When Blizzard added Johanna the Crusader from Diablo 3 to Heroes of the Storm earlier this week as a playable hero, it was quietly kicking off a larger Diablo-themed push for the multiplayer strategy game.
Titled "Eternal Conflict," a new months-long promotion for Heroes of the Storm will add more heroes (and villains) from the Diablo franchise, including fan-favorite The Butcher, and introduce a new battleground inspired by Diablo 3.
During a recent press event at Blizzard headquarters, Heroes of the Storm game director Dustin Browder explained that Eternal Conflict will add new characters, skins and special events to the free-to-play game, all of it Diablo-themed.
"This is something the players have been asking for," added Alan Dabiri, technical director on Heroes of the Storm. "Up until now, we've had all these different battlegrounds, but they haven't been in our Blizzard universe. This is the first opportunity for players to see one of their favorite game worlds... and we'll keep doing that."
Dabiri said that Eternal Conflict is Blizzard's first effort at integrating one of its franchises as "a package" into Heroes of the Storm, but that it won't be the last. Players could soon fight on battlegrounds based on, for example, Warcraft's Orgrimmar or StarCraft's Korhal in HotS.
Eternal Conflict officially kicks off on June 30, one week after Blizzard plans to launch a public test realm (PTR) option for players who want to try out Heroes of the Storm's latest changes.
Heaven and Hell
One of the major additions coming during the campaign is a new, two-lane battleground named Battlefield of Eternity. Modeled after the High Heavens from Diablo 3's fourth act, one half of the map appears to pure and untouched, in all its heavenly glory, while the other half has been corrupted by Diablo's evil.
At the center of that map are two Immortals, non-player characters — one good, one evil —who will appear at set intervals and battle each other. Players can join in that fight, supporting their own Immortal while attempting to destroy the enemy team's Immortal. The Immortal who emerges the victor will then fight alongside their team, invading the lane of the opposing team.
Battlefield of Eternity's center area frequently becomes a very active choke point, with teams rushing to the heart of the battleground to engage in intense skirmishes when Immortals spawn.
"There are a lot of different decisions you have to make," Dabiri said. "Some of the other battlegrounds, they have map objectives that the goal is to bring you together and have a team fight. But for the most part there's really just one pivot on it. When the Immortals spawn, you either try to DPS down the enemy's immortal, or say, 'Let's defend our Immortal.' Or 'Let's try to take out the enemy team.' Or stay in lane, and push while everyone else is fighting. Each of them has a different advantage or disadvantage.
"The tightness of that area, the fact that the Immortals are so close, and the fact that you can quickly alternate between several those options ... It's definitely intense, it's exciting, there's a lot of options there."
New to the roster as part of Eternal Conflict is The Butcher, a melee assassin who's destined to hit Heroes of the Storm in a few weeks.
Blizzard describes The Butcher as a medium level difficulty character, and Dabiri said he was developed to "capture the fear" that player's felt when they first encountered him in the original Diablo.
Browder detailed The Butcher's traits, attacks and heroic abilities during our presentation, starting with Fresh Meat, the character's most memorable catchphrase. The Fresh Meat trait allows The Butcher to pick up blood droplets left behind by dead players and minions. Those blood drops boost the character's damage, one percent at a time. He loses any Fresh Meat bonus damage upon death.
The Butcher can also use his Hamstring attack to damage and slow enemies along a line, and Butcher's Brand to mark an enemy and then draw hit points from them with each successive attack. With Ruthless Onslaught, The Butcher charges at an enemy and, if he connects, stuns them.
His two heroic abilities are Lamb to the Slaughter, which chains an opponent to a tether, restricting their movement for a few seconds, and Furnace Blast, an area of effect blast of heat that surrounds The Butcher and evokes an attack from Diablo 3.
Here's a look at The Butcher's skills in action.
Through Eternal Conflict and beyond, Browder said Blizzard is aiming to introduce new heroes to the game on a more regular cadence — every three to four weeks. While Diablo-themed heroes and in-game promotions will be more prominent in the coming months, Dabiri said characters from other Blizzard games might find their way into Heroes of the Storm during the campaign.
Browder and Dabiri both said that work continues on Heroes of the Storm, in terms of polish and meeting players' expectations for the game. Dabiri said that the developer is working on the ranked game experience, as well as improving social aspects and matchmaking for the game in an effort to find like-minded and equally skilled opponents for players. Automated tournaments and groups and clans features, similar to Blizzard's work on StarCraft 2, are also in the works.
Heroes of the Storm launched globally earlier this week. For our take on the free-to-play MOBA, check out Polygon's review.