Heroes of the Storm put out its new patch notes today, and boy is this a big one. In addition to adding the new StarCraft Medic support hero Lt. Morales and completely reworking a number of struggling warriors, they’re finally making some changes to the game’s maps. Most importantly: the ungodly “Infernal Shrines.” Phew!
Infernal Shrines is the most recent map to make it into Heroes of the Storm, the second of the two Diablo-themed battlegrounds that Blizzard introduced during its seasonal and (I guess understandably) heavily #branded “Eternal Conflict” campaign. The conceit of the map is: each team must battle for control over three strategically positioned Diablo-style Shrines whenever one of them activates. Players do this by killing little skeleton monsters that pop up around the shrine when it’s active. The first team to kill 30 of the skeletons is rewarded with a powerful juggernaut known as a “Punisher” who pops out of the shrine like so:
The Punisher then proceeds to push down one of the map’s three lanes and into the enemy base’s defenses.
There are a lot of objectives in Heroes of the Storm maps that operate around a similar core principle of “fight over thing, thing then summons powerful monster to help you.” What makes Infernal Shrines particularly hellish is that the Punishers actually target players, whereas all the other NPC boss characters in HOTS only attack structures. And man, do the Punishers pack a punch. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a Punisher leap at my HOTS hero and punch them into oblivion while the rest of my team is getting massacred by the same punisher’s area-of-effect spells like, say, giant freezing balls of ice, or laser beams that move in little circles and damage everything in their immediate vicinity. Given how much damage these guys can deal, it makes it exceedingly difficult to recover in a match if you start out on the losing end of the first few shrines.
Players’ reaction to Infernal Shrines has been almost universal, with people imploring Blizzard to nerf the map’s objectives and make the snowballing effect for the winning team less intense. In today’s patch notes, the developer has finally taken heed:
The Punishers base health and the amount it increases with each passing shrine has been decreased, meaning they’re easier to kill. And since they leap to the nearest enemy hero rather than picking a random one, you’ll actually be able to counter them in a discernible...or, at least, try and survive by keeping your distance.
The changes to the skeleton defenders are just as important. Adding an extra ten skeletons to the amount required to summon a punisher is nice, but the real effect will likely come from the fact that heroes’ special minion-killing abilities won’t work the same way on them. Right now, it’s very easy for any hero with any strong minion wave-killing ability (wave-clear, in MOBA parlance) to dominate a shrine once it pops up and win their team the objective in a matter of seconds.
I just hope all this stuff is enough to make Infernal Shrines a bit more balanced, because that map has been seriously rough at times.
Most of the other big changes in todays patch notes affect the game’s melee warriors, or “tanks” in the current meta. The Warcraft-inspired zombie monster Stitches, who’s long been one of the weakest picks in the game, looks like he’s been all but rebuilt. From the patch notes:
Chen, the other super-weak warrior in HOTS right now, has also been reworked. Though I’m not sure if his changes really amount to a net buff:
Diablo and E.T.C. also got a handful of changes. While less extreme, they should help these two mid-level tank fighters recover some of their former glory from where they were before the ultra-powerful Diablo warriors Johanna and King Leoric both showed up:
Oh and speaking of those two, Blizzard nerfed both of them:
Thank god Johanna is getting nerfed. Going against her has been like trying to fight back against a brick wall.
There are also some notable changes to some of the support and assassin characters in HOTS. Butcher, my current favorite hero, got what looks like a slight buff to his terrifying charge move. Players will also be delighted to see that Zeratul (my other favorite hero) was nerfed—albeit in a small way:
Reducing the range of his show-stopping “void prison” ult, which freezes everything caught inside and makes it temporarily invulnerable, takes some of the power out of what is probably the single most powerful ult in the game. I’m still not convinced that Zera really needs such a nerf since he’s a very mechanically complex hero to play with, and doesn’t end up being all that threatening a lot of the time. But I’m probably just being bitter.
The biggest character changes in this HOTS patch are definitely the warrior/tank ones. I don’t like to speculate about what character changes this sweeping mean before they make their way into the game, but I will say that it’s a very good thing that Blizzard is finally making any sort of changes to its warriors. Tanks have been the weakest part of the Heroes of the Storm lineup for a while now, and most games have been dominated by Johanna, Leoric, or Anub’Arak simply because they’re the only characters in the class that are really strong enough to hold their own in high-level play very often. We’ll see how these changes end up shaking out, but doing something about the game’s current tank line-up is a step in the right direction in its own right.
Oh and one more thing: don’t forget that I’ll be live-streaming some Heroes gameplay with the good people at Blizzard this Thursday, October 8th, beginning at 4:00 pm EDT! It should be a good time.