Not So Massively Extra: First impressions of Wrath of Heroes

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When BioWare-Mythic gave details of Wrath of Heroes during its talk at Gamescom, I was genuinely surprised. The emerging MOBA genre has been kind to small studios, even turning indie studio Riot Games into an industry giant in just two years. The incredible income generated by League of Legends has even started to attract big name studios, with Blizzard and Valve both developing MOBAs to enter the now booming genre. It was only a matter of time before EA entered the arena, but I really didn't expect BioWare to be at the helm.

Wrath of Heroes celebrated its third closed beta weekend at the end of November, and I was there to get some hands-on experience. I found a fundamentally fun game with a strange identity crisis -- the game adopts some ideas from existing titles while trying its hardest to be different. It has LoL's persistent levels and a variant of its rune system, but no character levels or items. There's a selection of heroes with five abilities each, but the traditional two team format present throughout online team games is discarded in favour of WoH's signature three team "6v6v6" game mode. The game is littered with these contradictions but somehow makes it work.

Skip past the cut to read my first impressions of Wrath of Heroes and see some screenshots of the game in action.%Gallery-140656%
side-imageGreen vs. Blue... vs. Orange?

Wrath of Heroes aims to deliver fast-paced PvP action, and with its innovative three-team "6v6v6" battles, it certainly delivers. The action is chaotic and fast-paced, with the addition of a third team keeping things interesting. Each match lasts under 10 minutes, and the wait time to get into a game was practically non-existent during the beta weekend regardless of the time of day. Losing a match didn't feel like a big deal, as your profile only records positive stats and you get some microtransaction coins after each game. The amount of coins won is decided by a slot-machine, with extra slots unlocked if you queue in a group, win the game, or otherwise perform well.

The game was definitely fun and left me with the recurring urge to log back in and play another round. That's the mark of a game with lots of replayability, and that's essential for a casual free-to-play game to have. While the core game is a three-team deathmatch, flag-capturing mechanics have been merged into the kill score in a very innovative way. For each enemy flag your team owns, each kill will grant additional points.

The three-teams gameplay that I suspected might be a bit of a gimmick actually turned out to be really fun, creating some interesting match dynamics. Keeping eyes on both teams means you can let the other two teams do most of the work of killing each other, and then you can jump in at the last minute to clean up and score some easy kills. Alternatively, you can run off to capture a flag while one enemy team is occupied with the other.

side-imageMash all the keys!

Wrath of Heroes' graphics are almost a full generation out of date, but probably about as good as you can expect for a low-budget free-to-play title reusing existing assets from another game. The game is simple enough that it should be intuitive, but it would definitely benefit from a tutorial. I picked up basic gameplay within a few games but had to ask other players about things like rune captures and victory conditions. Your first few matches will be confusing, chaotic and punishing as you get used to the game. Once you get past that basic learning curve and figure out how to use a character (hint: If in doubt, mash all the keys), games are just as chaotic but far less confusing.

Each character has five skills, but after much trial and error, I found the optimum strategy for most heroes was just to run after someone and mash all the keys. The game automatically selects the closest target when an ability is used, which can be handy for melee characters when all hell breaks loose, but it makes coordination difficult. The only other efficient method of selecting a target is tab-targeting, which isn't ideal if you want to coordinate attacks on a specific enemy. As a result, much of the game is spent sticking close to teammates, jumping on anyone already under attack, and killing targets of opportunity. It has the feel of an MMO battleground rather than a competitive game.

side-imageCan WoH be a competitive MOBA?

We know that WoH will feature a competitive leaderboard system of some kind, but I doubt it will join the ranks of tournament-friendly titles like League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth and Bloodline Champions. I'm not sure you can really call Wrath of Heroes a MOBA, and I would even go as far as to say it's not a fundamentally strategic game. DotA's popularity in competitive circles, and consequently the popularity of its many progeny, is largely due to the strategic nature of the game. You know what heroes the enemy team is using, and you can adjust playstyle, purchased items, and skill choices to counter that.

In typical MOBAs, strategies will be adapted on the fly depending on the state of play -- how many towers are down, which enemies are currently dead and awaiting respawn, what items the enemy has built, and what character level everyone in the game is. Wrath of Heroes has no turrets or creeps to change the field of play; it has no items, levels or skill choices to counter; and players can switch characters at any point during the game. It's a third-person team deathmatch game that has more in common with Team Fortress 2 than DotA.

The closest competitive game on the market right now is Bloodline Champions, which retains its competitive nature by disallowing character changes during a match. The strategy in Bloodline Champions then lies in figuring out how to counter the enemy's chosen character combination with whatever you brought to the fight, something you can't really do in Wrath of Heroes.

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This article was originally published on Massively.