The undead skeleton king Leoric arrived in Blizzard’s new MOBA Heroes of the Storm last night as a playable warrior character. Living up to his namesake, the iconic villain from Diablo really is undead. As in: even when you kill him, he just keeps on fighting in ghost form. This is both awesome and terrifying.
Normally in MOBA games like HOTS and its close relatives Dota 2 and League of Legends, dying means you get taken out of the action—forced to sit through cooldown times as your team does their best to soldier on without you before respawning back at your base and sprinting back into the action as fast as you can. These death timers get longer and longer as the game goes on—running over a minute in HOTS by a match’s tense endgame period. Trying not to die, and suffering through agonizing periods of impotence whenever you do die, is one of the core challenges of playing a MOBA.
When Leoric goes down in Heroes of the Storm, things work a little...differently. Instead of simply slumping over and going MIA, Leoric instantly reappears in ghost form at the exact location of his death. This new ghost Leoric can continue to use a portion of his special abilities to attack opponents. While these attacks don’t deal any damage, they still offer a helping hand to any nearby allies by slowing Leoric’s targets and reducing the skeleton king’s death timer whenever he lands a move successfully. And once Leoric has run out his death timer, he reappears again all flesh and bones to carry on the fight. Or at least the bones part, anyway.
You can see him in action over the course of a full game in this video of a quick match I played with him this morning:
Leoric’s ghost form doesn’t make him entirely “immortal.” But it does something crucial all the same: it lets the guy stay in the fight indefinitely. Since the challenge in most Heroes of the Storm matches centers around holding one or more areas of the map against your opponents, Leoric’s power gives any team with him on it an immense tactical advantage. Even if he’s killed during a fight for, say, a tribute on the cursed hollow map, he can just stay there, bugging his enemies before returning in full skeleton king form to beat them back:
This aspect of Leoric’s character might sound ridiculously overpowered in theory. But immortality can come at a high price. I played a bunch of games with and against King Leoric last night, and saw plenty of players (myself included) pay that price many times over.
See, Leoric’s ghost form might be a powerful strategic asset to have on any team. But it also makes him omnipresent and almost always visible to his enemies. So while you’re able to camp out by any important location and keep coming back to wail on your enemies there, clever opponents can also hound you down and just keep killing you pretty much every time you reappear, bones and all.
(Pssssst: Pro tip if you’re playing Leoric and keep getting stuck in sticky situations: you can still recall back to base in ghost form by pressing “B” like normal)
Thankfully for Leoric loyalists, the skeleton king has a few other abilities in his kit that help keep him alive and demolish the opposition. His “Q” attack makes him swing his mace in a massive arch in front of him, damaging and slowing anyone it hits. His “W,” meanwhile, summons a spirit hand that grabs onto an enemy hero, linking them with Leoric and sapping their life away to give it to the skeleton king. And then there’s his “E,” which makes a spectral ghost version of Leoric’s body, letting you control the ghost for a few seconds before teleporting the guy to its location. These three make for powerful combos that let Leoric aggressively chase down opponents:
...or run away from them if the need arises.
Leoric has only been out for a day at this point, so it’s far too early to tell what place he’ll end up settling into in Heroes of the Storm. But I can already tell that he’s going to be a solid addition to the game’s roster of warrior heroes simply because he’s unique.
Of the 39 playable heroes currently in HOTS, 11 of them are warriors. Before Leoric’s entrance last night, all of the warriors seemed to rely on a very similar core set of abilities. They each have a ton of base hitpoints, armor, and health regeneration, which make them well-suited to soak up damage and body-block for their comparatively weak allies. And they all have powerful “crowd control” (CC) moves that do things like stun opponents or temporarily immobilize or trap them in some other way.
The one major exception to my generalization is Sonya, a HOTS-ified version of the barbarian class from Diablo. But at least right now, she’s so weak in the Heroes meta-game that she doesn’t really help liven things up. What players have been left with as a result is a whole lot of fighters who might not do the exact same things, but still end up having very similar effects on matches: providing a veritable meat shield for their allies while frustrating opponents with nonstop disabling maneuvers. This trend in Heroes of the Storm’s character design started to get out of hand earlier this summer when Blizzard added another Diablo class to the game with the crusader Johanna, a warrior who feels more like a brick wall than a fully-formed character thanks to her absolutely bonkers ability to absorb inhuman amounts of damage before ever slowing down.
Leoric has some CC power thanks to the slowing effect of his Q, and one of his two available “heroic abilities” that conjures a large metal tomb to trap foes in:
But CC isn’t as central to his identity as it is for the HOTS tank characters. Simply put, this helps liven the game up and add some variety to its current warrior lineup—both for people playing against Leoric and those who’ve already picked the guy up. And diversity is (almost) never a bad thing for a MOBA to have.