Review by Douglas Waters
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Composers: Glenn Stafford & Jason Hayes
Senior Audio Designer: Russel Brower
Lead Sound Designer: Pedro Seminario
Senior Sound Designer: Shawn Minoux
Reviewed on: Apple iMac
A big warm welcome to composer, Doug Waters who has written his first contribution for The Sound Architect!
Doug reviews the big MOBA title, Heroes of the Storm, check it out below:
Earlier last month Blizzard Entertainment unleashed upon the world their multiplayer online battle arena genre with the release of Heroes of the Storm. The game itself features a wealth of characters from Blizzard’s franchises including Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo and even The Lost Vikings from the side-scrolling platform game of the same name. The game is set in the ‘Nexus’ a world set between the realities of Blizzard’s franchises, bringing all the characters together to endlessly battle each other for all eternity!
But with so many beloved characters from otherwise separate franchises under one roof, what should the music sound like? As the setting conveys, all of these heroes have been brought together into one game, and thus the music follows suit, although a little more upbeat in places. Indeed, alongside the heavy metal guitars and drums that blend the tracks together, you can hear little elements of other soundtracks. Whether that be the gothic choirs of Diablo or the dark and ambient tones from StarCraft 2’s Heart of the Swarm expansion.
The tone of the music does a really great job of keeping the player engaged and supports what they should be feeling at any given moment. This immersion is of course further supported by the use of reactive music; for instance, upon the death of your character you enter a ‘purgatory’ of sorts where only ambient sounds can be heard before your hero respawns. Only to subside when your character enters the game again to ride forward into the fight, and you once more hear the epic battle music!
All of the maps in HOTS feature additional objectives that can help a side in conquering their opponents. In the case of the ‘Dragon Shire’ map, this requires unlocking a large playable character that can be used to destroy enemies and their forts alike. When unlocking ‘The Dragon Knight’ for instance, the players are rewarded with new music for the duration that that he is alive. Cleverly, the music is written in such a way that each side can perceive it differently; to the successful team it can sound triumphant and victorious, yet to their opponents it can sound berating and imbued with a sense of impending doom.
The sound design in Heroes of the Storm is nothing less than we would expect from Blizzard; hard hitting, punchy sound effects that perfectly reflect their setting. Blizzard has managed to characterize each Hero with their unique sound design. At BlizzCon 2014, Lead Sound Designer, Pedro Seminario stated that each character’s sound design was defined by three buzzwords; for instance, Warcraft’s female sorceress Jaina Proudmoore is defined as ‘Magical’, ‘Icy’ and ‘Sharp’, whereas StarCraft’s ranged assassin Nova Terra is ‘Stealthy’, ‘Techy’ and ‘Precise’. Being able to recognize the unmistakable sounds of your own character really make your Hero feel central to the whole, further immersing players in the world.
Pedro Seminario also explained that your hero has extra sounds effects, and in addition, the sounds created by your character will be louder; “to make you feel central to the gameplay.” However, with 10 players and almost innumerable minion and mercenary NPC’s, each one attacking enemies and casting spells, etc. is there not a danger of players experiencing a potential audio sensory overload? As Don Diekneite is quoted in Steve Horowitz and Scott Looney’s book ‘The Essential Guide to Game Audio’ (2014), with his comments on creating sounds for MOBAs, “No matter how well designed each individual sound is, or how many variations of that sound are generated in real time, it could easily result in a huge wall of white noise.” He goes on to explain that the player could be completely isolated and the sounds he heard would be completely generated from his character alone; “The sonic world is utterly unpredictable”.
It is obviously apparent that Blizzard has employed the use of real time mixing, allowing the game engine to mix audio on the fly dependent on the player’s interactions and relative positioning within the game, always ensuring that players will hear sounds at appropriate levels whatever the situation might be.
But amongst all of this music and sound design, it is with voice-overs that Heroes of the Storm truly shines! Every single character in the game has their own unique voice and according to Justin Dye, one of the writers for HOTS, each hero has on average 300 separate lines of dialogue! Players might notice little lines of encouragement or reminders from teammate’s characters. For instance, on one game when my character was getting low on health, Falstad, a gryphon riding dwarf from Warcraft suggested “You should hit up a healing fountain friend!”
More fun than this though are the interactions between players’ characters! Some characters when getting into position before the game starts, actually have conversations with each other. For example, when both Raynor and Zeratul from StarCraft are near each other they will sometimes chat about times they’ve fought side by side in the past (referencing StarCraft lore). These sometimes quirky and comedic lines of dialogue promote a much lighter atmosphere than some of the featured franchises, Diablo would never be considered a comedic character, but this is the Nexus and things here are supposed to be light hearted and funny!
Although the MOBA genre appears to be growing in popularity with more and more companies trying their hand at it, Blizzard don’t disappoint and bring many fresh and refined features to the genre, some that I’m sure many MOBA fans would like to see brought into other titles!
Overall the gameplay is highly enjoyable, supported by intense music, brilliant sound design and immersive voice-overs makes for a gripping game! Indeed when all these elements come together you really begin to feel like your character! For fans of Blizzard’s other games, trying this game is simply a must, but I also encourage MOBA enthusiasts to give it a go! And after all it’s free to play!
Review by Doug Waters