So me and my friend had a 'discussion' today about League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth. By discussion, I mean a thinly veiled argument where we each swung around opinions like baseball bats and hoped to cause as much damage to the other's mood as possible, all without being openly hostile. Pleasant, right?
Anyway, the subject came up of this friend's dissatisfaction with League of Legends. Now, normally this wouldn't be an issue for me; certain people simply don't enjoy certain games. The problem came in when he asserted that League was a /bad/ game. A little miffed that he would insult my taste in games without providing any reasoning behind it, I questioned him in return. His answer? League was more 'casual' and had less depth.
Disclaimer: I've played HoN, and while I personally don't enjoy the game all that much, I have nothing against it or its players.
Now, this brings up a point that ruffles my feathers a bit, when players confuse complexity and depth. HoN has complexity in some places, depth in others, and sometimes they cross over. Complexity with depth would be in the form of certain heroes having abilities that play off of each other, with meaningful results, like pressing one button that reverses the direction of all of your other abilities. That, in my opinion, is a good thing, and is worth the effort of learning. Where it gets shady is when you have complexity that does not add to the gameplay, but still places more burden on the player.
An example of this is can be seen in status effect indicators. It isn't exactly uncommon for a hero in HoN to have unique particle effects that appear whenever that hero applies a status effect to something, that uniquely describes every aspect of that status effect with one set of particles. That's fine right? It makes everything look more vivid and varied, after all. It has a price tag though: players must shoulder more of the burden of memorizing every little thing each champion does. League's approach is to have a set of universal indicators mix-and-matched up to the ability. If LeBlanc throws her leash at you, you'll see the leash itself, a mechanic that will always behave the same way no matter who it comes from, and a separate set of particles for the slow that the leash inflicts. (A less straightforward example would be roots, which while graphically varied, always involve something circling around the base of the champion to differentiate it from stuns, which display near the champion's head.) . But wait, this is that whole 'more casual' thing going on though, right?
That brings up the next point. This one is going to be a little bit more subjective, as the casual gaming vs hardcore gaming argument is as old as the hobby itself almost. I am not going to touch on whether or not LoL is or is not a 'casual' version of DotA, as really, no matter what, at the end of the day it's just going to be an opinion that can't really be supported with anything other than 'I think so'. Instead, I'm going to question the premise by which people define hardcore games vs casual games, the latter of which is generally used as an insult. When people refer to one game as hardcore and another as casual, it usually refers to difficulty and time required to be able to play the game. This is the approach aforementioned friend took. This is probably going to make at least one person mad, but at heart, League, DotA, HoN, they all have pretty much the same amount of depth(maybe not exactly the same, but close enough to make it moot). Their mechanics are pretty much the same, that is, a bunch of champions each with a unique set of abilities designed to synergize around each other fight with a team to destroy structures belonging to to the opposite team. The differences between the games aren't due to depth, but due to presentation,refinement, and accessibility. HoN definitely has prettier graphics than LoL (though I still prefer LoL for easy differentiation and color cues). Said friend actually stated that League being more accessible made it more casual. I have to disagree. I am going to assert that the difference between hardcore and casual gaming, if we really need to label games as such, is that hardcore games take longer to /master/ not to learn. Is chess a casual game? It is my view that skill cap, not skill curve, should define how a game is considered on this metric.
With this in mind, let's take a look at HoN and LoL together. Now, I think it's reasonable to say that the points of skill in a moba can be boiled down to the following:
Mechanics - The usage and knowledge of all champions, including movement, attacking, and ability usage. Also covers knowledge of items.
Awareness - Keeping track of positioning within an area, allied and enemy movements, cooldown timers, and monster spawns.
Teamwork - Working... with your team. Knowing how to get your team to follow you, knowing when you need to follow and when to lead. Executing tactics and strategy with your team.
Composition - Knowing how champions interact, which ones synergize and which ones don't, and how to exploit this knowledge to form teams, counterpick, and exploit the enemy team composition.
Now, when I set the two games side by side... I don't really see much difference on these points. There are differences between the two games, but at heart, they stay true to the genre, and are similar enough in execution that I wouldn't really say that the skill cap is much different at all. To be honest, the only meaningful difference on the skill facets of the game is the presence of denying and its usage in HoN, though whether this is a positive or negative thing is not universally agreed on.
Now, what exactly was the point of all of this? My entire point is showing that the increased complexity does not always result in increased depth? HoN has a lot more to memorize than LoL, this is true, but in the end it becomes like two different languages. One has more characters than another, but they both accomplish the same thing on relatively equal terms, even if there are small differences in execution along the way. This isn't to rag on HoN. I enjoy LoL more, yes, but I won't assert that it is of a higher quality. My problem is when people wave unnecessary complexity around like a banner of superiority and use it to insult the tastes of others. Yeah, I may not know every different effect ever in LoL(though I'm pretty close, I'd say). I can, however, tell what an effect does just by what it displays on the screen. Is this easier? Yeah, it is. To be honest, I'd rather spend my time focusing on how well I'm playing than interpreting what the game is telling me, though. The simplicity and comparatively user-friendly nature of LoL isn't a hindrance to it's depth, it's an enabler to it. It is my firmest belief that players should not fight the game mechanics to play a game, but instead should be able to use the game mechanics as a tool to accomplish whatever goal is presented, and for all of its faults, LoL has done a good job at enabling this. By being able to easily learn all of the gameplay aspects of whatever it throws at me, I'm more able to focus on the other aspects of the game and thus become a better player.
Complexity is not depth.