While DotA Allstars emerged as the highly popular MOBA for Western audiences, the game evolved in a different manner in Korea as DotA: Chaos. Chaos Heroes Online is the result of transferring that variation of DotA Allstars to a standalone platform and bringing it to different regions of the world for the first time. It’s being published by Aeria and the design team is being led by the original modder, who goes by the name of Chogosu. Originally launched in Korea, Chaos Heroes Online has already been around for 3 years, and has a partnership with SEGA allowing for implementation of their unique characters, but this the first time the game will be available in Europe and North America.
Even though the game spawned from a very familiar Warcraft 3 mod, it does seem to have gone in a completely different direction. Initially it appears that the game is more focused on constant action because items and equipment can be purchased from anywhere on the map, which minimizes the amount of times players return to base. Additionally, there’s an item crafting system and most games are played in Faction Mode, as opposed to the traditional “all pick” that Western MOBAs have gravitated towards over the years. Having played DotA Allstars quite a bit I was more than anxious to see how the game developed half-way around the world.
The first thing I noticed about Chaos Heroes Online was how cluttered the map seemed to be. The game still uses the standard 5 heroes with three lanes and a jungle, but it’s not as well condensed as most games are today. It looks very much the same way that the Warcraft 3 version of the game looks with nonessential buildings cluttering the base, the jungle is very unorganized with neutral minions scattered here and there, and there are even shops in the jungle that don’t serve any purpose.
A lot of the game design choices for the original DotA Allstars were based on the constraints of the map editor, game engine, and even the designer. There’s really no reason, with a standalone client and dedicated team, for excess objects scattered around the map or an overall messy environment. Everything should have a purpose and it should be mirrored to create balanced gameplay. Another thing I quickly noticed, and something that bothered me even more late game, was the random dragon flying around my base.
I really like the idea of minibosses, or even final bosses, in the MOBA genre because it creates more dynamic gameplay than the typical Nexus smashing. However, having a mobile boss that patrols the outskirts of a base doesn’t allow for consistent strategies. The same goes for the inner towers, which are essentially mobile guardians; I feel like there’s too much randomness involved with the NPCs, which normally provide a stable function. There are games that have implemented very NPC heavy events, such as Heroes of the Storm and Dawngate, but they always act in the same predictable manner, which I feel is important for a strategy heavy game.
While we’re on the subject of NPCs, I found the towers to be extremely overpowered. Not only are they exceptionally stronger than in the typical MOBA, but they also regenerate health over time. The first tier has two towers that are basically impossible to kill solo due to their high damage, regeneration and ability to crush minion waves. It seems that most recent MOBAs are pushing for more intense PvP action while Chaos Heroes Online is moving in the opposite direction that forces players to farm until team fights begin. This definitely reflects the grind-heavy Korean gaming mentality, but that’s usually not a huge selling point for games over in the West.
Not only are towers too strong early, but they scale very well into late game. Taking out a barracks stop creeps from spawning for the enemy, but even without support their base turrets will take out an entire wave of creeps before they land a single hit on the towers. This means that taking out barracks is counterproductive because it removes a lane to farm and has virtually no negative impact on the enemy, unless you can take out all three sets of barracks. I’m a big proponent of allowing varied strategies in all games, but Chaos Heroes Online seems to be forcing all teams to play the same way; farm as long as you can and then push as a team in order to force fights.
There are a number of typical, albeit a little archaic, mechanics that Chaos Heroes Online uses, such as last hitting and teleport scrolls, but there are also a few mechanics that sets it apart from most popular MOBAs. First off, there’s a time limit. Each match is played until one side wins, a team concedes, or the 50 minute time limit expires. Due to the significant power of base defense, the latter two are generally the most likely to happen. Scores are based on things such as kills and base structures destroyed. There are both positive and negative aspects to this particular mechanic because it prevents long, drawn-out matches, but it is also balanced against teams composed of late game heroes and minimizes comebacks.
Another major difference between Chaos Heroes Online and most other MOBAs is the implementation of consumable items that can be used anywhere on the map. These items are extremely powerful and include life leech, spell vamp, a spell shield, and an item that removes buffs from enemy heroes. This creates for some interesting strategies because using a spell shield before engaging on an unsuspecting enemy will tip the balance significantly in your favor. Using the spell shield before an enemy skill hits can also reflect it back at them. This would create for a more dynamic combat environment, however, there’s an innate hero delay in the game, it seems to be around 0.5 seconds, that always gives the advantage to the first hero to use the spell shield. By the time you remove the buff, cast your shield and attempt to retaliate it’s more often than not that you’re already dead.
Finally, instead of a rune or talent system, specific equipment can be upgraded through crafting recipes. These recipes are obtained by completing certain quests and playing through the game. There are three levels of recipes: magic, rare and epic that contain 1 to 3 bonuses respectively. Each tier of item can also be combined to create higher tiers, so with enough playtime every can have access to epic quality gear. What’s interesting is that there’s no additional cost associated with upgrading equipment. In Strife, players can make exceptionally more powerful equipment before the match starts, but it always comes with an added cost. In Chaos Heroes Online equipment gains a permanent bonus, usually for a set number of matches, but it still has the same price tag. One problem is that it creates for slightly unbalanced gameplay. Some players might get lucky and get the recipes they want right off the bat, but most players will likely get equipment they won’t use or it could have lackluster bonuses. In strategy based games the less chance for random outcomes the better.
ONE-HIT KILL COMBOS
One of my biggest pet peeves in MOBAs is the ability to kill an enemy with a single combination of spells. In DotA there were a few select champions that could do this during certain points in the game, Lina and Lion come to mind, but more often than not players need to whittle down their opponents before committing to a fight. In Chaos Heroes Online, however, most fights are determined by who can get the jump on the other team and burst them down the quickest. Most heroes have 2+ second stuns with some characters having 6 second disables. Sitting there just watching the opponent kill you isn’t very exciting.
Having played quite a few different characters, it really seemed like there were only two different roles: nukers and pushers. Characters that appeared to fill the standard attack damage carry (ADC) role usually ended up being used specifically for pushing because of how quickly towers regenerate, however, if they actually engaged the enemy in a straight up fight they were usually dispatched before landing more than a couple of hits. This imbalance in matchups became more obvious in some fights than others, but some were so bad that all I could do was hide behind my towers and wait for backup.
Even though some of my complaints with Chaos Heroes Online might seem preferential, I don’t think there’s going to be much audience for this style of MOBA outside of a very niche market. The punishing combat mechanics and unorganized map and item system isn’t a very conducive for new players. Additionally, this game strays quite far from the DOTA 2 and League of Legends style of play, which is great for people looking for something different, but it’s probably not going to entice players who already found a game they enjoy. Since it is still in the beta stages, it’s possible that Chaos Heroes Online could be cleaned up and streamlined more for a Western audience, but in its current state it’s not quite up to par.Related: Aeria Games, Beta, Chaos Heroes Online, MOBA, Preview