Heroes of Newerth Review
Developer: S2 Games / Publisher: S2 Games / ESRB: Unrated / Played on: PC / Price: $30.00
“Never play this game again”
“You’re the biggest loser in this game”
“I’m not quitting until you realize how bad you are”
These are just a few gems you hear if you decide to play Heroes of Newerth as a dirty, filthy noob. If you’re not a Defense of the Ancients noob–and being a noob is the worst insult you can imagine–you will enjoy HoN. However, if you inadvertantly stumbled across Defense of the Ancients there’s a good chance you’ll hate this game and every second you spend with it.
Heroes of Newerth emulates the play style of Defense of the Ancients, the genre-spawning Warcraft 3 mod. Each match takes place in an arena with up to three “lanes,” or paths down which monsters (called “creeps”) spawn and automatically move forward to attack. You control a hero on a team with up to five other players, and your goal is to destroy the opposing team’s base. This is as much info as the in-game tutorial provides, which is just enough digital rope with which to hang yourself. Actual matches are infinitely more complex, and if you aren’t up to speed, other players will be more than happy to let you know (more on that later).
Each match can last anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour, and is composed of a few distinct phases. When the match starts you’ll split amongst the lanes and try to kill the enemy’s advancing creeps to gain experience and gold while killing your own to prevent the enemy from doing the same. Experience earns levels, which increase stats and skill points, that in turn can be spent on triggered skills, whereas gold can be spent on better equipment and life restoring potions back at your base. This phase is very delicate, considering you don’t want to kill enemies too fast, because then you’ll press too far into the enemy’s territory, leading to death, experience for the other players, you losing potential experience until you respawn, and of course vitriolic hatred from your teammates.
After twenty minutes or so, killing creeps doesn’t grant worthwhile experience, so it’s time to strike out into the wilds. Wooded areas that separate the lanes are populated with higher-level creeps that don’t move, so during this phase heroes set out to kill them. Naturally, this is also a perfect time to gang up on other heroes. Once heroes clean most of the map and attain the higher levels the fireworks start flying. At this point all the heroes tend to roll in a pack, looking for other heroes to jump or structures to attack.
And this is all neglecting the fact that there are (as of writing) 62 different heroes to play, all displaying different skills and play styles. Some heroes are great at jumping enemy heroes and then pulling back (initiators), inflicting area damage (nukers), roaming the wooded areas for creeps (junglers), and some are intentionally weak in the early game but can dish out the hurt later (carries). There are over ten hero archetypes, and some subtly blend more than one role. Learning the nuanced implications of even one hero can provide hours of play, so my mind boggles that there’s probably someone (unemployed) out there who has mastered them all.
Heroes of Newerth is a hyper-complicated game of chess, with the caveat that you can just walk up to a chess board and have some fun as long as you know the rules. Years of DotA experience still doesn’t guarantee fun here, mainly because the hardcore HoN players are some of the worst people on the planet. They have years of experience with this game type, and are thoroughly impatient with those that don’t. Playing in unranked or “no-stat” games helps get you acclimated, but given the lack of bots or a tutorial that explains the finer points of the mechanics, a newcomer’s only option is to endure hours of frustrating floundering and mockery. It’s been a long time since I wanted to hurt people over the internet, but HoN made me regret giving up on developing a groin kick that could be sent through the TCP/IP protocol.
Don’t be surprised if your first reaction is ‘Boy, this looks exactly like Warcraft 3.’ HoN predictably emulates the big brother from which the mod originally evolved, with bright colors, blocky visuals on the units, and bouncy animation. Units are easy to distinguish, and every hero is visually distinct. However, the game’s three maps use the same texture sets, so there’s no visual variety. This game is obviously more about the strategic meta-game than eye-popping visuals, but even the striking look evokes a sense of been-there-done-that.
The game’s menus and interfaces are well designed and easy to navigate, using icons to represent the game’s major functions (viewing stats, match making, etc). The game’s overlays are a nice touch as well – specific events will cause sparkly red letters to shoot across the screen. Nothing’s better than having someone drop out only to have “RAGEQUIT” pop across your monitor as an announcer screams the phrase.
Controlling HoN involves excusing a number of annoying holdovers from Warcraft 3, chief of which is the RTS control scheme that excels in giving you control of several units, but is cumbersome when controlling only one. Even though you only control one character, you still have to click to move and attack. This results in a bunch of superfluous input, as you have to click each time you want your character to dodge an attack or get in better position. With only one character to control, I should be able to control and attack directly though I’m sure such mentalities prove that I don’t “get it.”
Auto-attack is another annoyance. Your hero automatically beats on any creeps in range, but even the tutorial tells you that you don’t want to do this, as it will kill creeps too fast and result in you progressing too far into enemy territory. You can prevent this by constantly moving your hero back and forth or hitting H to hold him in place, but given the game acknowledges that you shouldn’t do it, why make it a default behavior for your character?
HoN’s announcer is its audio’s best aspect, reminding me of the commentator from Unreal Tournament or the narration from Gauntlet. He announces kill streaks, and while killing the entire opposing team is satisfying enough, a booming and echoing voice screaming “GENOCIDE” will make you feel warm and tingly. The rest of the game’s audio isn’t as enjoyable, though. The music is so bland I only realized it was playing on occasion, and the unit responses are annoying as hell. Luckily both can be turned off in the options.
Heroes of Newerth is a love it or hate it game. If you’re a DotA buff, get this game – it has all the stat tracking, boss complexity, and ease of use you could want. For everyone else, your only recourse is to watch a ton of replays, read wikias, and spend hours with some of the nastiest people on the internet. The community mentality is “if you aren’t good, don’t start playing,” and given that you can’t play with anyone but them, that’s a real problem. If that sounds fun for you, then dive right in, but everyone else should stay far, far away.