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Hindsight 101: Belated Varian BlizzCon Hands-on & Discussion

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Oxygen talks about his Varian experience at BlizzCon - a month late! Did the first Multiclass Hero live up to his (non) expectations?

 

If you're familiar with my BlizzCon-related work, you might know that I generally produce a few article about my hands-on experience with the announced and upcoming heroes for Heroes of the Storm. And you may have noted that I hadn't published anything about Varian. Why? Blizzard played a naughty joke on me by announcing that Varian would also be available for all to play on the PTR - a mere two days after BlizzCon - making my so-called experience rather moot. I refuse to see my work go to waste. Given that I made some rather bold assumptions in this article, I'd like to play a game of hindsight 20/20 or, "was Oxy wrong, and how wrong was he?", if you will.

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Intro and Design

Varian is one of the two Heroes announced at BlizzCon 2016. He represents the World of Warcraft Warrior class in Heroes of the Storm, just as the Hunter is represented by Rexxar, the Mage by Jaina and Kael'thas, the Warlock by Gul'dan, and so on. Accordingly, he is labeled as a Warrior. However, he also happens to be the first true ''hybrid'' Hero to be brought into the game, being able to be played as tank, bruiser, or Assassin. This is defined by his Heroic ability choices, which offer significant passive boosts to his health, attack damage, or attack speed, respectively, at the cost of other stats.

In fact, this ability to specialise as such is the Hero's main defining point. Although his learning curve is not particularly steep due to the simplicity of his kit, Varian's true depth comes from his talents. Each tier has you make decisions that broadly impact the way you will play the Hero following these decisions. Varian puts your ability to assess game flow, proper counter-picking, and team needs to the test.

Right off, I'm not sure why I said Varian was labeled as a Warrior when he's rather clearly labeled as Multiclass. Regardless of this minor mistake, I seem to have overestimated just how much "depth" Varian's talents actually have. Most players nowadays have a pretty clear idea of what they'll be doing the second they pick Varian, and hotslogs confirms that there isn't all that much variety in his builds. 

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Lion's Fang (Q) is a simple projectile that travels in a line, piercing enemies and dealing some damage on top of reducing the movement speed of struck foes. Lion's Fang is a pretty (disappointingly) literal copy-paste of Rexxar's Birdy toss. The related quest significantly improves its damage and doubles the slowing effect and adding a bit of duration to it, making it quite a bit more zingy. You can't really go wrong with slowing stuff in a line, but beyond this, the ability is not particularly interesting. It is pretty important to land it after Charge so that the slow may improve your basic attack uptime. Although the ability can be used to help you with waveclearing, its damage is so low that I would probably not leave Varian in any lane for an extended period of time.

Although there isn't much to add to this factual bit, I think it is pretty important to mention that Varian indeed turned out to be one of the worst early game (and laning) hero to date. I'll touch on this a bit futher down.

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Parry (W) reduces the damage of all incoming basic attacks by 100% for 0.75 seconds, and has two charges. This ability is very (very!) reminescent of Illidan's Evasion. At level 4, you can choose to make Parry reduce ALL damage taken by 100%, making it infinitely better. Since its duration is so short, you need some pretty good reflexes to make proper use of that one. As an interesting sidenote, it works against buildings and Mercenaries, notably, the Boss.

It should be noted that Parry was actually buffed significantly between BlizzCon and the PTR version of Varian. Although I was trying to give the ability some credit, using its 0.75 seconds duration to its fullest was rather... lacklustre at best.

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Charge (E) sends you running at the enemy target of your choice, dealing a bit of damage and applying a potent but short snare. More or less like Kharazim's Dash, sans the ability to target allies, and with a much shorter range. A level 4 choice turns the snare into a 0.75 seconds stun and halves its otherwise pretty long cooldown, making it an excessively reliable interruption, soft engaging, and chasing tool. But not much else.

It is interesting to note that Charge was also changed between BlizzCon and the PTR, with a 33% increase to the snaring and stunning (assuming Warbringer) effects.

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Heroic Strike (Trait) makes your first attack every 18 second deal a signficant amount of bonus damage. Following basic attacks reduce the cooldown of Heroic Strike by some 2 seconds. The animation is pretty cool, and the damage is definitely welcome. Heroic Strike allows Varian to deal a reasonable amount of burst damage following Charge, but is especially useful while clearing out Mercenary Camps. There's not much to that one; just make sure you don't waste your attack against irrelevant targets before actually engaging.

Taunt (R1) forces the targeted Hero to attack you for 1.25 seconds. Its range being essentially melee, I'd often follow a charge up with this so as to totally disable my target for 2 seconds. This talent also increases your life pool by a measly 50%, at the cost of reducing your attack speed by 25%. If you hadn't guessed, this is what you go to become a tank - or try to, anyway.

Colossus Smash (R2) causes you to dash to the target, slamming them for a decent amount of damage and a 3-second Vulnerability (25% damage taken increase from all sources) effect. It also passively increases your attack damage by 75%, at the cost of losing 10% of your health. This one lets Varian deal a scary amount of burst damage, as the increased basic attack damage is strongly reflected in Heroic Strike's own damage. All of which is then multiplied by the Vulnerability effect provided by Colossus Smash. Just make sure you have an exit strategy for this one, because you will be as frail as Varian gets.

Twin Blades of Fury (R3) does not have an activated ability attached to it, making it the first entirely passive Heroic ability. Instead, it provides a hefty 100% extra attack speed, at the cost of 25% attack damage. This is offset by the fact that the talent also increases your movement speed by 30% whenever you hit something, and causes your basic attacks to reduce the cooldown of Heroic Strike by 9 (!) seconds per hit. In other words, you'll be critically hitting your target every 3rd attack, not unlike Samuro. Combined with Second Wind, Twin Blades grants you some supreme self-sustainability. You just need to be able to attack your intended target a lot, which can be difficult. This talent also scales extremely well with the High king's Quest due to the interaction of flat damage and high attack speed.

Not much to say here, although I would like to underline some of my cynical bit regarding Taunt. A lot of players were excited about the prospect of completely disabling a chosen target for 2 (now 2.25) seconds. I was skeptical, as it meant giving up so much of everything else. Time would prove me right; Taunt Varian peaked at some 39% global win rate, and was extremely underwhelming (read: it lost) in the few competitive matches we did briefly see Varian come off the bench.

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Gameplay and Impressions

Is simple complexity not an oxymoron? Varian's kit is dreadfully simple - I'd almost say cripplingly. I simply can't help but feel that it'll be very difficult for Varian players to stand out through the use of his abilities. There's only so much you can do with a targeted charge and line damage. This is also problematic from an animation standpoint; there isn't really anything ''big'' or impressive to build upon. The contrast between Varian and Ragnaros, from this standpoint, is staggering.

I think we can all agree on this point; Varian is definitely one of the more accessible heroes currently available, and his (updated) Taunt build is currently pretty effective for how simple it is to run. Don't get me wrong - simple characters are great for new players, but I personally felt - and still feel - that Varian is about as low as it is reasonable to be in terms of skill floor and ceiling.

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Another big issue: Mana. Why does he have it? Warriors are the epitome of the not-mana archetype. It would feel good, too, to stack up Fury or rage or what-have-you in a Sonya-esque fashion, allowing you to unleash a barrage of Lion's Fangs, Parry a significant number of attacks, or repeatedly Charge at an intended kill target. During my several play sessions, I would often find myself running out of the stuff; this is definitely due to the level 7 talents providing large amounts of self-sustain. I'd always be full on health, and without a blue bar. That's annoying, and completely out of character.

After writing the article, I did have the chance to discuss (over dinner!) with an unnamed Blizzard hero design dev. He basically agreed with me, though underlined that taking mana away from so many characters might lead the game in a direction they weren't necessarily anticipating, or at least, crafting around. I boldly suggested taking Varian's mana to Samuro, because Blademasters were certainly known for building specifically so as to reduce mana usage. The whole discussion was rather interesting, to say the least.

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My favourite thing about the character is without a doubt how significant every talent tiers feel. Varian probably has the best-designed talent tree in the game, and although I understand it is part of his design intent, I feel he should be used as a template for future releases. We all know that feeling when you get to pick up that build-defining talent, right? Varian gives you that feeling at every tier. The individual talent design is pretty clever, too - and it had to be. All of the talents work for all of the 3 ''specs'' you can go into.

I'm going to have to disagree with myself here; Ragnaros has an awesome talent tree because it allows you to aggressively adapt to your opponents. With Varian, I often feel like I'm struggling to see what I can get away with doing. And unfortunately, since the recent changes to the hero, that often ends up being "Just go Taunt". Yes, we do get to make big choices at level 4 and 16, but are they really interesting choices? I don't personally feel so. They're simply natural responses to what your opponents are playing, not depthful playstyle or game changers.

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Role-wise, I feel like he fits the bruiser niche generally filled by The Butcher, Sonya, and Illidan. The issue, however, is that his Mercenary Camp clearing speed is abysmal in the early stages of the game due to your main damage source being gated behind Heroic abilities, and to sustain only coming online at level 7. His waveclear is even worse. He just feels terrible in the early stages of the game, but his design essentially makes it impossible to give him significant damage anywhere before 10, because any such boost would end up multiplying with the Heroic Assassin specs. It's a bit messy, to say the least, and would probably mean that he can never be a truly competitive pick. And even later on, when he can actually start doing things, he feels on the undertuned side. You'd wish he'd take some power away from Ragnaros to balance out the two somehow. In the end, however, I just don't feel like he's fun to play. Something is missing somewhere, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

A Meta Reject

In the last paragraph, I drew a comparion between The Butcher, Sonya, Illidan, and Varian in terms of in-game role. I cannot currently foresee Varian outperforming any of these Heroes. Undertuning might be a factor, but his early game deficiencies are simply too significant when he can't be roaming. The other Heroes mentioned here already see limited play in this meta despite being deemed balanced or even strong. I know what you're thinking, however: Oxy, does the ability to adapt not have any intrinsic value? To which I'll respond: Yes, it does. But you also sacrifice something for this. The most obvious problem is the early game (can I overstate this?), before you get to actually specialise, but once you do specialise, what then? Whether he's a tank or a damage dealer, Varian still does the same stuff: Charge in, most likely as a follow-up or to lock someone that's out of position, deal a bit of damage, either Taunt or Colossus Smash a value target, get a kill (or not)... but then, you're gated by really long cooldowns. His basic attacks are decent, thanks to Heroic Strike, but nothing to write home about. His survivability is mediocre, even in tank mode; having a tonne of health, as we've learned from Diablo, generally isn't even enough to be actually considered tanky. And if his numbers do see an increase, I feel he might just be frustrating to play against given how little counterplay room there is against him. Something fundamental might need to change about him if he is to see any serious viability. I guess that explains why he ends up... Legion spoiler alert...

 

dying.

Interestingly enough, Varian's Twin Blades of Fury build ended up being the build to beat by a large margin. In other words, I was wrong; it does happen to the best of us. Despite an abysmal early game (and regarding this, I was right!), Warbringer (which was shortly nerfed) and a ridiculous level of self-sustain (which was shortly nerfed) were enough to make up for said abysmal early game performance. I still stand behind my comments regarding the hero's lack of depth, which, I feel, will bore many players and unfortunately make one of the Warcraft franchise's most iconic characters rather unpopular should he ever become undertuned. It is worth noting that Varian, after this latest balance patch, is currently is in a pretty good state, with at least one of his build (Taunt) hovering around 53% win rate. His two other builds stand at a respectable 6-7% behind, generally overshadowed by other bruisers and melee assassins.

In the end, I certainly respect the design decisions made for Varian. His overly simple base ability kit, however, seem to have made it very difficult to create meaningful talents for him. Case in point: the majority of his talents don't even affect his basic abilities. Those that touch Parry are generally ignored due to their defensive or outright underwhelming nature, overshadowed by those that affect Charge, as those tend to synergise so well together. Lion's Maw (level 1 talent for Lion's Fang) sees a good amount of play however, if not just for the fact that it turns a meek Lion Fang into a reasonable ability, and is the only talent that actually affects it. Again, I'd like to underline the attempts at straying a bit away from the typical talent design, but Heroes has too much design space to see a hero that has 3 extremely simple abilities that more or less already exist on other heroes.

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      Hi, /u/f....yeah! This was something we planned from early in his development to recognize that Deathwing is something truly special in the game on many fronts. Giant Raid Boss! Two ability kits!! DEATHWING!!! For those reasons and many more, the original intention was actually for him to be our first Mythic hero. Those plans happened long ago and got a little lost across his development even internally, so I understand how people feel disappointed that they didn't have the opportunity to save enough gold for him in advance. We should have set that expectation at his announcement and I'm sorry about that. We'll do better communicating about one-offs like this in the future.
      Can you shine some light on how the Tass and DVa rework are coming along?
      Both are coming along nicely! Tass recently got some of his new art FX (courtesy of /u/Blizz_Thomas) and we're pretty much finalizing his balance/design changes. He should be in your hands soon™. Dva is still a ways off, but we're working hard on it!
      Why did Deathwing have no skin at release?
      His skin wasn't ready for this year. We have something really cool planed for him though. This is what I'm personally working on at the moment. Please accept The Destroyer Brightwing skin in the meantime as a peace offering.
      Have you thought of making a weird map, like a single-lane map with a real objective (so not just an aram)? Or 5 lanes, to go silly in the other directions?
      Yes! Very early in development we experimented with a lot of different map types like 4 lane maps, giant maps with huge jungles and only 2 lanes, etc etc. We learned a lot about how easily macro play could become the dominant strategy and how mount speed/globals should be tuned.
      I vaguely remember a map that had "waygates" on either side of the map which let you instantly teleport between the two if your team had control of both. We learned very quickly that giving your entire team a Zagara Nydus Canal was a bit OP.
      Not really an important issue, but as a D.Va main across both games it always sort of bothered me how in Overwatch D.Va's mech shoots alternating spread shots, like two shotguns, while in Heroes it is animated more like two chainguns, constantly firing projectiles rather than staccato bursts. Is there a technical / design / deliberate reason for this? Not a big problem, I've always just been curious.
      That fantasy/mechanical mismatch is something we will be addressing in her upcoming rework ?
      Lilith is clearly the most hyped character from Blizzard IPs right now. She got great introduction followed with perfect visual design. It's going to take years before we see her in Diablo 4.
      Since hots already introduced decent amount of diablo lore, how insanse is the idea of having Lilith in hots before D4 is released?
      Lilith is awesome and though we would love to bring her to the Nexus, we think it would be best for the Diablo team to show her off in their game first. Sorry guys, gonna have to wait on that one for a bit.
      You undoubtedly have lots of internal statistics on which you based your hero balancing. Would you mind sharing these statistics? It does not have to be something fancy - for example just posting a spreadsheet here on the subreddit. I might be useful to see how i.e. hero winrates differ from the data available to community through replay analysis.
      We do use a lot of statistics when looking at balance. However, at this time we don’t have plans to share them publicly.
      I do share statistics from time to time, but am wary of showing something like a whole spreadsheet of win rates on some specific date. The main reason is because statistics can and almost always are misinterpreted to fit a certain narrative, and it takes lots of stats from different places to put together a complete picture about what’s going on.
      For example, in regards to purely win rates the game has almost always been in an excellent spot across the board, yet that hasn’t always felt like the case with player feedback, nor with what they are picking and banning at various levels of play. If we balanced the game purely based on win rates alone, you would see a whole lot of changes that seem to make no sense at all, because they don’t reflect the reality of what players are experiencing.
      I can give some broad points about our statistics over the years that I’ve observed:
      1. Win rates across the board, especially for talents, are almost always very close. I would say about half the time is the most picked talent the one that’s actually winning the most often.
      2. Niche heroes tend to have much higher win rates than others. This is even more impressive if you think about how they often have a negative stigma for not being strong, yet they still win despite that team morale hit that often happens when they are taken.
      3. Hero pick and ban rates rarely reflect what’s actually winning, and more often reflect community sentiment on what they believe is strong, or is something that players more generally just don’t want to play against.
      Can we get a look under the hood at the Match Point breakdown? as in how does one person get 15 points and the other 26 points in the same Bronze 5 win
      Hi there!
      There are a couple of factors involved with this:
      - Uncertainty: The more time between games, the less confidence the matchmaker has in your skill rating and so the more it is adjusted
      - Dampening: At extreme ratings, we limit the ability to move in a particular direction. This is so we don't get people off in Narnia without the ability to play with anyone
      - Bronze 5 Hugeness: Bronze 5 covers a large skill rating and has its own dampening in it as well, so while you are moving the same rating, you might not be moving the same ranked points until you get to Bronze 4.
      This last point is something we're taking very seriously and investigating what to do about it.
      Why don't you update all Regions at the same time? I'm just curious!
      We want to make sure the game is available to the maximum number of players the maximum amount of time, so we try to make sure we take each region down when the lowest number of players would be playing. When the US has the most people online, Europe has the least and vice versa. There are other factors that affect the time, but that is far and away the biggest reason.
      I am clearly biased when I ask this, but are there any plans to retune Butcher into baseline Ranked viability whilesimultaneously nerfing his snowball potential (so he doesn’t simply break QM completely, especially for new players)?
      We're currently taking a holistic look at Butcher, focusing especially on ways to make him more "generally" usable and reducing some of the pain points with his baseline quest ?
      Is it intended that Death wing can be stopped by void prison?
      Yes, this is intended. For most enemy interactions, think of Deathwing as a Johanna who always has her trait up.
      Since we got ARAM, both Chromie and Azmodan got reworked. Would you consider enabling them for ARAMs in their current state?
      Good news! Azmodan and Chromie are available in ARAM as of the Deathwing patch ?
      I'll bring up the Varian question in our next design meeting.
      Malthael is considered by most to have pretty poor talent diversity. And his trait build is lacking at the moment. Is this something you see with the data on your end and are you planning on giving a once over to some of the bigger offenders?
      After digging into the data, Malthael is still one of the best heroes in our game in regards to talent diversity. That narrative simply isn’t reflecting the reality of his talent choices. As an example, at Level 1, 40.3% of people are picking On a Pale Horse, 40% of people are picking Fear the Reaper, and 19.7% of people are picking Death’s Reach, with all 3 of them having similar win rates.
      That being said, like every hero in our game, I don’t believe his talents are perfect, and he can definitely still use improvements.
      We've heard many times how remaking Arthas's model is a large undertaking that, art-wise, is basically an entire new hero. How much work is just a new set of animations? 
      So, it's hard to say exactly how long just re-animating Arthas would take but generally it takes us about 20ish weeks to fully animate a hero start to finish. So, somewhere in that range. I can't give a specific range because every hero takes more or less time depending on their complexity. A simple biped like Raynor could take half the time to animate in comparison to someone like Deathwing who has 4 legs, wings, and a tail. All those extra bits really add up and extend animation time. Kit complexity, extra models, and stuff like that also add to animation time. We also have to consider what state Arthas is under the hood in terms of rig and data set up. Having extra issues to deal with on top of just doing the animating work can really slow down the whole process. Ultimately, slowing down the whole process impacts all of the cool new stuff we're currently working on too so it's a tough trade off.
      With Overwatch 2's recent reveal, will the artists and dev team be collaborating with the OW team to create new skins/ integrating talents for the existing roster of heroes perhaps during a rework?
      I don't believe there's any plans to update current heroes talents based on the OW2 reveal, however it's certainly possible in the future once the game is released. On the art side we always want to be sensitive to the source material for our content and if we decide to make a new hero or skin we would certainly collaborate with the OW team to build the best version possible.
      Good morning. when are you going to buff to tracer ?
      We do have plans to liven things up for Tracer, but we're not ready to share details quite yet ?
      When will quick match be removed from the game? Or at least fixed? Quick match's current incarnation being a problem has been common knowledge for years, but nothing has been done to address it, despite quick match being any new player's first experience with the game.
      Quick Match has been a topic that has blighted my dreams, affected my relationships, altered my gravitational pull with the Earth, caused many discussions in the office, and largely just followed me around like a shadow made of tears and frustration.
      From issues stemming from New Heroes being 2/3rds of the queue for the first week or so of a hero's release (seriously, how do you expect us to be able to matchmake that?), or issues with Call of the Nexus, or to the time it broke for 3 days and made any match it wanted to, Quick Match has kept me awake when I would rather be asleep for far too long.
      However, what can we do with it? It's our most popular game mode and we are, I think, the only MOBA that allows you to pick a hero before entering matchmaking. We are Just. That. Nice.
      So, what do we do with it?
      - Nothing: You can just play it as is, get some amazing games, get some... other games, play the newest and shiniest hero... eventually?
      - Blind Pick/All Pick: We become more like other MOBAs and you can pick your hero in turn and do/don't get to see what your opponents pick until the timer is up, and then the guy that didn't get what he wanted leaves the game and overall sadness goes up in the world by 0.002%
      - ANARCHY: We just turn all the Quick Match rules off and hope the problem solves itself!
      As us Brits like to say: Answers on a Postcard addressed to the Nexus and I'll collate the responses.
      Arams are amazing is there a plan to add a ranked version of it? This might add some sort of strategy to the mode.
      While that sounds like a nifty idea, we don't have any plans to add a ranked mode for ARAM at this time.
      I'd have a few concerns with doing it - primarily that ARAM is intended to be a fun, wacky mode where you can kind of wind down and relax. If we turn it into a competitive thing, a lot of that spirit can easily be lost in the name of created a better ranked experience.
    • By positiv2
      This thread is for comments about our Anomalies guide for Heroes of the Storm.
    • By Stan
      Sleepy Cloud is still on sale this week for 1,000 Gems, but you can no longer buy the 360 Day Boost.
      Don't forget to check out this week's Free Hero Rotation and Deathwing Patch Notes!
      Deathwing is free for all Virtual Ticket holders, but if you're buying the Hero with Gems/Gold, you may have noticed an increased price.

      Hero Sales
      The following Heroes are available for purchase at a reduced Gem cost:
      Heroes Old Price New Price Hanzo 750 Gems 375 Gems Imperius 750 Gems 375 Gems Muradin 500 Gems 250 Gems
    • By Stan
      This week's brawl is Industrial District! The single-lane Overwatch-themed map comes with standard play and shuffle pick and the goal is to destroy the enemy Core to claim victory. Complete three games to receive a Loot Chest.
      Blizzard (Source)
      This week’s Heroes Brawl is Industrial District! Slide around and slug it out in the heart of Volskaya in this Overwatch-themed, single-lane Battleground featuring lots of conveyor belts and tons of action.
      Rules:
      Shuffle pick - Choose from one of three Heroes before entering the battle. Standard play - no talent or level restrictions. The first team to destroy the enemy Core wins! Rewards:
      Complete three matches of the Industrial District Brawl to earn a Loot Chest! Find out more about the Heroes Brawl game mode on our Heroes Brawl site; and as always, you can find more information on this week’s Brawl by clicking the Brawl Info button at the bottom of the play screen when preparing to queue for the Brawl game mode.
    • By Stan
      Due to some unexpected issues, Blizzard's delaying the Deathwing patch in Europe and the update should go live at around 5 PM PST (2:00 AM CET).
      Meanwhile, the patch has hit other regions and you can read the full patch notes for details.
      Blizzard (Source)
      Hello,
      Due to an unexpected issue found, we’re delaying the Heroes of the Storm live patch release in EU region to 5pm, tomorrow, December 4, PST.
      Sorry for the inconvenience, and thank you for your understanding. We’ll get it ready as soon as we can!
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