A newbie in Heroes of Newerth: How patch 3.0 improves the MOBA experience

Heroes of Newerth characters
My first experiences in the MOBA genre went something like this: "What do you mean last-hitting and how come these towers keep shooting me? I'm a hero, for freak's sake!" to which my teammate would respond, "Quit feeding and die in a fire." It was a confusing and tumultuous time. Thankfully, the genre has taken a turn for the better, adding more in-depth tutorials, bot matches, and various other aids to help new players transition into the game and beef up the competitive numbers.

Heroes of Newerth is no exception. S2 Games is preparing to globally launch (yes, everywhere at the same time) patch 3.0 on January 31st, 2013, and it will include a lane full of visual enhancements, bots with customizable AI, and a stronger emphasis on teaching new players the ropes.

Could HoN establish itself as the MOBA for new players of the genre? We trekked to a demo in San Francisco last week to find out.

Possibly the most important additions to HoN are focused on improving the new player experience. Bot matches will now be available for casual play, a huge relief to seasoned noobs like yours truly. A popular feature in the hit League of Legends, bot matches have brought a whole new community of casual players to MOBAs because facing the AI is one of the easiest and least terrifying ways to learn about the basics of classic 5v5 MOBA gameplay.

"We've completely revamped the new player experience, not only by adding bots but by making a whole new walkthrough system that teaches players how to play the game by matching them against bots," said Ryan McDaniel, Lead Content Manager for S2 Games. "The walkthrough gets people into playing HoN much faster than the old tutorial."

Upon completing the walkthrough, players will gain access to the new Learnitorium. This in-game feature acts as an archive for videos, tutorials, and Hero decks and information.

"Some of our balance designers have been working on new video series to help teach basics of MOBA gameplay, and eventually, we'll expand to more advanced tactics," says director of operations Nathan Garcia.

Heroes of Newerth patch 30 aiming at new player experience
HoN isn't using bots to attract just new players; it's hoping to snag modders as well. S2 Games will be sharing the bot AI code with the players in hopes that the growing HoN mod community will help develop a greater diversity of challenges for everyone.

McDaniel says, "We really think this will attract a unique community. We'd like to eventually create bot vs bot matches so modders can compete with each other trying create the best AIs."

The new patch will also include many upgrades to the game's textures. The map will now have a long list of visual improvements, including a more natural progression from the spring seasons of the Legion side to the harsh lava fields of the Hellborn corner. Small details such as vines have been added to the riverbanks, and even the lanes themselves will have a deeper cobblestone look. Garcia assures players that these changes won't add anything new to the core gameplay. "Players won't find new areas to hide or extra room in lanes. They are, however, a little more likely to be killed while checking out the improved scenery."

Buildings and towers are receiving their own revamp to fit the themes of life and death more appropriately. Towers in particular will have several new looks depending on their power and how much damage they have sustained. "We wanted players to be able to see how their towers were doing at a glance, so at 50%, the tower will be crumbled, while at 10%, it will look even more destroyed to help players save their turrets," says Garcia.

Older heroes will receive a much needed HD texture facelift to match some of the latest additions to HoN. These visual upgrades will be given to the basic skins and are completely free of charge. Other champions will start to see improvements in their design as HoN transitions to a more lore-driven design scheme. "As much as we love a good Hawaiian shirt, we don't want to see them cluttering the game. We will still create fun skins, but we want to really push designing characters around their stories," says Garcia.

Heroes of Newerth patch 30 aiming at new player experience
Visuals and gameplay are only half the battle, though. In order to help improve the community, patch 3.0 will implementing new algorithms that help the current report-a-player function. "Our new system will make sure that jerks are getting the punishment they deserve and abusers will lose credibility within the system," says McDaniel. "You'll also see new punishments like the ability to revoke all voice chat options, which should cut down on people yelling over the mic."

HoN's devs are really pushing their design to improve the game in nearly every aspect. Patch 3.0 is adding lots of stuff for new players, but the team reminded me that S2 is constantly looking for new ways to bring more contests and competition to the top-tier players.

If you haven't experienced a MOBA or played HoN recently, give the new features a try and let us know if it improved your experience as hoped.

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This article was originally published on Massively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.