Review: Heroes of Newerth
Heroes of Newerth is a multiplayer-only real-time strategy game developed by independent developer S2 Games for Windows, Mac and Linux. As opposed to traditional real-time strategy games where you control vast armies of units, Heroes of Newerth lets you control one in a constantly growing roster of over 60 heroes and tasks you with working with your team to battle the enemy forces and ultimately destroy their base.
(For more information on this sub-genre, see the wikipedia entry on MOBA)
HoN is a direct clone of the popular fan-made Warcraft 3 map Defense of the Ancients All-Stars with the goal of translating the source material’s highly addictive gameplay into a smoother game engine while improving on it’s various flaws.
The most immediately obvious improvement is the graphics, bumping it up to current RTS standards while keeping most of the vibrant, exaggerated high fantasy feel of Warcraft 3. While it doesn’t look as good as some upcoming games, or hold up when fully zoomed in, the graphics look mostly solid when viewed from the default, zoomed-out position.
If Heroes of Newerth looks like an improved version of Warcraft 3, it could also be said it controls like one. The pathing is much improved and special abilities are by default activated with the QWER row of buttons but apart from that it’s the same old default controls. If you’ve played any PC RTS you shouldn’t have any problems.
Getting into a match in Heroes of Newerth is as simple as clicking the Matchmaking button, selecting a region and waiting for enough players to start a match. Alternatively, you can host or join a custom game to play with your friends or in a (somewhat) less competitive environment with different game modes. You can currently not play Matchmaking with your friends, although a team matchmaking system is being worked on. The leaver protection system keeps you away from unwanted players, and you don’t have to worry about adding a leave to your stats if your internet connection gets a few small hiccups; the game lets you reconnect within five minutes.
When you get into a match the first thing you do is pick (and depending on game-mode, ban) heroes. This might seem like a harmless step, but it is in fact one of the, if not the most important moment of the game. If your team lacks an initiating hero to land the first strike in team battles, or good damage-dealing heroes whose strengths covers all the game’s potential phases (early-, mid- and late-game) or you simply lack synergy between your team’s heroes, the game can be over before it’s even started. A single unexpected or bad hero pick by the last player on your team can be enough to tip the scales.
If the very concept of losing a 30-60 minute match (that you can’t leave unless you want your account flagged as a leaver) at the first minute doesn’t make you dive at your security blanket; congratulations, you’ve passed the first test. Heroes of Newerth might actually be a game for you. Maybe.
There is a basic tutorial covering killing towers, leveling up, using your abilities, and a few examples of items you might want to buy, but it’s not nearly enough to brace a new player for the complexity and depth they will be charged with mastering. HoN is as hardcore as they come and completely unapologetic about it.
After picking your heroes you are thrust straight into the match, starting either at the northeast position as Hellbourne or the southwest position as Legion in what is known as the Early Game or Laning phase. Legion and Hellbourne creeps (NPC non-hero units) spawn at the base entrances and travel along three Lanes towards the enemy base. Teams generally split themselves in three parts, with two heroes on each side lane and a strong team-independent hero in the middle lane. The goal of this initial laning phase is to gain in levels and items faster than your opponents by killing creeps for gold and experience, while killing your own creeps when they go low on health to deny the enemy of said gold and experience. If the enemy team gives you an opening to go for a hero kill, most often by overextending themselves, go for it. Killing enemy heroes not only requires them to wait to respawn, losing both gold and experience, but gives heroes participating in the kill a massive burst of xp and gold. Generally, dying in Heroes of Newerth strengthens the enemies more than it hurts you. This creates a kind of “weakest link”-dynamic where good teamplay is incredibly important because a single player on your team falling behind can cause the power of the opposing team to snowball into a situation where you just can’t turn it around anymore.
When the heroes in the middle lane starts to approach level 6 they will generally break their laning phase and start roaming to set up kills. At this point, map awareness becomes key. You should always be asking yourself “Do I know where the entire opposing team is?” and if the answer is “no”, then you should be asking yourself “How do I know that they aren’t hiding behind those trees?”
Within a short while the roaming heroes will force everyone out of their lanes, and the playing field opens up a lot. From here on out, the focus of the game is to gank (group up on and kill), avoid being ganked, set up traps and counter-ganks, and avoiding the traps your enemy has set for you. If you see an enemy hero vulnerable alone and you don’t know where his team is, the safe bet is “they are behind those trees, hoping you’ll take the bait.”
It’s a balancing act, because while you don’t want to leave the enemy team alone so they can kill creeps en masse and grow strong, neither can you ignore your own need to farm. Taking into account all the enemy team’s abilities and the various items they may purchase in order to counter yours is essential. If you fall behind, you won’t be able to push in through their towers and destroy their base, and that’s still the long-term objective, not racking up kills (no matter how fun it is.)
All of this depth and complexity causes some true high moments when you’re playing with friends and doing good, but it also causes some true lows and nearly every great strength of Heroes of Newerth is also the cause for a great flaw. The incredibly demanding nature of the game and the passions it inspires in it’s players combined with the way the weakest link truly can bring a whole team to it’s knees can cause a lot of frustration and drama. Add to this John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, which demonstrates that even a completely reasonable person can quickly turn into a hateful bigot asshat on the internet and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Heroes of Newerth community beats out World of Warcraft for the title of “second most vile gaming community on PC”, only barely getting outdone for first place by the community surrounding Defense of the Ancients, the very Warcraft 3 map HoN was based of. Thankfully, S2 are working hard on a functional “report a player” program that is likely to cool the flames a bit.
In the end, Heroes of Newerth is truly well-made and deep with as much balance as a game with a growing roster of over 60 characters can ever hope to have and is a great game to play with friends. If you have interested would-be teammates, it’s definitely worth the lower-than-average price of 30 dollars. If you don’t have any interested friends and the HoN community sounds like someplace you’d rather not be, I suggest you at least wait until S2 releases trial keys so you can try it out.
Developer: S2 Games
Genre: RTS/Multiplayer Online Battle Arena
Time: Normally about 30-60 minutes per match. Near-unlimited lasting playtime.
Gripes: Large time commitment, hateful community, insufficient tutorials, no offline play whatsoever.
Get it for the: Deep, complex gameplay, nice visuals, constant updates, leaver protection, matchmaking, great focus on team play, large cast of heroes with varied play styles, incredibly low latency, low $30 price.
Disclaimer: I have played over 200 matches of Heroes of Newerth on Windows across the closed and open beta and some 30 matches since release.