Originally a playable character class in Diablo III, the Monk arrived in Blizzard’s new MOBA Heroes of the Storm last night as a melee support named “Kharazim.” More than any other character I’ve seen in the game so far, he’s defined by his impressive versatility.
Kharazim is the first HOTS character that can select one of three different traits at the start of the game. Normally, a hero only has one. The three traits boost his healing power, mana regeneration, or attack damage with every third basic attack when he’s in battle—meaning that the third time he punches a bad guy, he would either a) heal his surrounding allies, b) regenerate some of his mana, or c) deal some extra damage.
Monk is listed as a support character, so it’s easy to see how his basic abilities—the ones you cast by pressing Q, W, and E—can pair with his trait to make for a heals-heavy force on any team. His “W” heals the Monk and any allies in his immediate vicinity, for instance—though just as importantly, it has a very low cooldown. His “E” move, meanwhile, boosts his attack speed and range temporarily, unleashing a blinding flurry of kicks and punches on whomever’s standing in his way. And then there’s his Q, which allows him to blink towards any enemy or ally in a short range—teleporting him instantly into a tactically advantageous position.
Going with Kharazim’s healing trait, then, I quickly picked up on some basic support combos in my first few games with him last night. He can perform life-saving stunts by zapping into the front lines of a fight with his Q, immediately firing off a W to heal his ailing teammates nearby, then press E to continue healing while simultaneously chipping away at an enemy’s health. The Q jump also helps him escape from enemies who are chasing him, allowing him to blink a few feet away to stick next to a fleeing teammate—or jump straight towards the nearest group of minions to put some distance between himself and an aggressor.
So far, what I’ve described about Kharazim makes him sound like a solid support choice. Similar to the Warcraft character Brightwing, he lends a helping hand to his team simply by being in direct physical proximity to them and radiating off healing energy.
That’s all well and good. What I really love about the monk, though, is that he can be something totally different if you want him to. His Q and E abilities—the blink move and attack speed boost—grant him extra mobility and burst damage respectively. These are both very assassin-like assets, which means that he can also be a damage-dealing powerhouse—though preferably only if you already have a dedicated healer on your team. Since his Q also lands an attack on its target and can be upgraded to deal more damage on impact, he’s very good at hunting down individual targets who are trying to escape like so:
His W, then, can help keep him alive for longer so he doesn’t have to go off the offensive. I toyed around with trying to build him as an ability power-heavy fighter (AP) by taking his health regen trait, which lets him use his healing and attack abilities even more often without having to go back to base and recharge, and it seemed to work well.
I haven’t even gotten to his ults yet, the ultra-powerful moves that you cast by pressing “R.” They’re the best part of this guy. His offensive ult, “Seven-Sided Strike,” launches the Monk into some sort of turbo ninja/avatar mode where he becomes untargetable and keeps kicking all the bad guys in his immediate vicinity:
Divine Palm, meanwhile, casts a healing spell that last for three seconds and will instantly revive an ally (or the Monk himself) if they die during that time window. Here you can see Kharazim use it to save himself from an attacking Illidan (a Warcraft assassin), and then vanquishing his aggressor once he’s got his health back:
Both of these are incredibly powerful assets to have on a team, for totally different reasons. Deciding between them isn’t as simple as asking yourself, “Do I want to go support or damage in this game?” either. The seven-sided strike attack is obviously the more aggressive ability. But since it casts in a wide circle around the Monk and isn’t targeted (it just activates in a huge circle once you press “R”), it’s a useful way to zone out incoming enemies if, say, your teammates are trying to escape from a tight situation. Or if they’re busy attacking an objective and need someone to block for them.
(Pro tip: if you’re caught in the punching and kicking circle, keep running until you get out of it!)
The revive-upon-death ult, meanwhile, can give the guy even more survivability (“sustain,” in MOBA speak) than he already has if you choose to build up his damage and ability power instead of healing. Interestingly, the ult is practically identical to one that the support character Zilean has in League of Legends. Both are literally life-saving mechanisms, but both also require precise timing to not be wasted—though HOTS, in true “this is the decidedly not hardcore MOBA” fashion, has a level-20 upgrade for Kharazim’s resurrection ult that reduces its cooldown to five seconds if it’s cast on someone who doesn’t end up dying.
It’s interesting to compare Zilean and Kharazim directly, because doing so lets you see that Blizzard has accomplished something similar to what Riot did with this League of Legends champion, though in a completely different way. Zilean, much like Kharazim, doesn’t have to be played as a support champ. He can easily be swapped over to, say, mid-lane in that game—all you have to do is equip him with the right combination of in-game items to make him more aggressive on his own. Kharazim can be customized in similar ways in Heroes, just with different upgrades he unlocks as he levels up rather than.
I’ve only had time to play 8 games with Kharazim so far, but I can already tell that it’s going to take some more time and tinkering to figure out everything that he’s capable of. And that’s a great thing in my book. Blizzard has often spoken about how they want to develop, balance, and re-balance the characters in Heroes to make gameplay as diverse as possible—i.e., not making characters that players build a specific way 90% of the time. While they’ve improved certain characters’ versatility post release with balance updates (see Kael’Thas as a recent example), Kharazim strikes me as the most dynamic hero build-wise straight out of the gate.
More generally, I’m also optimistic about Heroes of the Storm’s future given the sheer quality of its most recent character releases. All the heroes that have come out recently—Johanna aka Diablo’s Crusader, the iconic villains The Butcher and King Leoric, and now the Monk—have quickly made names for themselves as some of the best characters in the game so far. They’re all among the most interesting, beautifully animated, and just plain fun characters to play as in the game already. They suggest to me that Blizzard’s design team for Heroes is only getting better at its job as it continues to expand the HOTS roster.
Also, one final note on something else that makes Kharazim unique in Heroes of the Storm. As Kotaku reader KiraXD observed, he’s the first HOTS character Blizzard’s made that bears an uncanny resemblance to Tim Armstrong, the singer/guitarist for the brand Rancid:
Coincidence?!?!? Reader Belish makes an even stronger case for Kharazim being inspired by Armstrong with this reference to the Rancid song “Fall Back Down,” the lyrics of which all sound like things a support character would say:
Don’t worry about me, I’m gonna make it alright
Got my enemies crossed out in my sight
I take a bad situation gonna make it right
In the shadows of darkness I stand in the light
You see it’s our style to keep it true
I’ve had a bad year, a lot to go through
I’ve been knocked out, beat down, black and blue
She’s not the one coming back for you
She’s not the one coming back for you
If I fall back down, you’re gonna help me back up again
If I fall back down, you’re gonna be my friend...