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Horde vs. Alliance: Heroes of the Storm, Warcraft, and Alterac Valley
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:53pm 05/06/18 | Comments
Celebrating its third anniversary this year, Heroes of the Storm finally brings the Warcraft universe into the Nexus with Alterac Pass.

“Looking at all the universes, we had a ton of fun with our Eternal Conflict where we brought the world of Sanctuary into the Nexus and the Diablo universe for the very first time,” Production Director for Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, Kaeo Milker, sets the scene. “It was our first real exploration of a Blizzard universe in the Nexus, and it kind of set the stage for the next one, the Machines of War event. Being StarCraft, that was something very near and dear to our heart because our team worked on StarCraft 2 right up until splintering off to work on Heroes of the Storm."

“That kind of led us into last year where the most recent addition to the Nexus universe, which also was the most recent addition to Blizzard in general, Overwatch,” Kaeo adds. “Such a cool new space, such a cool new visual aesthetic and some fun new Battleground mechanics.” Which as Kaeo reminds me, is still being worked on today. “So, we've done Diablo. We've done StarCraft. We've done Overwatch. What could we possibly do next?”

The answer to that of course is finally bringing Warcraft into the Nexus.

One look at the current line-up of playable heroes found in Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, no doubt you’d notice that there’s quite a few iconic characters from the Warcraft universe. Which might make it come as a bit of a surprise to find out that in terms of Battlegrounds and playable arenas - Warcraft has yet to make its full debut in the Nexus. With Diablo, StarCraft, and Overwatch Battlegrounds all present and richly detailed with lore and nods to those respective franchises, to celebrate its third anniversary and no doubt the upcoming release of World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth – comes the arrival of a new Battleground.

The Echoes of Alterac event, coming soon to Heroes of the Storm, introduces a new Horde versus Alliance arena to the Nexus in the form of Alterac Pass. For those that may not be all that up to date on their Warcraft lore, Alterac is one of the seven human nations and is situated near the Alterac Mountains. For World of Warcraft players, you’ll know the name Alterac Valley as an iconic battleground where 40-player teams battled it out against the backdrop of snowy mountains. And all manner of carnage.

“We knew we wanted to bring Warcraft into the Nexus with a Battleground,” Matthew Cooper, Lead Content Designer on the Heroes of the Storm team, tells me. “Around the time the team was wrapping up our two Overwatch Battlegrounds we were already starting to talk about it - we had to do Warcraft. The question then became which Battleground? What look and feel do we want. Alterac Valley was an obvious one because it's such an iconic Warcraft moment where you have the Horde and Alliance fighting against this visual backdrop of snow, mountains, and everything else. Stuff we don't have in Heroes of the Storm, so that became the starting point last year.”

The new map plays perfectly into the resurgent theme for Warcraft this year, which is Horde versus Alliance. Alterac Pass, the new snow-covered three-lane Battleground will see teams raze keeps and gather forces, to defeat their opponent’s legendary General - Drek’Thar for the Horde, and Vanndar Stormpike for the Alliance. Of course, it wouldn’t be Heroes of the Storm without a strong, thematic, and fun new mechanic to add a spin to the standard MOBA progression of pushing lanes. In Alterac Pass this is represented by Cavalry where each team vies for control of specific Cages on the map – where winning each skirmish and being in control at the right time spawns a Cavalry unit in each lane. One that will boost the movement speed and damage of nearby allies.

Fans of both Heroes of the Storm and Warcraft will find quite a bit of detail in Alterac Pass, from Warcraft specific mercenaries to environmental obstacles. “There's these mud pits that were kind of tar pits originally,” Matthew explains. “Because the Battleground is small compared to its original incarnation, when you're moving say from the bottom lane to middle lane, these mud pits kind of can block off some of the paths. You can move through them, but as you stand in them, they start to slow down your movement speed a little bit.”

Over the past year the team has been fine tuning Alterac Pass for its debut in the Nexus, where it has gone through many iterations. From Cavalry units that were simple attack units to begin with, where now they provide a buff to surrounding allies. Servicing both the need to bring something new to the experience and staying true to the feeling of being in the midst of an important Horde and Alliance battle. “We're always trying to get different game play elements to make sure that the battle ground feels and plays really unique from anything else that we already have,” Matthew continues.

“There's some fond memories of 20 hour matches on Alterac Valley in WoW and making sure that we kind of hit that really iconic almost a raid-like feel. Where there's this massive army on each side fighting over these kinds of bigger than life objectives and making sure it would feel like it's Warcraft in the Nexus. There's always challenges when you're trying to bring a new fantasy or a new kind of game type into Heroes, but a lot of the core mechanics are still the same. So, it's still a five versus five. You're playing with heroes that we're familiar with. A lot of it can be solved through strategic design decisions and tuning. Maybe we're at 30 minutes and that's too long for Heroes so we can do tuning and stuff like that to bring that in line.”

From an art perspective there’s also quite a bit of Warcraft III in the overall look and feel of Alterac Pass, thanks in part to the isometric top-down view. Launching as part of the Echoes of Alterac event, this also paves the way for a new hero to join the Nexus. The very first Draenei warrior – Yrel. Plus, more of the fun cosmetic interplay that has become a hallmark of the game. The addition of goblin Junkrat, is almost too perfect.

When you look at the year so far, Alterac Pass is yet another reason – in a long line of reasons - to jump into Heroes of the Storm.
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