Heroes of the Storm is to League of Legends as Hearthstone is to Magic: The Gathering, and yes, that’s not a good thing.
Old Blizzard made games that were easy to get into but hard to master. New Blizzard makes games that are easy to get into because there is little to master. Hearthstone is an ‘accessible’ card game because not only is it incredibly shallow, but luck plays a huge, often game-deciding role, so even a poor player will think they are doing fine. HotS is ‘accessible’ because most of the actions one needs to think about and make in a MOBA are removed, and what’s left is so slow and ‘who cares’ tainted it puts you to sleep after only a few games.
Before I get into mechanics, is Blizzard not capable of making above-average looking games anymore? HotS doesn’t look bad, but why is a game that is still in beta worse-looking than an older game like LoL? If you aren’t going to make the gameplay interesting, can’t you at least make something that looks better?
HotS doesn’t have a “most people play this most of the time” map like summoners rift. Instead it has a collection of what LoL usually does with short event maps; gimmick stuff that moves away from the core MOBA gameplay. LoL doesn’t keep those gimmick maps around for long because people tire of them quickly and return to the core map. HotS struggling to retain people isn’t a surprise when you ignore the core of the genre and instead make an entire game around a gimmick.
The gimmick maps in HotS are also pretty boring and cheesy. Each one is ‘collect/claim this when the time is up, cash in, move closer to winning’. It makes the fact that the game has lanes and minions comical, because they really don’t matter, and in fact are more of a distraction than a core component. A ‘minion wave’ isn’t really a thing in HotS, which much like Hearthstone and the remove of land cards, cuts a huge chunk of gameplay and strategy right out without replacing it with anything worthwhile. Its a reduction in the learning curve without any replacement at the back-end.
The intent was to kill the laning phase and have the game be all about the team fights (so basically, ARAM), only you aren’t in a single-lane map, so ‘team fights’ is just as often about moving around the map is it is about actually fighting. I don’t think trading minion last-hitting and laning only to ‘gain’ “ride around 50% of the time” is a good trade for a MOBA, but people do love mount collecting so hey, maybe it will work out for the game (spoiler: it won’t).
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the game is how sloppy it feels compared to LoL. Blizzard was known for taking an existing idea (or entire game) and adding polish. HotS is Blizzard taking LoL, making the core design worse, and then releasing it without said polish. Hero movement feels like everyone is ice skating around the map, and skill shots feel terribly off compared to the animations. Standing next to a laser beam still resulting in you taking damage, for example.
Hero design, from my limited experience, is what you would expect from a dumbed down LoL. The usual simple skills are there, while combo abilities or something remotely complex/interesting seems to be missing. Additionally, the game is overall much slower, so killing someone feels like it takes forever unless someone walks into a 4v1 situation, and even then the odds are decent they escape. An entire game might end if two heroes stand next to each other and auto-attack before someone dies. Not that it matters, because killing someone also feels completely unrewarding. No gold gain, no fanfare, and only marginal, behind-the-scenes progress towards victory. Amazingly Blizzard has made a MOBA where killing the other team doesn’t feel special, which is really saying something.
The biggest problem HotS faces is that unlike with Hearthstone and the utter lack of any competition in terms of similar titles (MtG:O isn’t on mobile, and is itself horrible as an interface for MtG), this game is walking right into the most popular genre out with a pitifully weak offering. LoL isn’t just the current king of gaming because of its depth of content and ability to draw in everyone from casual to ultra-hardcore, it’s also the far more polished experience compared to HotS, which usually is the one thing Blizzard does better than others. If HotS makes it out of beta, I’ll be surprised, because right now the game might be the worst thing Blizzard has ever produced, and that includes Hearthstone.