When S2 Games contacted me a few months ago to try out their new game -- Heroes of Newerth -- I didn't have the heart to tell them I'd been playing already for at least three weeks, maybe longer. As a fan of Savage and Savage 2, I followed Heroes of Newerth's Facebook page very early on and managed to get into the first round of Facebook fan invites. I've since immensely enjoyed the game and am happy to finally be able to tell everyone about it as a member of the media.
At this point you're probably asking "what is Heroes of Newerth?" Imagine the scene from Transformers when Bumblebee -- originally a raggedy old Camaro -- scans the new-look, hip Camaro and transforms into that. Now apply this same ideaology to Defense of the Ancients -- a massively popular Warcraft III mod -- and Heroes of Newerth is born.
It's pure, unadulterated Defense of the Ancients without all of the barriers brought on by the game concept being played in Warcraft III. It has a slick graphics engine, a UI and controls optimized for the gameplay, built-in voice chat, and a host of features designed to support the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre including automated matchmaking, stat tracking, player ratings, and a lot more.
Be A Hero
In Heroes of Newerth you play one of 48 (the current count) "heroes" on RTS-style maps with support for 1-vs-1 all the way up to 5-vs-5, with the possibility to create varrying team-vs-team maps using the game's map editor. The heroes are broken up into three categories: Agility, Intellect and Strength. This is based on the primary attribute of your hero and typically will give you an idea of what your hero is going to do, how they'll scale, etc.
Agility heroes are typically considered the "carry" heroes -- those that become incredibly strong later in the game and essentially carry the team to victory. They usually rely heavily on auto attack damage, though some do have abilities that are very strong even late in the game.
Intellect heroes are usually "spell casters" that operate off of a focus on their ability damage over pure auto attack damage. You'll also find a lot of the support heroes in this pool that offer heals, crowd control, team buffs, etc.
Finally you have strength heroes. These heroes are usually seen as the tanks for the team; the team battle initiators who will engage enemies first to pick up the focus off of the weaker heroes on the team. They typically have the largest health pools later in the game, the highest armor, etc. Some are capable of being a "carry," though.
Note that in some cases, the primary attribute doesn't necessarily dictate your role. Two intellect heroes immediately come to mind; Zephyr is a melee intellect hero that can become an incredibly strong tank late game, and Blacksmith is a melee intellect hero as well. While he still focuses primarily on his spells over auto attack damage, it's an example of the attributes not always being a clear indicator of what your hero does.
Progressing Your Hero
You level up your hero by killing creeps -- either enemy or "neutral" -- or by participating in the killing of enemy heroes. Gaining levels grants you skill points as well as increasing the overall power of your hero by a pre-determined amount based on the hero you've selected to play. You have four skills to invest those points in, or a fifth option which will raise your attributes by the same amounts as if you gained a level.
While you don't have to get the killing blow on creeps or heroes to gain experience, you will need to land the killing blow for gold; though there is a mechanic which provides a small amount of gold to players who participate in the killing of a hero. Still, "last hitting" -- as it's called by DotA players -- is a core mechanic of the gameplay and is where most of your gold will come from. This gold allows you to buy items for your hero that range from potions that replenish health or mana, those that provide attribute bonuses, and even some that provide effects similar to skills heroes have.
Knowing the best items for your chosen hero is key in the success of not only you, but your team as a whole.
There's No "I" In Team
Yeah, yeah... there's "me" if you get semantical about it. At its core, Heroes of Newerth is a team game, and this shines through later on in the game when you're less focused on leveling up your hero in "lanes" and more focused on going around smashing the other team to bits.
The primary goal is to destroy the other team's shrine, and to do this you must first destroy towers in at least one of the three lanes. There are also barracks at the ends of the lanes within an enemy's base. Destroying these barracks -- melee and ranged -- will spawn stronger creeps of that type for your team within that lane. Once you've destroyed all of the major structures a team has -- towers and barracks -- your team will receive "mega creeps" which are extremely powerful, and usually signal the end of the game.
It's not necessarily required to destroy all of the towers a team has; in some matches you'll be able to manage a victory by only clearing out one lane and going for the team's shrine. However, in close matches or against very organized teams, it's usually in your best interest to take out more than one lane since it will not only make your creeps stronger, but also keep them busy defending their base more than anything else.
To save you from being crushed by The Great Wall of Text, I'll cut this article off for now. The game is very fun, especially if you're a competitive player, and is well worth the one-time $30 fee planned for the game. S2 Games has done a remarkable job of managing the beta for the game, and listens to feedback constantly, so once this game finally releases in Q4 2009 it will be a sure hit for Defense of the Ancients fans and new players alike.
Over the next few weeks I'll be writing up more in-depth impressions articles, as well as those meant for players new to the MOBA genre to help introduce you to the mechanics of Heroes of Newerth.