Heroes of Newerth
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"Heroes of Newerth" is one of those rare things - a mod that did so well that it's managed to get a full release as a big, grown-up game in its own right. This is a great way for what starts out as an inspired idea by a bedroom-based designer to reach a wider audience which can then even get modded itself by yet more amateur designers, and so on. It's the democratisation of videogaming, where making money plays second fiddle to passion and inspiration.

Ah, lovely. Makes you feel all warm and snugly, doesn't it? While oil slicks befoul the seas, suitcase nukes threaten to destroy the world and you can't walk down the high street without getting happy-slapped by hooded youths, it's something you can point at and say "You know, humanity might just make it."

Starting out as a mod for the aging Warcraft III called ‘Defense of the Ancients', HoN likes to think of itself as an RTS-RPG hybrid. Delivered in time-honoured top-down fashion, each player (it's five-a-side) assumes the role of a hero (presumably, of Newerth) and attempts to destroy the other side's base. So far, so straightforward.

Between the bases of the opposing teams are a number of ‘lanes', clearly-defined routes which both sides automatically assault with regularly-spawning squads of low-powered ‘creeps'. Without the help of the Heroes (of Newerth), these two sides will fight an endless war where no one side will come out on top. So it's up to the players to assist the creeps in their push for victory, taking out the guard towers and other base buildings on the way.

Charging in for gold and glory, right? Well, no. Not exactly. Actually, not even remotely. Heroes of Newerth lead firmly from the rear, remaining in the relative safety of the pocket behind the creeps and trying to score the final hit which will cause the kill against the other side's creeps. The final hit is the only one that causes the enemy to drop gold, so it's critical. So critical, in fact, that the other side's heroes can finish off their own creeps in order to deny the cash payout to the other side.

This game of attrition, building up money by ‘farming the lanes', is not really just a crucial tactic - it's the essence of the game. Does that sound fun to you? If it does, then you're perhaps the sort of person the Heroes of Newerth community wants. Personally, I wouldn't know.
Because to me, a game shouldn't really get the RPG moniker simply because you level up and get the odd magic item (+1 to strength). Surely the heroes should be able to go for glory, rather than just assisting in the occasional ‘push' (where a couple of heroes will gang up and try to take out an enemy guard tower without the defending heroes responding in time) or ‘gank' (where a few heroes bravely ambush an unwitting enemy hero and pound him into the ground, running away heroically before his mates turn up).

Yes, there's a lot of jargon to learn. And there's a very definite right way of doing things, and a wrong way of doing things. Farm those lanes, and level up in the way your team-mates would expect. Don't gamble for a lightning raid - you'll get killed, and your enemy will therefore have more money, and your teammates will get cross. Other than the lanes, there are areas of ‘jungle' where there are some neutral creeps who can be killed for gold and experience, and the odd special pickup. These areas are best left for jungle-specialised heroes - if you're not one and you spend too long exploring the jungle, your teammates will get cross. There are usually three main lanes - each of the side lanes should be farmed by two heroes each, with the remaining hero taking the centre lane. You can deviate from this for pushes or ganks, but don't try it too often or your team mates will get...

Yes. You've probably noticed the pattern here. Heroes of Newerth is the far-and-away winner in the ‘least welcoming online game community' stakes. There are a number of reasons for this, as far as I can tell.

It's a pretty new general release, but HoN has been in beta for a long time. Therefore, the people who've been rabidly following it for ages are still there, trained and ready for battle. It's a five-a-side game - if you have one person on your team who's trying to learn the ropes he's going to get eaten alive by the other side who are used to the game's counter-intuitive tactics. The tutorial tells you literally how to play the game but doesn't even hint at the tactics that make it unique, so every n00b's going to have to sit through "OMGZ! Leanr 2 play! FFS! WTF! RTFM!"

I thought it must have been me. So I decided to actually listen to the moaners and learn to play. Checking an online walkthrough, I was told "Shrug off those "NOOB!"s, "OMG U SUK"s and "LERN TOO PLAY"s and keep getting better!". So it's actually a recognised part of the game - a hazing ritual, perhaps. Funny, I prefer to spend my leisure time actually enjoying myself... maybe that's just me.

There are a ton of different heroes for each of the two sides in the game, and new ones are being created all the time by the diligent and dedicated devs, not to mention the hard work being done by the modding community who, perhaps unsurprisingly, love this game. Graphically, it's pretty weak - it's rather difficult to make out the actual detail of your heroes because every surface is covered in glowing runes or pulsing... stuff, which I'm sure makes each hero look teh_awesomm, but it also makes them hard to really make out.

So I've given it a paltry score. But I think it's important to note (bear with me here) that I'd also give nine-time Grammy award-winner Joni Mitchell a horrendously low score. Obviously, she sounds like a cat being slowly fed through a threshing machine, but to many she's the inspiring voice of a whole generation. See, I just don't get Heroes of Newerth. I suppose I'm maybe not really its target audience. To me, levelling up is supposed to be a fun time when new options and possibilities open up to you, not just an exercise in statistics and a requirement for keeping up with the other guy. My litmus test is ‘is it actually fun?', and of course that really means ‘is it fun for me personally?', and the answer here is a no. That said, what I DO like is that it proves that a group of dedicated modders can live the dream and see their game getting a proper release. Thumbs up for that.

 

A fantastical glowing thing!