Just humor me, ok?
In a way, this is one of those reviews that feels utterly pointless to write, and I feel like I’m committing the online equivalent of wasting ink (wasting internets?). That’s neither praise nor criticism for the game in question — it’s just my own melancholy observation that, whether you’ll play Heroes of Newerth into the wee hours of the morning or avoid it like the plague, nothing that I say is going to sway you one way or the other. Think of it like Harry Potter or Twilight or those incessant Tyler Perry movies — everyone’s made up their minds to see it or skip it before it’s even been made.
[image1]But for a game like HoN, which relies entirely on its community and is, after all, the prettier spawn of a nearly decade-old user-created Warcraft III custom map, that comes with the territory. Both HoN and its inspiration, DotA, live and thrive on word of mouth (approximately 95% of which is either creative variations of the f-word or detailed discourses on “why you’re gay”).
Like so many things, it’s best to start with the beginning. In HoN‘s case, that beginning goes all the way back to 2003 when Defense of the Ancients was first unleashed upon the world. A review for HoN may as well be a review for DotA, since the former is based almost entirely upon the latter, right down to the specific heroes, items, maps, and abilities you use in the game. S2 Games specifically asked IceFrog, the current DotA creator, for an okay because they didn’t just use DotA as inspiration, they openly cloned it.
The concept is as simple as it always was: take control of your hero, on a team of up to five players, against the opposing team in an effort to destroy their central structure first. Kill creeps and heroes to get gold and experience, and then use them to level up and deck yourself out with buff items. The formula is the pinnacle of both elegant simplicity and rabid addiction.
HoN improves upon its predecessor in a variety of ways. The most patently obvious is in the visual department; while this game may not hold up extremely well to other modern titles with bigger production values, the colorful, more fluid graphics are a significant upgrade to DotA.
[image2]More importantly, though, the interface has a number of improvements that really go a long way towards fixing much of what made DotA frustrating. Being a stand-alone game has its perks: HoN isn’t bound by the limitations of battle.net’s custom map system. What does that mean for you? Well, games will hardly ever be cut short by leavers, which was a big problem for DotA since there weren’t any safeguards in place to punish such behavior (which I refer to, scientifically, as “douchebaggery”). HoN tracks the games players intentionally leave, and lets you create games that are restricted only to people with a good track record.
But what if you’re legitimately disconnected? You won’t ruin the whole game anymore — upon logging back in, you can rejoin a game in progress from which you were disconnected. These features ensure that most HoN games will actually be played out to completion, which is a welcome change for any DotA vet. And if the match is a total beatdown, a team can concede with a unanimous vote at any time.
Another plus for the game is that the hero abilities are now all mapped to the same four keys, instead of DotA‘s hotkeys which were all over the board for every hero. Kind of a downer to all of us who spent time memorizing all the old hotkeys, but I gotta admit it makes more sense. And of course, if you really want to move the hotkeys around, HoN lets you reset the key bindings. It’s win-win!
And on top of all that, HoN has its own voice chat functionality built into the game. Even if you’re playing with strangers, you can all yell at each other about how much of a noob your teammates are without the use of Ventrilo. And people actually use the in-game voice chat instead of Vent, a feat that not even the mighty Blizzard could pull off with their ill-fated voice chat in WoW.
[image3]Unfortunately, some things still detract from the experience. There’s still one glaring issue from DotA that seems to be inescapable, no matter how gussied-up the game looks: The player community, by and large, just simply consists of a vast majority of assholes. Something about the competitive play, the thrills of kill streaks, the agony of being pwned — whatever it is, both DotA and HoN (and other spinoffs, like League of Legends) bring out the inner elitist in players. And as we all know, gamers are far from humble even under normal circumstances.
If you can tolerate the poor sportsmanship, or better yet, embrace it, HoN is an incredibly fun and addictive experience. But I’ve known several people who, despite acknowledging the merits of the game itself, detest it purely because of the way it turns otherwise amiable people into rabid gaming fascists. And having been a DotA player myself on-and-off for the past seven years, I certainly can’t say I blame them.
Another issue worthy of mention is how beginner-unfriendly the game is. There’s a decent tutorial included, but to be successful at this game you need to know all of the heroes, all of their abilities, and all of the items, since both your team and opposition will always be drawing on that pool of possibilities. Knowing your own hero inside and out won’t do you any good if you aren’t aware that Thunderbringer can nuke you from across the map or Legionnaire can instant kill you at low health. With the large roster and content being added every patch, it’s quite a daunting task to get into the game now.
So here we are. I’ve made my points, and hopefully you’ve acknowledged them even if they don’t matter in the long run. If this is the game for you, chances are you’re one of the tens of thousands of people who’ve been playing beta for months. If not, I doubt I could change your mind. The only real compelling argument for getting into the game now comes from that group of friends who spend hours a day playing, telling you how great it is until you finally give in and join the madness with them.
Not that you won’t have fun — just try to remember when the insults start flying that everyone was a noob once.