24th Oct, 2013By Softmints3 minutes

Hands of Sorrow Knight took a very liberal approach to hero customisation. This is the primary feature of the game, and the procedure for picking and customising a hero is quite elaborate.

I'll describe each step in full below:

  1. Choose one of 50 basic heroes. Each hero comes with a unique innate ability. In some game modes, duplicate heroes are allowed.
  2. Choose one of 36 offensive active abilities. They are not removed from the pool after selection.
  3. Choose one of 36 supportive active abilities.They are not removed from the pool after selection.
  4. Choose two of 8 hero powers. The 8 powers available are unique to the hero you chose at step 1.
  5. Choose up to five of 61 passives as the game progresses.
  6. As you level, you gain attribute points which must be manually assigned to either Agility, Intelligence, or Strength.

The result is over 20 trillion possibilities, before we start assigning stats, or buying items (the majority of which have actives similar to hero abilities).

While this is an impressive number, the system suffers a number of flaws.

A shop titled "Active Offensive Skills" is shown full of abilities
One of the many abilities to choose from.

Firstly, selection is completely overwhelming for a new player, who will be uncertain enough just making one choice (picking a hero). Within those 20 trillion possibilities there are a lot of ways to go wrong, so those first four steps in succession without any explanation are quite intimidating.

Secondly, a hero will end up with one innate, one offensive, one supportive, two powers, and up to five passives. With 10 abilities (and up to 6 more on items), the value of each individual ability is diminished, which is contrary to the goal of making choices about abilities in the first place

On the plus side, there are a lot of 'meta' abilities, such as a chance to summon units when using any active ability (item abilities included), a passive which heals any ally you target with your support active, or the support active which resets the cooldown of your offensive active.

A tooltip lists the eight available Powers for the Wolf Rider hero
Selecting hero powers

There are a couple of other notable mechanics in HoSK. One is the classification-based balance mechanisms. Single-target damage abilities are classed as nukes, and some passives grant temporary regeneration after being hit by a nuke. This discourages stacking lots of nukes (which is very possible).

Similarly, there are abilities which improve summons in general, or are designed to get rid of summons. HoSK is surprisingly balanced thanks to these mechanisms. There's no way to tell for sure what your opponents are building until they start using their abilities on-lane, so over-specialising can land you in trouble (or result in certain victory).

Heroes in HoSK have mana, but it's only used for "hero powers" (the 8-choose-2 hero-specific ones) and item abilities. Offensive and supportive actives are free aside from their cooldowns.

The towers have several different simultaneous attacks. This means that they can attack units and heroes and summons at the same time with independent cooldowns. The attack against summons is much more powerful due to the danger of players pushing with mass summons.

Two totem-like towers spam projectiles at an approaching wave of units and summons
Pushing some inner towers.

The towers in the centre of the map are captured rather than destroyed, so upon reaching 0 life they respawn at full life belonging to the killer's team. They also become stronger each time they change hands.

The 'jungle' takes inspiration from another genre of Warcraft map called Line Tower Wars. Instead of a bunch of camps being scattered around the jungle, there are four Spirit Lodges on the map.

These 'shops' allow the player to pay a little gold to spawn a hostile creep, which gives a substantial bounty when killed. The creeps range in power from weak to ridiculously powerful (with appropriately ridiculous bounty). This allows players to personalise or optimise their jungling.

For example, a hero could spawn a few weak creeps at once, or a single strong one, or bring some allies along to tackle one of the higher level camps for the higher gold reward. This is much more versatile than regular jungles!

Spirit Lodges encompass an entire jungle on their own and take up very little space, and two are hidden beyond the outer lanes. This makes it a little less trivial to locate the jungler.

A hero fights various fiery monsters in shallow water beside a Spirit Lodge
Farming away at the Spirit Lodge.

At the end of the game, players have the option to either enter a deathmatch with everyone's hero, or team up to try and bring down the game's megaboss, the Sorrow Knight himself. This is a nice opportunity to finish on a high note after being defeated, and promote camaraderie amongst players, though I have no idea how it worked out in practice.

A giant ghostly paladin stands in front of a seat, in a private garden. Its weapon glows with a lot of magic
The Sorrow Knight.

HoSK is a pretty interesting game with a good deal of variety and replayability. It could have certainly benefited from streamlining some of its features, most notably the hero selection process and the sheer number of differently categorised abilities. At time of writing, the HoSK website is still kicking, so you can read more about the game at hoskmap.com.