Roadhog was a lot of things to a lot of people. A friend, a brother, perhaps even a lover. Also, a one-man apocalypse. He really doesn’t want you to forget that. We can all agree, though, that he was taken before his time.
Toward the end of June, Overwatch’s resident master of hook-fu and tattoo(s) got nerfed. Blizzard reduced his bullet damage by 33 percent, taking away a key element of his kit: the ability to one-shot most heroes after reeling them in with his jagged, hacked-together hook. That tactic was the glue that held Roadhog’s other abilities together and, crucially, gave the good pig boy something he was best at. Among the game’s tank heroes, he certainly wasn’t the sturdiest (that’d be Reinhardt) or best at damage mitigation (D.Va and Zarya both do it far better in their own ways), but he could ruin somebody’s day in a heartbeat if they overextended or got careless.
The nerf left him hollow and revealed just how deficient other elements of his kit are. He’s a large target with lengthy ability cooldowns, after all, and his healing ability, while potent, leaves him helpless for multiple seconds. Taken together, these things turn him into a big ult charge battery for the other team. These days, it’s actually to some heroes’ advantage to get hooked, because they can out-duel Roadhog up close. Where once it was a terrifying prospect, people are now practically lining up to give the diminished ‘hog a big hug.
Players have spent the past month pleading with Blizzard to save Roadhog, whose usage and win rates have dropped since the nerf. Some have suggested further changes and new abilities, but most just want to see Roadhog reverted to the way he was before. As time has passed, however, their bargaining has turned into despair. There’s even a #RIPRoadhog hashtag on Twitter.
Video courtesy of the always wonderful Dinoflask.
Blizzard, meanwhile, has argued that Roadhog’s one-shot ability simply wasn’t fun if you were on the receiving end of it, and despite all the outcry, it doesn’t appear to be budging on that. Toward the end of last month, principal designer Geoff Goodman said that the dev team is instead testing a version of Roadhog that will receive a 50 percent damage reduction while healing and be able to move in the process. So he’ll be much tankier than before, basically.
Some players remain concerned. This proposed Nu-Hog might be able to take a beating and keep on dueling, but he still doesn’t have a specialty. He’d just be a sturdier version of a guy who can’t match up with other tanks in departments that actually matter.
More crucially, though, he’s no longer the imposing, high-risk/high-reward hero Roadhog mains found so captivating in the first place. The fun of Roadhog was that if you did things right—nailed your hook placement, caught a healer or a Tracer, or some other high-value target—you were the ultimate hunter. Other players had a legitimate reason to be afraid of you. That feeling was incredibly empowering!
On the other hand, if you screwed up, you were prey, albeit not in the typical “flash fried dead meat” sense. You could lumber away and try to heal, give yourself a second lease on life. But if enemies cornered you or pushed you out of position, you could only watch helplessly as they drained your health bar and filled their ult meters. It was an awful feeling, knowing how much you potentially hurt your team. Insult and injury, paired with looming dread about what was coming next.
Blizzard’s new vision of Roadhog might be less polarizing, but for many, a major part of his appeal was that he operated in extremes. The highest highs and the lowest lows. Those mechanical edges, in turn, gave his look and vibe—his scrapheap arsenal that looks like it could collapse at any second—meaning. He was a bit of a mess, but his quirks made people love him.
Some nerfs are simple nip/tuck treatments that people ultimately agree were necessary, and maybe this one will eventually be viewed that way too. But it also raises an important question about the nature of balance in games that operate for years and years: what happens when a developer changes a hero so fundamentally that they lose their identity, especially after they’ve been a certain way for a long time? That hero might look the same and sound the same, but if players who once adored them won’t touch them anymore, are they still the same hero? And even if it’s for the perceived greater good of the game, is it necessarily a good idea to make those changes? As a player, I’m a bit unsettled by the idea that my favorite hero (Pharah, for the record) could suddenly be transformed into a state that’s not necessarily bad or ineffective, but is mechanically unrecognizable to me.
At the end of the day, it’s Blizzard’s game, and it’s free to do as it pleases with the cast of characters it created. Much as players adore and identify with the game’s heroes, we do not own them. Change is increasingly inevitable in modern games, especially ones as big as Overwatch. By all means, love your favorite heroes, but keep in mind that you never know where they’ll end up before getting too attached.