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Review: Heroes of Newerth (PC)

Ah, tower defense. Sweet tower of love. Dig it or hate it, the genre of online strategy games has become a mainstay in the browser enthusiast’s arsenal – and a popular request from readers to write reviews for. Personally, I find these titles can grow very boring very quickly, especially when taking into account the ever-growing number of super simple and super addictive TD titles like Gemcraft and Bubble Tanks. In short, it’s tough to make a TD OSG stand out. Enter Heroes of Newerth, the latest from S2 and built around the existing Defense of The Ancients. I’ll say it right now: if you aren’t a WoW fan, you aren’t going to enjoy Heroes of Newerth. Thankfully, the inverse also applies.

Heroes of Newerth pits players against one another in two factions which spawn on opposite sides of a given map: the Legion and the Hellbourne, with towers spaced evenly between the two home bases. As you’d expect, every half minute or so you get slammed with characters intent on sending you back from whence you came, bringing you into the heat of battle almost instantly without much time to gather one’s bearings – but honestly after a few games it’s refreshing to jump right into battle. I found it kept the pacing quick and interesting, as I’m sure you’ll agree. When formulating your faction, there are dozens of characters to choose from when building your unit, each with their own set of four specialties / magics in tactical offense / defense while only controlling your main character, and everyone levels up automatically (see image below). It’s all real time, and computer generated creatures were often mixed in with the real server gamer population, which makes your tactical skills all the more important – fast reflexes are key, and  I had no problem keeping up with the majority of what was thrown at my towers. Having only spent about fifteen hours total with this game, I was unable to fully maximize my character’s abilities (as each of the 60+ peeps/creeps available has his/her/it’s own set of quirks and strengths). Experience points are built as you and your troop rack up kills, and gold deposits into your account over time regardless of your performance (or lack thereof) – however the amount can increase depending on your kill strike (dealing that perfect blow to Snakeboy’s skull will result in a higher payoff at your next deposit time, for example).

This is the sort of title that will grow with you, dear player, if you’re willing to put in the time. Think of it as a built-in reward system. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. I felt disadvantaged to many tried-and-true HoN players I encountered because of their deep familiarity with the others in their party, even if they weren’t being directly controlled. Scaled beasts that initially raided my central tower were hurling fireballs that I unsuccessfully reflected, for example, until I figured out a counter-curse to freeze the fire and stave off attack. Details like these are where true strategy come in, as each attack (and each attacker for that matter) have different strategies, which require alternate approaches to offense and defense. Initially I tinkered with the sparse tutorial offered to new users, but I’d suggest skipping it as the tutorial doesn’t offer much in the way of strategy advice, merely how to navigate through everything, which is fairly simple and straight-forward. On-screen controls are intuitively placed, and although labels weren’t common, I had no problem figuring out everything fairly quickly. Even sub-menus are basic and easy to understand, in less than twenty minutes I was up and running. Be a man and skip the tutorial.

To start with a bit of history on this title and similar titles, it’s no wonder why WoW III: The Frozen Throne served as inspiration to so many MMO and online RTS titles. Healthy support for user-generated maps were the main reason and several titles followed in its footsteps, including Heroes of Newerth following S2’s Defense of The Ancients. Any gamer familiar with DoTA will instantly draw their likenesses – but with a new engine that makes everything smoother, faster and more biting than anything WoW or DoTA has to offer, Heroes of Newerth becomes very attractive, even to tried and true TDS and MMO gamers. The fluidity of the new engine was apparent to me instantly, and within an hour of initial gameplay my face was perma-grinning. I’ve also learned from S2 that the game’s net code has been altered to allow booted players (be in a lousy internet connection or a PC that has crashed) to join back into a team’s current position and map instantaneously. These are major improvements for the genre, improvements that were noticeable for the entire duration of testing. Very, very sexy. Feedback received from other players through the past month has confirmed these changes have trickled down to (all?) players and are nothing less than orgasmic.

It’s also quite easy to see how DoTA fans have been, and will likely continue to hemorrhage over to HoN. I like to research what a title’s community is up to before writing a review, and found that most of the major HoN forums, groups and even Reddit communities are former DoTA players. The games are so similar it’s not difficult to understand why, but as mentioned, HoN seems to have improved on DoTA in nearly every way. It’s a great deal for S2 as well, having the built-in audience to feed HoN. Several server outages got in the way of playtime, which were nothing short of annoying, but persisted for only two days (July 1-2). I scourged for notices about scheduled outages, but the blips were inconsistent (and forum posters reported similar outages). The aforementioned net code feature which allowed me to hop back into my game upon re-connect was very convenient – but ironic in a way; the only game that I’ve had connection issues with is the game that has an auto-resume feature built in. Hmmm…? Hopefully these issues have been ironed out by the time this article is published. One final piece of advice – stay out of the pro servers until you’re ready, dear reader. Those nerdy bastards’ll flay you alive. Game on!

                                                   

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