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Hands-on with Varian and Ragnaros in Heroes of the Storm

BlizzCon 2016 was full of glorious announcements for all Blizzard games and Heroes of the Storm got plenty of love as well. Two new heroes were announced via cinematic:

  • Varian as the first dual class hero who can be played as either a Warrior or Assassin
  • The Firelord Ragnaros who brings interesting new gameplay mechanics to the map like the ability to takeover or replace a tower

I was able to play both heroes on the convention floor and enjoyed running with both of them. Here are my impressions.

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Varian Wrynn, High King of the Alliance

Varian is an almost literal translation of the World of Warcraft Warrior class that you can spec into Protection, Fury, or Arms depending on the needs of your group. He can charge an opponent to close a gap, slow a runner with a ranged attack, and parry all incoming basic attacks for 1.25 seconds. Sound familiar?

He has three ultimates to choose from:

  • Taunt transforms him into a Heroes Warrior archetype by not only forcing opponents into attacking him, but by coming with a passive that increases his health and reducing his damage output
  • Colossus Smash is the Arms-themed DPS heroic that allows him to leap at an opponent bringing down his blade for damage and making them vulnerable for more damage for 3 seconds as well as a passive that increases his overall base damage by 75%
  • Twin Blades of Fury has no active component, just the passive buffs of a 100% increase in attack speed and cuting in half the cooldown of his trait which gives a damage burst to his basic attacks

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So, how does he play? I went with a Colossus Smash build and found him to be a powerful Assassin. With two gap closers that can be used in combination, he can decimate any squishy caster or other low health hero that is fool enough to let him get close. And with his ranged slow, he can often chase them down to get them in range of his leaps.

But he is also vulnerable while chasing ranged assassins since his Parry ability only makes him temporarily invulnerable to basic attacks. Special ability ranged attacks can still chunk down his health very quickly if he doesn’t have a healer to back him up or if he can’t close the distance quickly.

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And that leads me to another vulnerability of Varian’s. He’s quick to jump into a fight with his leaps, but has no escapes if he gets outnumbered as those jumping abilities are based on targeting an opponent. So when a fight goes bad, he has to be smart about getting out early. He has one talent at level 13 that allows him to drop a banner on the ground for a 25% run speed boost. That’s it. So you’ll have to be strategic about getting and getting out of fights if you choose the damage talents.

Overall, he felt to me like he fulfilled the role of the Assassin very well with his gap closers and damage combos and his Parry for damage reduction. Just make sure he has back up and don’t rely on him to efficiently clear minion waves as he has little in the way of AOE damage.

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Ragnaros, The Firelord

This raid boss from Vanilla World of Warcraft brings some brand new mechanics to the game that forced my opponents to change their tactics. I know I had to approach the game differently when I faced him on the opposing team myself. This hero is going to shake up the meta hard when he hits the live servers.

Become a Watcher

This Assassin hero starts with a very powerful ability kit.

  • Empower Sulfuras (Q) empowers his weapon Sulfuras to do AOE damage and heal him for 20% of the damage. Great for clearing minion waves and healing during team fights.
  • Living Meteor (W) calls down a meteor for impact damage and then it rolls a short distance dealing continuous damage. While this is great in theory, I found it difficult to aim the meteor in the direction I wanted it to roll. It may work better with smart casting on (which was turned off at the demo stations).
  • His Blast Wave (E) can be targeted on himself or a nearby ally and grants a 25% movement buff and AOE damage. Great for wave clear and to run out of a bad situation as Ragnaros doesn’t have many escape abilities.

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His two Heroic abilities are designed to either take down heroes or clear the map of lane pushes:

  • Sulfuras Smash (R1) which throws his hammer into the air to land where you’ve marked. Anyone caught where it lands will take damage and be stunned. This is great to catch opponents running away.
  • Lava Wave (R2) which creates a wall of lava down the lane marked by Ragnaros. It starts at your core and travels down the entire lane to the enemies’ core, burning everything in its path. It will easily destroy minions and do significant damage to beefier minions and enemies.

I saved his Trait for last because it’s a little complicated, but by far the most interesting and game changing part of his kit. Ragnaros can target an allied or destroyed tower and activate Molten Core (D). He will then become the tower itself for a short time with a greatly increased health pool and an upgraded set of abilities.

  • His Q will sweep his hammer in a wide 180 degree cone-shaped area in front of him for massive damage.
  • His W will rain down fire on a targeted area
  • His E will place a rune on the ground for a large amount of damage.

Given that he is trying to defend a tower point, all these abilities have a long range. His health will decay over time at the end of which he will transform back into regular Ragnaros. This can be ended early by the player or by his opponents attacking him and destroying his health pool.

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Ragnaros is very fun to play. I found myself using all his abilities constantly and was able to turn the tide of the game quite a few times by taking over a tower that was being attacked and defending it with my trait. His talents beef up his considerable DPS even more while giving him a self heal and the Level 20 options include a second charge of Lava Wave or 50% more health and damage while in tower form. Crazy!

He has great wave clear with his Q giving him AOE damage, but nothing beats the Lava Wave heroic that damages everything in a lane from one end to another. On maps like Braxis Holdout where a lane can be flooded with minions, this talent can be a life saver.

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Also his tower takover trait can be used offensively as well as defensively since it works on destroyed towers. Demolish your opponents’ tower, then take it over to help your team push further in that lane. This can be especially powerful in the final push to their core.

Finally, he’s no slouch in team fights. His Blast Wave does AOE damage, his Q does AOE damage and heals him and his rolling Living Meteor can chase runners and finish them off. Just be careful about positioning. He may be raid boss, but he can still be overwhelmed and has few escape options.

Varian will be hitting the Heroes PTR on Tuesday, November 8th and will be on the live servers later in the month. Ragnaros will be arriving in December. Want to learn more about the development of Varian and Ragnaros? Check out our liveblog of the Heroes Development Deep Dive panel.

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