraft veteran can hit a little too close to home.

It can be difficult to remember since World of Warcraft has been so popular for so long (it was first released in 2004), but the original Warcraft games that inspired Blizzard's iconic MMO were an entirely different beast. They started way back with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994, before the rockstar PC developer had ever released a Diablo or StarCraft game.

After Warcraft III and its corresponding expansion pack The Frozen Throne were released in 2003, Blizzard decided to take its legendary RTS series in a dramatically different direction. Instead of producing another boardgame-like isometric title about leading great armies of orcs, zombies, or elves into battle against one another, the developer turned its gaze towards making World of Warcraft, a multiplayer role-playing game linked to its predecessors by aesthetics and lore alone. As for any direct sequel to Warcraft III? Despite fans begging and pleading with Blizzard to keep the Warcraft RTS series going, they never did.

Looking back, Warcraft's transformation was a long time coming. Whenever Blizzard spoke about Warcraft III during its long development period, they'd mention wanting to inject more and more RPG-like elements into the game. The end result of their experiment was a game that combined traditional RTS-style activities like building bases and managing large diverse groups of units to attack and defend with unique "hero" characters. These heroes had distinct special abilities that let them, say, heal nearby soldiers, or take out a whole group of bad guys at once.

Ironically enough, MOBAs grew into a distinct genre precisely because of Warcraft III's innovations to the RTS template. The first real MOBA, Defence of the Ancients, was just a heavily modified version of Warcraft III. Dota's core objective — destroying the enemy base before they destroy yours — was still the same as Warcraft's. Its only difference was how you accomplished that. Instead of controlling tons of different units during battle, Dota put players in charge of a single hero character. And instead of constructing multiple different buildings that could then produce and upgrade units for your army, Dota automatically spawned foot soldiers and sent them charging across the map at regular intervals. It was like an RTS, only with much more action and far less micromanagement.

It's unnerving for a longtime Warcraft fan to boot up Heroes of the Storm and see someone like Thrall, the orc warchief Warcraft III opens on, or Uther, the holy paladin character who steers you through its early levels. For a point of comparison. this is WCIII-era Thrall:

Heroes Of The Storm Proves That A New Warcraft Strategy Game Could Work

And here's the new-gen Thrall as he appears in a Heroes of the Storm today:

Heroes Of The Storm Proves That A New Warcraft Strategy Game Could Work

These are guys I've spent years waiting and hoping I'd get to see in action again. (Note: Thrall and Uther both make appearances in World of Warcraft, but it's not quite the same, is it?) A certain generation of PC gamers primarily knows them as they appear in the original Warcraft series: tiny, toy-like warriors you could control as they did their best to muster their forces and assemble defences against an oncoming scourge of undead monsters.

The first time I played a Heroes of the Storm match as Thrall and cast his chain lightning spell on a group of enemy minions nearby, I was struck with an overwhelming wave of nostalgia. It's the same exact spell he could cast in Warcraft III. Were it not for being a MOBA as opposed to an RTS, he'd practically be identical. Thrall even jokes about being back in an isometric game after all these years if you right-click on him enough times that, in true Blizzard fashion, he starts saying silly stuff. The main difference between now and 13 years ago is that the warchief looks a lot spiffier dressed up in modern PC graphics.

Heroes Of The Storm Proves That A New Warcraft Strategy Game Could Work

Heroes of the Storm is a solid game. But a large part of me also wants to see Thrall and his Warcraft compatriots back in their real isometric environment — in a new Warcraft real-time strategy game.

The question, of course, is: would a new Warcraft RTS actually work? That's a legitimate concern. League of Legends and Dota 2 became ridiculously successful games by stripping away many of Warcraft III's RTS elements (base-building, unit management) so players were left with individual hero units to control and little else. It's easy to see why these changes helped League and Dota surpass their predecessors in popularity: they refocused gameplay squarely on fast-paced combat over the complex economic micromanagement required to play an RTS, making the games more exciting and easier to understand for casual players the world over.

A couple important things were lost in the evolution from RTS to MOBA, though. While RTS games can be played a bunch of different ways, MOBAs are team-based games that can really only be played on very specific types of maps in online multiplayer. This means there's no single-player mode in a game like Heroes of the Storm. And there's also no room for a game to have a legitimate story as a result.

Warcraft III has a strong legacy in the many games it inspired, and the new hybrid genre it helped create. But if I look back at the game itself, it's the single-player campaign that really stood out to me. The hero characters in Warcraft III were an ingenious way to wed the game's epic storyline with the moment-to-moment nuances and intricacies of actually playing the game, constructing buildings and marshaling your forces to defend or attack. Playing as Prince Arthas as he struggled to maintain control of his dwindling forces during the first act of Warcraft III, I really felt like I was some beleaguered commander losing his grip — both on his strategic position and his sanity. Struggling to hold off the burning legion as the night elves in the game's calamitous final missions hammered home the message that yes, you really were fighting over the fate of the world. That was the real beauty of Warcraft III: the way its methodical and tense strategic gameplay reinforced the exhilarating highs and dispiriting lows of its story.

Heroes Of The Storm Proves That A New Warcraft Strategy Game Could Work

There aren't really moments like that in Heroes of the Storm. This is partly because HOTS is an unabashedly silly melting pot of a game that throws together characters from Blizzard's assorted fantasy and sci-fi universes. But MOBAs aren't great storytelling vehicles in the first place either. Instead of letting you play through Arthas' disturbing fall from grace and his eventual betrayal of his fellow humans, HOTS just gives you the ending of this tragic tale: King Arthas, the undead lich king. You don't see Arthas as he was at the beginning of Warcraft III — a fresh-faced prince eager to impress his father and prove that he could some day become king. You just see the villain he's turned into by the end of the game. There isn't really room for complex personal drama and character progression in a tightly-framed team-vs.-team match that will probably be over in 20 or 30 minutes.

Before Heroes of the Storm even came out, Blizzard making a MOBA seemed like an inevitability given the company's history making top-down PC games like Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft — i.e. the games that first inspired people to create MOBAs. It's odd to consider Warcraft as the one game that no longer really fits into the mould.

Warcraft fans like me who've picked up the game are seeing characters like Arthas and Thrall the way we've not-so-secretly wanted to see them again for more than a decade. So I have to wonder: since Blizzard already went through the trouble of making all these intricately-crafted Warcraft heroes to drop them into HOTS, would it really be too much trouble to bring them together again in another Warcraft strategy game? MOBAs only came into existence because a group of passionate Warcraft fans cracked the game open and started messing around with its insides. Can't it work the other way around too?


Comments

    All I want, is for one day a reporter to ask Blizzard "Will you make another Warcraft RTS?" and hear these exact words...

    Me happy to.

      I just hope they don't say "I'd rather be sailing" :P

      Haha, that'd be great... Also, them replying "zug zug" with a wink would be acceptable :D

    And here’s the new-gen Thrall as he appears in a Heroes of the Storm today: [image] These are guys I’ve spent years waiting and hoping I’d get to see in action again. (Note: Thrall and Uther both make appearances in World of Warcraft, but it’s not quite the same, is it?)

    Appearances?
    Are... are you fucking kidding me? The development of Thrall as a character, his 'appearances' (read: KEY ROLES) in World of Warcraft are central to the lore of nearly two entire expansion packs, FOR BOTH FACTIONS, and he interacts with you, naming your avatar character as his champion and eventually friend, alternately offering his assistance or requesting yours. 'Seeing him in action' is something some players even complained about seeing TOO MUCH OF. '"Years of waiting?" You could've logged into WoW any day in the last five years and got your fill of Thrall.

    But it's just "not quite the same" as seeing his de-powered self trundle about a Fisher-Price My First MOBA? No shit it's not the same. The MOBA Thrall is a pale imitation, a minute of fan-service.

    I know it's popular to revise history to suit your argument, but to pretend it doesn't exist at all is a pretty special kind of damage.

    (For non-WoW players, this is effectively like someone writing about how they loved the character Obi-Wan Kenobi when he was introduced in 1977's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but since the character's death in Episode VI, Lucas studios haven't done anything to explore the character's background, and he's been waiting thirty years to see Obi-Wan in action again, in his upcoming Disney: Infinity appearance. Oh, sure, there were some appearances in three fucking movies, an animated series, and several comic runs, but it's not quite the same, is it?)

    Last edited 01/07/15 6:03 pm

      You know, you could have worded this post so you didn't sound like a raging asshole and instead as someone with valid points.

        Yeah, I'm really not seeing how that comes across as 'raging asshole' unless you're thinking about the insult to Heroes of the Storm as a MOBA-lite, or the initial, insulted exclamation of 'are you fucking kidding me?' Otherwise, I'm not sure which emotive language is setting off triggers there. Caps, maybe...

      Your point was?

        The point was that Yannick has claimed to be waiting for years to see more of his favourite characters in action, and decided to ignore the bulk of the work in which that already happened because... I don't know, he didn't like it? Per the example I mentioned in my edit, it's as if someone claimed to be waiting thirty years to see any information about Obi-Wan because they've ignored the existence of the prequel movies. It's kind of idiotic.

      Holy shit dude take a chill pill. He's right world of Warcraft is non cannon and to say otherwise is dumb. World of Warcraft took all the great story elements of Warcraft and ruined them, then pissed on them and set them on fire. To any 90'sand early 2000's rts players Warcraft the rts was as good as it got story wise and hero development.

      Wow is just trevival just like your argument

        Actually, you're pretty much just outright wrong. WoW is the new canon, and it ties into all the books and comics that are produced around the lore as well.

        You might as well be claiming that the prequel star wars movies aren't canon because you didn't like them. The creators decide what is or isn't canon, and they've made their decision that the events of WoW in fact are canon.

        (Edit: additionally, you do realize you're talking about the validity of WoW-canon in defense of Heroes of the Storm, right? You think WoW was 'pissing on and setting on fire' the story, but you're cool with the lore of HotS?)

        Last edited 02/07/15 10:19 am

          No I'm not cool with either give me Warcraft 3 lore or give me death. I've since given up in warcrafts story all together since I think it's all pants.

          Last edited 02/07/15 10:28 am

      Are you kidding me? It's not the same... because you can't play as Thrall. You can't play as Uther. You aren't guiding them through their stories...

      A more pertinent analogy would be that we've been waiting for a new Doom game for decades. Sure, there was a Doom movie, but it's not quite the same, is it?

        See, from my reading, that's really not his point. He wants an RTS back primarily because he wants the story and to see the characters in action, but he's been given that story and action in a level of depth that Warcraft 3 could only dream of and you could see was trying for with all its in-game-engine cinematics, and he's turned his nose up at it and pretends it doesn't exist because it wasn't RTS.

        The quotes:
        "A couple important things were lost in the evolution from RTS to MOBA, though." ... "This means there’s no single-player mode in a game like Heroes of the Storm. And there’s also no room for a game to have a legitimate story as a result."
        "Warcraft III has a strong legacy in the many games it inspired, and the new hybrid genre it helped create. But if I look back at the game itself, it’s the single-player campaign that really stood out to me."
        "That was the real beauty of Warcraft III: the way its methodical and tense strategic gameplay reinforced the exhilarating highs and dispiriting lows of its story."
        "There isn’t really room for complex personal drama and character progression in a tightly-framed team-vs.-team match that will probably be over in 20 or 30 minutes."

        So he's primarily after story, but rejecting the fact that there are years worth of story, hundreds of hours of quests and voiced dialogue revealing that story in a deeper, more intimate way that WC3 never could or did (and arguably in a way no RTS can or will) and he's ignored it because it came in MMO packaging instead of RTS.

        That's not the difference between a doom game and a doom movie, it's the difference between an MMO and an RTS (which itself moved away from strategy+armies to heroes+tactics, making it more MOBA-like and in fact setting the stage for MOBAs).

          But to be fair, it's not Thrall's story (or Uther's) that you're playing out in WoW - it's your own, with them as guiding influences. I'm not a WOW player, but do you actually get to see Thrall doing anything, rather than just giving you quests?

          I mean, don't get me wrong, he's an important character in the game... but in terms of actually playing him, and guiding him through the game like you did in the RTS games... it actually is different. He's a supporting actor, rather than the protagonist - sure, he gets a fair bit of screen time, but it isn't his story - that's the difference.

            Yeah, you get to see Thrall doing heaps. That's why I said people actually complained about it - Alliance players felt Thrall was getting way too much spotlight for them considering he's part of the Horde. And for all the really major players in the world, the story turns out to actually be their story - eg: Thrall's story and you're just along for the ride, smoothing out the bumps, helping. Some folks felt it wasn't fair that Arthas was effectively finally slain by an NPC (Tirion Fordring getting the killing blow) rather than the 25-man team of players who get vaguely referred to as 'heroes'. Players have objected to expansions being about Thrall and not them. If you're a Thrall fan... WoW is where it's at, not WC3.

            The difference between your involvement with Thrall's story in WC3 to WoW is pretty astronomical, too. In terms of lines of dialogue delivered while you're actually in 'control' of Thrall, WC3 doesn't have a heck of a lot. If you're generous and include the game-engine cinematic sequences, it's still insignificant by comparison. Past, present and future all get a look in, and the depth of backstory isn't just hinted at, it's fully explored.

            Warcraft 3 is a chapter of a book, compared to World of Warcraft's series of books.

            And the idea of Thrall being a supporting actor rather than the protagonist in WoW? Actually holds true for WC3 if you remember. WC3 wasn't about Thrall and his one-faction simple plot-line campaign, either - down to brass tacks it was really about the Night Elf immortals facing off against their ancient foe, with some orcs and humans along for the ride. "Sure, he gets a fair bit of screen time, but it isn't his story - that's the difference."

            Last edited 02/07/15 12:30 pm

              Wow, I had no idea! I love WC lore but never really got into MMOs, but it does sound like there's a fair chunk for Thrall-lovers in there.

              That being said though, I'd love to see him back in the RTS games.

              Last edited 02/07/15 3:14 pm

    I'd love to see a RTS warcraft game again. When are they making WC1 and WC2 playable on modern PC's? I'd love to play those again too

      If they won't give us a new RTS, they could at least remaster the original 3 games (ans their expansions if they're nice)

      I know I'd pay whatever amount to get my hands on some all modern classic Warcraft.

    I'm not a big RTS fan, generally, but I did play the Warcraft RTS games, and their expansions. I loved the lore that built up around them, and I wanted to know what would happen to the characters next.
    Then WoW came out. It crushed my dreams, because at the time I knew I wouldn't be able to afford playing a monthly subscription fee to just control some character I make up to experience the stories I wanted to. I can empathise with the author of this article.

    Pick the guy that commented on this thread that's sad lonely, and has spent more time playing WoW that time doing everything else in their life combine.

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