If I wanted to play League, I’d play League
One of the major reasons I played Dota and Dota2 for so long was that I knew my work in the game, no matter how good or bad, was relegated to that game. My opponents were in the same position. The fat, farmed Doom would have to start over in the next fight. No advantages. Everyone starts at zero. That feels good. That feels competitive. Sure, outside of this game you’ve been working on CS and I’ve been practicing lurking for ganks but that’s the amorphous “player skill” component, not a raw numerical advantage. That’s why athletic competitions are so dramatic and captivating – no team or player starts off with an extra point on the board, a field advantage, or a extra player. In games and events where there are those advantages, like starting position in NASCAR, there are time trials before the race to determine the starting position. The others create as equal a footing as possible for all players and, ostensibly, let t the mastery of the game determine the winner.
Now that I’ve romanticized the concept, LoL’s runes bother me. I don’t want to start off with an advantage over someone just because I’ve played longer. At least, not a numerical, mechanical advantage. Yes, I probably have an advantage because I’ve been playing the game longer, know more of the subtleties and quirks, and my muscle memory for the required actions is more precise. That’s my skill with it. I don’t need a scaling bonus to my damage or health or cool downs because I’ve sunk in the time. I don’t want my opponents to have one either. To whip out a game design term, this is called “perpetual advantage.” No matter what you do, you’ll always have an advantage over another player because of these bonuses. Good players may be able to counter them, but they still exist and don’t expire. Did you win that fight or did your 10% bonus to damage do it?
And now HotS has artifacts. Damage bonuses, cool down reductions, shorter death timers (20%!), health regen boosts. It costs 5500 gold to level an artifact from 1 to 10, the cap (Artifact level x 100 = gold cost). Some of the bonuses are small – 1% max health as regen isn’t that impressive – while others are incredible – 20% increased mount speed or 5% increase movement speed. If you think 5% movement speed doesn’t matter, watch a Dota2 game before supports get their boots and see why Sniper annoys the hell out of everyone who isn’t Sniper. Imagine Falstaad with 40% mounted movement speed, or Nova, or anyone not on your team. How hard are you being harassed? How frantic are rushes to Tributes? Is this more fun?
Which raises another point: the artifacts are bland and rigid and only a handful will work for any particular hero. They don’t alter the way the ability works, like Diablo 3’s rune system, but just improve it. Anyone remember the original talent system in Warcraft? And how there was only a single, viable talent build for raiding, another for PVP, and the rest of the talents were garbage? Like the rogue’s “throwing specialization” talent? Or anyone who wasn’t an ice mage or healing druid? The artifacts are a reworking of that design philosophy. They just enhance what you already do, not encourage you to try new things. Your Tyrande better have the support build and not the damage build, or the tanky build, because that’s your role and that’s all you’ll do.
Artifacts are optional. You’re not forced to stick them on your hero, but you’d be foolish not to. It’s an advantage, take it. There’s an adage in the fighting game community that applies to any competitive game: “If you find a tactic that works, it’s not your job to stop using it. It’s your opponent’s job to make you.” So use those artifacts. Give yourself a superfluous mechanical advantage of new players, take that extra 10% damage and beat the casual players down. Make them regret not playing all the time and smother the fun out of the game because of your time spent hoarding gold and leveling artifacts.
Blizzard doesn’t seem to understand that people want to play their game. They’re anxious to. Eager. Forums are filled with posts frothing with anticipation. But instead of making it easier to pick up and still difficult to master, they’ve raised another barrier to entry, which MOBAs are already infamous for. It’s a shame HotS is following down the path so many other MOBAs have tread. It’s an unfortunate situation when Blizzard, the company who’s success with WoW created an army of imitators so common as to get their own moniker, is doing its best to clone another game.