Blizzard added its latest battleground into its rad new MOBA Heroes of the Storm this week, and boy is this map a weird one. Called "Towers of Doom," it takes some of the most sacred principles of the genre and either throws them out the window or distorts them beyond recognition. It's a bold experiment, but is it fun?
I only managed to play a few rounds on Towers of Doom last night since Heroes randomly assigns different maps for each game you queue up for. So far I've found games on it to be very fast-paced and chaotic, mostly in a good way. You can watch me play one game in the Doom Towers in this video:
To understand what's weird about the map, I should first tell you what a standard MOBA map is at this point. All of the maps in Dota 2, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm focus on a single primary objective: to fight your way to the back of the enemy base and destroy a single central defensive structure. The name of this unit is different based on which game you're playing ("ancient" in Dota 2, the "nexus" in League, and a "core" in Heroes), but the way you accomplish your objective is always the same: you push your way through several lines of the enemy team's defences by killing hordes of computer-controlled "minion" enemies, destroying buildings, and, presumably, fighting the enemy players in the process. A match ends when one of the two teams breaks past the last line of defences and hacks at the enemy core until it explodes. Standard RTS stuff, almost:
The objective in Towers of Doom is still "destroy the enemy core," but how you go about accomplishing that goal is totally different than normal. Both teams' cores are positioned behind an impenetrable wall of defences that will obliterate any enemy who tries to walk into them:
The map also has a line of outer defensive turrets like a standard MOBA level -- though it only has one instead of the normal two.
Much like the cores, the turrets work differently than they usually do. Whenever you attack and destroy one of the opposing team's turrets, it doesn't just blow up and cease to exist. It comes back after a second as one of your teams turrets:
You're probably now wondering: But if you can't attack the core, how do you destroy it? Instead of pushing directly towards the enemy core, you have to manipulate the rest of the map by capturing other objectives in order to damage the core remotely. The core objectives are spirit altars that pop up at four different points on the map at regular intervals.
They look like this:
Controlling the alters is typical "control the point" fare: one player has to go up to it and click to begin capturing the altar, and remain unharmed for a moment to do so successfully. Once your team has captured an altar, your core and every turret you currently control will lob some sort of bird-shaped spirit cannonball at the enemy core.
Each cannon deals a single unit of damage. Both teams' cores start out with 40 hitpoints; the first to reach zero loses the match.
As I mention in the video above, Towers of Doom feels like a logical conclusion of several design trends that Heroes of the Storm has been tinkering with since its inception. The game prioritises powerful game-changing objectives already in its other maps, just to a lesser extent. In the pirate-themed map Blackheart's Bay, for instance, you must compete to collect gold coins as fast as possible and then turn them in to a ghost pirate at the center of the map, who rewards you by lobbing his ship's cannons at the enemy base.
The objectives in Heroes maps are so much more powerful than anything else in the game that you pretty much have to pursue things like the gold turn-ins if you want to be serious about winning. In Blackheart's Bay, this has lead to some curious dynamics forming. The turn-in location is located in a small square patch at the center of the map that's outside any of the game's three lanes -- a place that might be considered part of the "jungle" in a more traditional MOBA like League. Teams will therefore spend the entire game in that single, relatively small chunk of the map in order to make sure they have complete control over the objective and prevent the enemy team from turning in. Doing so means you can easily demolish the enemy base without ever having to set foot anywhere close to its defences.
Towers of Doom feels like Blizzard noticed the way that people were playing Blackheart's Bay and decided to make a new map built on a concept the old level only alluded to. Rather than encouraging players to fixate on an in-game objective and thus avoid pushing straight to the enemy core, the new map requires you to. It deliberately dismantles the singular focus of normal MOBA gameplay.
I haven't played enough games on Towers of Doom to render any final judgement on it, but I definitely find the sheer unorthodoxy of it exciting in its own right. I like Heroes of the Storm the most when it's at its most inventive -- casting aside the often-too-rigid strictures of MOBA genre demands in favour of celebrating inventiveness and fun more wholly -- like they also did recently with the new two-player hero Cho'Gall. Seeing how frequently and eagerly the developers at Blizzard come up with these seemingly bonkers ideas and bring them into HOTS, it's hard not to be enthusiastic about the future of this game.