Thursday, October 27, 2022

HotS is the best Moba + Teamfight Mechanics Spitballing

So Heroes of the Storm has officially stopped receiving development- in other words, it's in maintenance mode. It is now a dead game. Long live Heroes of the Storm.

I want to preface this by saying I've played pretty much every MOBA. Back in the day, me and my friends played League of Legends. Later on, we played some SMITE and Dawngate, with a larger amount of time dedicated to Dota 2. I've also played HoN a little bit and even actual Dota in Warcraft 3's Custom Maps (but my favorite custom map was always Wintermaul Wars). I'm only listing off these figures for one reason; to say out of all of them, I feel pretty strongly that Heroes was always the best.

The reason? There's a few- the first is game speed and accessibility. Heroes is a lot faster then the other games, which while not good on its own, it's nice that most games are over at 20-30 minutes as opposed to an hour long slog that a decent number of league games would turn into sometimes. It's less hardcore nature also  certainly helped; removing things like last hits and denies makes the game objectively less skilled based, but the gains in making players on each team focus more on teamfights and teamplay then their own personal item collection is a gain.

Secondly, and more importantly, is the diversity in the game's characters and maps. Even having more then one map is already pretty unique among this genre of game- and while most Moba's focus on having one really well designed and well balanced map, I don't think you lose much by having a small cadre of symmetrical maps with different objectives and aesthetics to break up the monotony. This will feed back into tabletop games eventually, I promise.

But the big thing is the characters. I remember first playing Dota 2 after League of Legends and thinking "wow, they actually let you play characters with abilities that can grief this hard?" like Io being able to teleport teammates around, or 6 second stun AoEs, and things like that. But then you get to Heroes and the unique characters there blow everything else out of the water. Once again, it's less about their inclusion in the game IMO and more about the fact that you can play them which breaks up the sameness of the game. You can play a game as Murky, a very weak murloc with little to no teamfight potential who just ignores half the game to push lanes out. You can play Abathur, who is a useless slug who sits in base and puts his parasite on his allies to empower them halflway across the map. It's very unique and not something other games do.

However when it comes to gameplay; the thing that heroes of the storm does better then any other MOBA is forcing teamfights. Every map has "objectives", which are things like collect X number of objects that periodically spawn, or hold and control one or two points on the map. Typically, these objectives are really easy to do for even one player all by themselves- but whichever team completes the objective they will gain a huge benefit. Typically, large monsters or waves of minions will spawn down one or multiple lane, destroying forts and pushing towards the enemy's core. This means that you can't really ignore objectives or else you'll lose the game; hence the team knows moreso when it's time to "fight" in games without this mechanic. In other words, the game is more heavily guiding or even forcing your teammates to group up- leading to more interplay.

But that's enough about this game; let's talk about teamfights.

Art @Kerasco√ęt

Teamfights
Now in tabletop RPGs, combat is not necessarily the main mode of gameplay; but in both combat and all other forms of gameplay; teamwork and teamplay are pretty much always a given. This is partially because the players have more control over each other (including the GM/DM) and are less likely to go off on their own- both for the sake of the game and as it will be more optimal. In a video game where each player is controlling their own character, no such controls exist. 

Most "fights" are, however, mostly focused on defeating all of the enemies in the most optimal way possible. This makes sense, but is a bit simplistic. In Heroes of the Storm and other MOBAs as well, fights are about that ultimately, but there tend to be several smaller "side objectives" in a teamfight, which come up on a second per second basis. Due to the fast paced and real time nature of the game; certain small objectives come up during the fight which players have to rotate their abilities or focus on as they go. Now it's easy to say that this would just be the same as "playing the game optimally" and "winning" the fight, but often times fights in blank gray room theater-of-the-mind just end up as dealing damage to the enemy until they die with a little bit of target priority and focus fire- I think having more concrete and apparent goals, signposted by the GM, is a better way to set up combat encounters.

This sounds a bit vague, so let's come up with a practical example.

Say you have a character in your party who has taken a lot of damage and is now weak- only one or two more hits will likely kill them. There is an enemy who is about to unleash a powerful attack or spell that will end them; so your overall goal of "winning" the fight has now changed to stopping this attack from going off- since it will allow your teammate to survive and help win the rest of the fight- so you have to use either an action to disrupt this powerful spell (a stun) or focus that target to be killed first. This concept isn't very unique, but the difference is it feels much more real and immediate in a video game, due to the nature of the medium, then in a tabletop game.

I've had experiences like this as well. In one game I ran, a large monster was blocking a corridor and was chasing down the lightly armored Sage. Behind the monster, was the group's fighter, who used his action to slide between the monster's legs, while attacking, to put himself between the monster and the more vulnerable party member. I thought this was a cool example of teamwork in a way that made sense in the context of the game's universe- less "gamey" then if the Fighter had say a "stunning strike" move that interrupted the monster's next attack.

Another example is control points, or "King of the Hill". In a video game, this is a magic circle you need to stand in to change it to your team's color and hold it for a period of time. In the context of a game, you could do this by slaying enemies who enter the circle while staying there, but because it's a game using powers or moves to push enemies out of the circle. In-universe, this context doesn't make a ton of sense. The concept of "holding a hill" is from warfare and battle strategy; hills are good defensive positions because it is harder for enemy soldiers to move up a hill, and because you can shoot down at an enemy while they have a disadvantage to throw or fire arrows up, and so on. But if an commander just told their soldiers to focus on "pushing people off the hill" as opposed to killing them, it wouldn't accomplish much and would kind of defeat the purpose of "holding the hill". Naturally it is this concept and the childhood of game of being on top of a hill as where the video game concept of control points comes from. It's an abstraction of holding key positions or resources made into bounds in a video game, so a computer can arbitrate the outcome of a match.

However, tabletop games and fantasy can give us this style of gameplay. Imagine the burial site of an ancient powerful sorcerer or dragon. It is said that whoever stands on top of its grave at sundown on this day will determine the revived creature's alignment. So if only your good aligned PCs stand on its grave, it will come back as good, but if a bunch of evil orcs stand on its grave, it will come back as evil. The resurrection spell cannot be stopped, but you can help control its outcome. In this fantasy scenario, I actually think the strategy of moving enemy's off the hill as opposed to just killing them outright works best- since you need to ensure that as many possible creatures on the burial mound are good aligned. Attacks in tabletop games can kill but have to deal damage first, have a chance to miss, and enemies who are struck down may still be "alive", just in a dying state, which could muck up the ritual. In this scenario I could easily see a Monk being a great asset, using judo-throws to get orcs off the hill just before the sun goes down and the magic is complete; a sort of primary objective that is more important then "winning the fight".

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