Blizzard’s new MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, officially launched this week and many new players are trying it out.
Like most free-to-play games, Heroes of the Storm has a shop that sells characters and cosmetic items for gold, its in-game currency, as well as for cash.
While Heroes, to its credit, prices every item in its shop in actual money rather than requiring the purchase of some intermediate currency, there are still a number of bundle options and price tiers that can be very confusing.
I am going to help explain how the Heroes shop works, and where to find the best values when spending your gold and real money in the game.
Going Free to Play
Heroes of the Storm’s in-game currency is called gold, and you earn it by playing games, hitting level milestones, and completing daily quests. A few months ago, during the beta, I wrote a fairly in-depth guide to maximizing gold income in Heroes, but here are the basics:
When you play games, you earn experience points, which accrue to both your overall account and the hero you are using. The heroes and the player account each have levels independent of each other; even if your account is a high level, you’ll start from scratch when you try a new hero.
As you level from 1 to 40, you’ll get 16,000 gold for hitting certain milestones, and you can get 500 gold for each hero you use enough to reach level 5. There is a weekly rotation of free heroes that cycles through all the characters, so you don’t have to buy the heroes to earn these bonuses.
Additionally, you earn 20 gold for each game you lose, and 30 gold for each game you win in Quick Match, and you get 10 gold for each game you win when playing against the AI. You don’t get anything if you lose to the AI, but players almost never lose to the AI.
Most of the gold you earn in Heroes of the Storm comes from your daily quests. Every day at 6 a.m. you get a mission to do something like play three games as a warrior-type hero, or to play two games as a hero from the Diablo franchise. The value of these quests can range from 200 gold to 800 gold, and they are worth about 350 gold per day on average.
All in, you can get about 34,000 gold if you level your account to 40 and level all the heroes in the free rotation to 5, and if you keep up with your daily quests and play about an hour a day, you’ll have a gold income of about 12,000 per month.
So, if you want to collect a few of your favorite heroes to play in the unranked modes, you can easily do so for free. However, it will take you at least three or four months to acquire a solid lineup of 10 heroes to enter the ranked Hero League mode, and you’ll probably have to do without a few of the more expensive characters.
Heroes of the Storm sells characters in four price tiers: The cheapest are 2000 gold or $3.99. The next step up are 4000 gold or $6.49, above that are 7000 gold or $8.49, and finally, the most expensive heroes are 10,000 gold or $9.99.
The newest heroes are priced at 15,000 gold when they are released, but their price will drop to 10,000 gold after two weeks. The real-money price is $9.99 from launch, so the higher gold price seems to mainly be a device to encourage people who don’t want to wait for the new hero to pay with cash rather than gold.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the value of gold relative to real money isn’t consistent across price tiers; the cheapest heroes cost a dollar per 500 gold, while the most expensive cost a dollar per thousand gold. This is pretty straightforward; Blizzard wants you to spend more money on the game, and skews the incentive to pay with cash for the bigger purchases.
That means you should always buy the heroes at the 2000/$3.99 and 4000/$6.49 tiers with gold, and only consider paying cash for the more expensive ones. The good news is that a number of very competitive heroes are on the cheaper price tiers.
If you like playing the assassin or "carry" role, Valla the Diablo Demon Hunter costs 2000 and has been a top assassin since Alpha.
Illidan Stormrage at 4000 gold is also very strong, though he works best on a team built to support him, which you won’t usually get in random matches.
Blizzard wants you to spend more money on the game, and skews the incentive to pay with cash for the bigger purchases
Most of the 10,000 gold/$9.99 heroes are priced that way not because they’re necessarily the best heroes, but because they are more recent additions to the game. Blizzard has been introducing characters at this price since the Chen Stormstout patch last August, and has only implemented a permanent price reduction for one hero released since that date.
Heroes come with a basic skin, and they ride a default mount, which is a plain horse or a "battle beast" that resembles a Kodo from Warcraft. However, like DotA 2 and League of Legends, Blizzard’s shop sells, for real-money only, various "skins" to modify the appearance of each character and special mounts that are account-wide and can be ridden by most heroes.
The skins are coded as "rare," "epic" and "legendary," depending on how extensive the cosmetic changes to the base hero are. For example, a rare skin like Glam Metal ETC changes his hair, gives him glam-rock themed guitar weapons, and changes his outfit, but uses the same animations and voice-over as the regular skin. This costs $7.49.
An epic skin like Cyber Anub’arak puts a robot-filter over his voice-over lines, gives him metal robot spikes for his Impale ability, and turns the beetles he spawns into little robots. Skins like this are $9.99
A legendary skin like the zerg-infested Tychus gets a completely new voice-over track, new animations on his base model, including zerg tentacles that wave around, and he gets re-modeled zerg-infested versions of both his laser-drill ultimate summon and his Odin ultimate transformation. This costs $14.99.
There are also special "master" skins for each hero, which can only be purchased after reaching level 10 with that hero, and can only be purchased with gold. 10,000 gold, in fact. These are a pretty cool way to show off your favorite heroes, but the high gold commitment will probably mean you’ll be spending more cash on your hero collection in order to save gold for master skins.
The master skins tend to be a sort of ornate variation on the hero’s basic look; usually adding elaborate armor or extra spikes to the model. Although master skins don’t get new voice-overs or animations, some of them are pretty cool: Muradin gets the Ymirjar Lord tier-set armor from World of Warcraft, while Jaina gets the Arcanist Regalia set. ETC gets a death-metal makeover, and Murky the murloc gets board shorts, sneakers and a bubble-helmet.
Mounts range from $7.49 for a ridable wolf to $19.99 for a unicorn mount that poops rainbows. If you don’t like the basic mounts, but you don’t want to pay for a special one, you get an armored wolf for leveling a World of Warcraft character to 100, and you can get a Hearthstone card mount for winning games in Hearthstone.
Blizzard is currently running a promotion where they will give you a free mechanical spider mount for spamming your Facebook friends about the game, so if you like mechanical spiders and you hate your friends, that might be a good option.
Blizzard also sells reward-boosters called stimpacks. These give you 100% bonus experience points and 150% bonus gold for every game that you play. That means you get 50 gold when you lose and 75 when you win, for an average increase of 37.5 gold per game.
A stimpack costs $3.99 for a 7-day boost and $9.99 for a 30-day boost, which is much too expensive. If you view $10 as being worth 10,000 gold, you will have to play 267 games in a month to get 10,000 marginal gold out of a 30-day stimpack, and 107 games in a week to get 4000 gold from the 7-day stim. That means you’ll need to play a butt-numbing three hours a day of Heroes of the Storm, seven days a week, to get your money’s worth out of a stimpack. Skip them. The value just isn’t there.
If you’re a very hardcore player, and you want to have a lot of gold to spend on Master skins, this might be appealing, but for everyone else it’s probably easier to either wait to earn your gold from quests or pay cash directly for heroes.
However, Blizzard is currently running a sale on the 30 day stimpack for half price, which seems a bit more reasonable. If you’re a new player, you can get a lot of benefit out of the experience boost as well as the gold bonus by leveling a bunch of free-rotation heroes up to 5, and hitting account milestones, so you might want to consider throwing $5 at one of these while they’re on sale.
I’d advise against paying full-price, however.
There are several bundles of heroes and customizations available, for purchase with cash, and they’re advertised at being around 70% off the base price of the individual items they contain.
The downside to these is that they tend to contain some of the cheaper heroes that you wouldn’t ordinarily buy with cash and the contents are pre-selected, so if you don’t like some of the heroes or cosmetic items they contain you’re out of luck.
One of them costs $20, and is not for sale in the in-game store, but is available at physical stores and online at places like Gamestop and Amazon. It comes with five heroes who would normally cost 33,000 gold or about $40. You also get an epic skin that dresses Zeratul up like a samurai, and a unique variation on a tiger mount that is unique to this bundle.
On the Blizzard store, there is also a "Nexus Bundle," which comes with 8 heroes, 4 skins and two mounts for $39.99, and is advertised as being 66% off the price of all the contents purchased individually. One of the mounts is a zebra dressed up like the Witch Doctor from Diablo, and is exclusive to this bundle. The value of that sort of bundle really depends on what you feel about that mount.
When a hero that usually costs 10,000 gold is on sale for $5, a real-money purchase is quite a bit more enticing
Finally, there’s a starter bundle, which includes Raynor, Malfurion and Muradin, who are all 2000 gold heroes, a special armored horse mount, and a 7 day stimpack for $5, and is advertised as being 77% off the regular a-la-carte prices.
I think the starter bundle is a really good value for new players. The others are highly dependent on how much you like the heroes and cosmetic items included. If you were already considering paying $20 for something like a rainbow unicorn, then paying $40 for 8 heroes, 4 skins, the unicorn and another special mount makes a lot of sense.
However, if you think paying for mounts and skins is a waste of money, or if you’re not interested in these particular heroes and skins, this is not going to be appealing.
Blizzard also releases launch bundles for new heroes, in which they bundle the hero with a skin and charge about $14, which is a 25% discount. This isn’t a terribly attractive deal, unless you really love the skin, but if you’re excited about a new hero, it may be worth it to you to lay down the full cash price to get it immediately, since the gold price is always marked up for two weeks after the launch.
Blizzard has been putting a few heroes and cosmetic items on sale for half price every week and I think, if you’re interested in spending real money on this game, this is best the way to do it.
When a hero that usually costs 10,000 gold is on sale for $5, a real-money purchase is quite a bit more enticing and, while the discounts aren’t as steep as the bundle prices, the weekly sales don’t rope you into buying anything you don’t want. It’s a flat discount: You pay half-price, but you have no control over which heroes are for sale or when.
So far, the weekly sales have never included any $3.99/2000 gold heroes, which is a good thing; most people will want to buy those with gold and it means the more expensive heroes should rotate through the sale listing a bit more often.
However, the newest heroes don’t seem to go on sale for a while after release; the most recent hero to be featured as a weekly sale item was Jaina, who was introduced in December and featured as a weekly sale in mid-May. If you want to get new heroes like Sylvanas, Kael’thas or Johanna, you’ll probably have to pay the full gold or cash price, or else wait for quite a while.
I think, if you like the game, don’t have an objection to spending money on it, and you’re willing to be patient, the best way to get older, more expensive heroes like Brightwing, Uther and Zagara is to wait until they go on sale, and then get them for $4-5.
That way, you can spend your gold on the new heroes. Just be patient, buy the inexpensive heroes with gold, enjoy the rotating free heroes, and grab the heroes you want when they’re on sale.
If you’re interested in cosmetics, it’s worth knowing that, so far, the legendary skins have not been discounted, but they did include the $20 unicorn as a sale item, so it’s possible that the expensive skins will also be discounted as well.
The Best Strategy
Heroes of the Storm is likely to be a frustrating game for people who want to succeed in ranked mode and refuse to spend any money; it will take them months to acquire a decent collection of heroes, and even then they’ll probably be missing several of the best characters.
It’s also probably going to be a very expensive game for people prone to impulse purchases; if you wanted to buy every hero in the Heroes of the Storm shop with cash right now, it would cost you nearly $300. Heroes of the Storm has a reputation as an expensive game in the free-to-play market, and that’s a fair distinction. If you want certain things right now, you’re going to pay for them, and these heroes aren’t cheap.
You just have to be patient and dedicated
However, if you started the beta three months ago and you followed the weekly sales, you could have bought Tyrael, Rehgar, Kerrigan and Zagara for $4.25 each, and Brightwing, Zeratul and Jaina for $5 each, for a total spend of about $32. You just have to be patient and dedicated.
In the same amount of time, you likely would have earned about 50,000 gold from leveling bonuses, daily quests and regular play, which would have been enough to buy up cheap staple characters like, Valla, Anub’arak, ETC and Illidan, with plenty left over to splurge on a couple of new characters like Sylvanas and Kael’Thas, resulting in a very strong lineup of characters to use in Hero League.
So, if you have a plan and you’re willing to be patient, you can get pretty much everything you want in Heroes for a pretty moderate cash investment.