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Heroes of the Storm hands-on: learning to MOBA

I was as excited as I was nervous to play Heroes of the Storm.

I know MOBAs, but I have limited experience with the multiplayer online battle arena genre. Developer Blizzard Entertainment calls Heroes of the Storm an "online team brawler," but it's the same idea you'll find in games like Dota 2 and League of Legends. You fight for control of lanes. Players control heroes. Battles ebb and flow as each side whollops other players, their AI minions and towers in a battle of attrition leading to the others' base.

I know these games. I've seen these games. I've watched eSports commentary about these games. I've written about these games. What I haven't done enough of is play these games.

So at PAX East, when I met to play Heroes of the Storm with the game's director, Dustin Browder, I was a little apprehensive, where by "apprehensive" I mean "nervous that I'd look like a fumbling fool." With Browder at my side, I sat down to play.

It's helpful, of course, to have the game's director over your shoulder. I don't know how I would have fared without him. But what I do know is that, with Browder serving as my living, breathing tutorial stage, I had a blast and finished wanting more.

In Heroes of the Storm, players control their characters indirectly. You see a group of enemies, and it's your job to click and position your hero in close enough proximity to attack, which you'll do automatically. You're also equipped with several rechargable power moves, which you can unleash at the press of a key.

For a beginner like me, the most difficult part was understanding what's going on. There's a lot going on. At first, Browder's experience with the game made it seem like he had a preternatural ability to peer through the fog of war. He guided me into skirmishes, told me when I was in trouble and suggested retreat before I realized I was even in danger.

But just several minutes later, I could see much of what he was seeing. I saw who was best to attack, learned to keep an eye on my health bar and when it was best to buff my AI teammates or unleash a devastating power move.

My favorite part of Heroes of the Storm involved a mini-dungeon in the middle of the top lane I traveled in. Enter it, and you'll have the opportunity to battle foes and a boss. The twist is that the other team is also well represented in the dungeon. You're both fighting to gather skulls, which will assemble into a creature on your side when you leave the side quest.

I entered and gathered an overwhelming number of skulls twice. Those summoned a destructive ally that, perhaps more than anything else, ushered me toward victory.

Heroes of the Storm takes some getting used to, and that's a potentially high barrier of entry for the MOBA uninitiated. But Browder said that Blizzard is designing tutorials with inexperienced players just like me in mind. If the upcoming game's tutorials are even half as good as Browder's in-person tips, new players should feel at ease.

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