When Heroes of Newerth launched in May of this year, it was referred to by some fans as Dota 2.0. Now Heroes of Newerth itself is scheduled to get the "2.0" branding, as S2 prepares to release a major update to the game. We met up with some of the S2 developers last night to get a peek at what's in store for players when Heroes of Newerth 2.0 goes live in just under two weeks.
Perhaps the biggest change to be found in Heroes of Newerth 2.0 is the introduction of casual mode. Based on feedback from players, the team at S2 found that while the standard mode was great for the hardcore, sometimes players just wanted to jump in and get right to the action. Unfortunately, that's not always the case in Heroes of Newerth as you and your teammates have to spend time farming creeps and gaining strength, especially because the payoff for a risky move often isn't worth taking the chance. It isn't unusual for a mistake to hurt you much more than a good play would benefit you.
Casual mode aims to change that by changing a few core rules. The first casual mode rule change is the elimination of the gold penalty on death. If you die, you don't lose any gold. The second has to do with creeps and experience. Currently, if an opposing player delivers the killing blow on a creep you've weakened, you miss out on all the experience. With casual mode, if you are denied a kill, you still get full experience. You only miss out on the loot from the creep.
Finally, there is the experience curve. In standard play, the experience curve is linear. In casual mode, it ramps up sharply in the early stages before returning to a linear graph. According to the developers, the impetus behind casual mode is simply to create games that are shorter and more action-packed. Think of it like a Tootsie Roll Pop; everyone always wants to get to the good stuff in the center, but no one wants to wait for it.
Along those same lines, the team is introducing a brand-new map called Grimms Crossing. It's not such a big deal in and of itself, until you realize that the new map is only 3v3 as compared to the standard 5v5. It's designed to be small and narrow, offering little space to turtle or grind. Instead, the size and structure of the map are all about encouraging players to get to fighting as quickly as possible. According to S2, the beta testing results appear to indicate that the new map is doing the job, as it has been averaging double the kill rate of a standard 5v5 map over the same period of time.
Before you can get to the killing, though, you need to have a team to play with, and one of the weak points of Heroes of Newerth is the matchmaking system. Well, that's also gotten an overhaul in Heroes of Newerth 2.0. The update offers both solo matchmaking as well as team-based matchmaking. When performing matching in 2.0, the server aims to not only match the overall performance of the teams, but also the relative performance of the players within a single team.
For example, while a team of two newbies and three experienced players might have a stat average that is similar to a team of five mid-level players, it's not going to be fun for two newbies to play alongside those experienced players. There won't be a chance for the new players to learn, and the experienced players will likely get frustrated with their mistakes. The goal of the new matching system is to ensure skill balance within a team as well as between the two teams.
According to the developer demoing the update to us, the matchmaking system will even look to match small groups. If you have a group of three and it ends up pairing you with a group of two for your team, it will attempt to ensure that the other team is also made up of one group of two and one group of three instead of say, five random players. If the matchmaking system ends up working as promised, it should improve the overall quality of pickup games.
Visually, the UI has gotten a facelift, with a focus on streamlining the interface. All the functionality is still there, but the goal was to reduce the amount of clicks necessary to perform a given action. Of all the little changes, what is most likely to stand out are the minimap updates, which is now interactive. Hover over a unit's dot to see its name as well as its health and mana. If it's a hero, you'll also see the inventory slots. There's no need to pan the map just to collect basic data. You can even mark items for attack or defense by holding the Alt key and clicking on the minimap. This sends a ping that is visible to your teammates.
Customization fans will appreciate the in-game shop that is being rolled out in the 2.0 update. No, you can't get the exclusive pre-order shield (yes, S2 gets requests for this every week from players who don't understand the meaning of exclusive), but aside from that, there is a cornucopia of options to choose from. Some of the small items for sale are basic tags, such as country flag and hero icons, which can be displayed next to your account name. You can also change your name color.
More complex items include alternate hero skins, which aren't just simple re-skins. Many of them include entirely new models, new animations and new voices. The alternate skin for one popular hero has even changed from male to female. Another alternate hero skin was a full-on pimp, complete with pimp cane. Whereas the original hero threw out his sword to attack, the pimp version threw out his pimp cane. All of the alternative skins can be previewed before purchasing to ensure that there are no surprises.
It's important to note that all of the shop items are purely cosmetic. They don't affect gameplay in any way. To use our pimp cane example above, although it looks like a pimp cane, when it hits, it does the exact same damage as the original sword.
Another shop item was a custom announcer pack. For the demo, we checked out the Flamboyant pack, which replaces all of the text and announcer voices for your actions and plays on everyone's machine. If multiple players have different packs, you'll be able to tell who got the action simply by listening to the voice that plays. For the record, the Flamboyant announcer certainly lives up to his name. If you make the first kill with the Flamboyant pack enabled, everyone in game will hear "CHERRY POPPER!!!" to mark the occasion as the text appears in rainbow lettering.
Paying for items in the store is done with coins, and coins can either be purchased with real money or earned in-game. You can earn coins by playing, by getting notable kills such as first kill or a kill streak, or even by leveling up. It is entirely possible to purchase every item in the store without laying out a single red cent of real money. It'll just take you a little time to earn it all. Don't spend too much time trying to decide what to buy while in the shop, though. If you wait too long, the shopkeeper will get bored and start beatboxing.
Last, but not least, is the map editor. The very same map editor that S2 uses to create the maps is going to be included with Heroes of Newerth 2.0. We're told that players will be able to submit their best maps to S2 for review and possible inclusion in a community map selection.
Barring any last-minute issues, Heroes of Newerth 2.0 is scheduled to go live on or about December 13, 2010. It is a free update to all players, so if you own Heroes of Newerth, you're getting the 2.0 update without any additional charge.