Warcraft wasn't Blizzard's first game, but it was the game that catapulted the company to prominence in the mid-'90s, and laid the foundation for what would become a legacy lasting more than 20 years. Today, the studio is paying homage to that legacy with a Warcraft-themed event in its free-to-play MOBA, Heroes of the Storm (opens in new tab).
Echoes of Alterac is a celebration of all things Warcraft, and while said celebration is wrapped around Heroes' MOBA framework, any Blizzard fan who's been calling for a return to the series' RTS roots should give it a try.
For starters, the event introduces Alterac Pass, the first HotS map pulled from the Warcraft universe. It also provides players the chance to control Yrel, a relatively new hero from Warcraft lore - or alternatively, deck out existing champions in new Warcraft-themed skins. There are even quests for players to undertake in the name of the Warcraft universe's two dominant factions, the Horde and Alliance.
In other words, if you've been asking for Warcraft 4, well... this isn't it exactly. But it might scratch that itch, at least a little.
An MMO, an RTS, and a MOBA walk into a bar...
If you've played Heroes of the Storm before, you know that one of its most distinguishing features is a variety of maps, called "battlegrounds". Instead of a single three-lane map with static placement of elements a la League of Legends or Dota 2, Heroes has a variety of locales to fight on, each with its own unique objective to complete.
In Alterac Pass, that objective is the liberation of your faction's soldiers from prison camps and the defeat of the enemy leader. Should you manage to wade into enemy territory and release your friends, you'll summon three Cavalry units, one for each lane on the map. These units alone aren't particularly powerful, but they'll boost the movement speed and damage of units around them.
The final goal is unique as well. Instead of destroying a Core (aka your home base), Alterac Pass has you fighting against supremely powerful NPC Generals: an orc named Drek'Thar fights for the Horde, while the dwarf Vanndar Stormpike defends the Alliance. Unlike a stationary Core, these Generals move around the field, clearing minions and attacking players head-on. If a team can't finish them off, Drek'Thar and Stormpike will also regenerate health while out of combat.
Thankfully, they have a weakness: each Keep on Alterac Pass grants that team's General armor. Simply rush down one lane and your target will still have bonus defenses conferred by the other two lanes - in short, it'll be important to split your forces and think tactically. While the base-building elements of an RTS are absent from Heroes of the Storm, Alterac Pass still gives importance to using your units and strategically dismantling enemy defenses. Meanwhile, the Generals and the look of the map are pulled from Alterac Valley, a 40v40 PvP map in World of Warcraft.
Give 'em Yrel
Visuals aren't the only influence World of Warcraft has over Alterac Pass and the Echoes of Alterac event. The other major addition to the game is Yrel, a Draenei Paladin who WoW players first met during the Warlords of Draenor expansion from 2014. Blizzard said they chose Yrel as the next HotS hero partly because they didn't have any Draenei representation yet.
And if you're looking around confused because you don't know what Draenei are, they're basically blue-skinned humanoids with horns, digitigrade legs, hooves for feet, spiked tails, and face tentacles. Oh, and they're from space. Among the Warcraft universe's races, the Draenei are certainly some of the most unique. (Technically Yrel's race is known as "Eredar," while "Draenei" only refers to a specific group, and oh hey, how'd I end up in this bottomless pit of WoW minutiae?)
Another reason Yrel was chosen is that, being a Paladin from another world, she fights in ways unlike the rest of the Heroes roster. This provided the team opportunities to try out new playstyles and gameplay mechanics, eventually settling on a unique charge mechanic.
Whereas most characters in Heroes of the Storm activate their special abilities either instantly or after a short duration - as if they were casting a spell, for example - Yrel activates her abilities twice: once to initiate a charge, and again to release it. So for example, pressing W will cause Yrel to ready her hammer for a swing, and an indicator will begin to fill. If Yrel presses W again before the gauge tops off, she'll swing her weapon normally and do damage plus a bit of knockback. But if she lets it reach full, she'll do more damage, knock enemies back further, and stun them for a short duration.
Blizzard calls this a "wind-up playstyle," and hopes that players will find it fun and unique to play with. But if you're more comfortable with existing characters, you'll be able to earn skins that turn Diablo's angel Auriel into a Spirit Healer (those ghosts you see at every graveyard in WoW), or Overwatch's Junkrat into a Goblin Sapper (inspired by the unit of the same name from Warcraft 2 and 3), among others.
Blizzard wants Echoes of Alterac to be something that can be enjoyed by everyone, but there's no denying it: the fine details are pure Warcraft fan service. Go soak it in.