Heroes of the Storm previews upcoming laning changes
The Heroes of the Storm 2018 Gameplay Update was first previewed at BlizzCon last month, has been on the PTR for awhile now, and is slated to release next week. If you’ve managed to avoid any of the relevant information thus far, Blizzard has been laying out the major changes in a series of blog posts. They’ve covered the changes to Stealth, the new performance-based matchmaking, and now, the changes to laning.
As mentioned in the BlizzCon 2017 opening ceremony and during our “What’s Next” panel, we will soon be introducing an array of significant changes for Heroes of the Storm’s early game as part of our 2018 Gameplay Update. Read on for an in-depth look at some of the adjustments coming to the Nexus later this month, as well as our reasoning behind them.
What’s Changing and Why
The early game in Heroes of the Storm typically breaks down into two parts: the laning phase and initial battleground objectives. The laning phase offers opportunities for players to have small skirmishes in each lane, show off individual skill by outplaying opponents, and get in some early structure damage. During most games, the laning phase currently ends more quickly than we’d like, and outplaying an opponent in a lane doesn’t have much tangible impact on a match as a result.
With this in mind, we wanted to revisit these experiences to explore ways we could make improvements. We’ve re-evaluated our approach to many aspects of the early game, and made a variety of changes to structures, regeneration globes, mercenary camps, and even our objective spawns, to make laning more meaningful throughout a match.
Currently, towers, forts, and keeps have a limited number of shots and regenerate ammo slowly. Often, players will quickly defeat a minion wave, and then play safe while their own minions push enemy towers and drain ammunition. We wanted to revisit this relationship to see if we could find a way to encourage more offensive play in-lane.
After testing a variety of changes internally, we decided to remove structure ammunition, effectively giving towers, forts, and keeps an infinite number of shots. Since ammo can no longer be depleted, we’ve also reduced structure damage to minions, and increased minion damage to help them hit a little harder. These changes should give players a bit more incentive to attack with their minion waves in order to deal more meaningful damage to opposing towers.
Standalone Towers Removed
We also began re-evaluating individual structures, and found the standalone towers near forts and keeps aren’t coming into play as often as we’d hoped. Once they do, it’s usually too late, and the other structures have already been destroyed. Standalone towers can also block defenders during critical moments, making it easier for enemies to predict their movements and pick them off.
As a result, we’ve decided to remove standalone towers, and have been happy with how this has played out in testing so far. In fact, we’ve already tried out this change in the live game with our newest battleground, Volskaya Foundry, which was released earlier this year without standalone towers. To compensate for the removal of standalone towers, we’ve rolled some of their stats into surrounding gate towers, forts, and keeps, to beef them up and help maintain the relationships between fortifications and battleground objectives.
Characters like Abathur and Murky commonly rely on standalone towers as protection against stealth Heroes like Zeratul, who are looking to hunt them down. Removing those towers makes these Heroes more vulnerable, but we still want players to be able to defend their fortifications effectively. We’ve given True Sight to Forts and Keeps, which already exists on the Core and reveals any enemy stealth Heroes who enter the structure’s attack range. Despite the removal of standalone towers, players should feel a little safer while trying to hold off attacks.
We like what regeneration globes currently do for the game, but also wanted to see if there were any changes we could implement to make them even more impactful. Currently, they encourage players to consider how they approach fights over minion waves in order to maximize sustain and keep up the pressure in a lane. They also disappear if no allies pick them up after a few seconds.
We’ve tweaked regeneration globes so they instead switch from allied to neutral after 3 seconds and remain available for either team to pick up for an additional 3 seconds. This will give players more opportunities to think critically about how to win their lanes, and skilled players will be able to grab up to twice as many globes as before.
In addition to making the laning phase in Heroes more meaningful, we want to give players more time to make an impact and show off their skill in the early game before they are pulled away to contest an objective. As a result, we’re going to push back our initial objective timers a bit in order to provide that space. We’re also planning to simplify timers across all battlegrounds, and give earlier objective notifications so that players can make the most of the laning phase in each match.
Objective Timers, Simplified
While having a large number of unique battlegrounds to compete on offers a wide variety of strategies and dynamic gameplay, it also means players have a lot to keep in mind from one game to the next. Thus far, many of our battlegrounds have had differing rulesets and timers that players need to memorize, and we want to simplify this so they are easier to remember across the board.
- The first objective will now spawn 1 minute and 30 seconds into a match on the following battlegrounds:
- Blackheart’s Bay
- Braxis Holdout
- Dragon Shire
- The first objective will now spawn 3 minutes into a match on the following battlegrounds:
- Battlefield of Eternity
- Cursed Hollow
- Garden of Terror
- Haunted Mines
- Infernal Shrines
- Sky Temple
- Towers of Doom
- Warhead Junction
- We’ve been happy with Tomb of the Spider Queen and Volskaya Foundry, so we will not be changing the initial timers on these battlegrounds.
Earlier Objective Information
Since we were already making objective timers more uniform, we felt that players would benefit from consistent and earlier warnings about upcoming objective spawns. Going forward, players will receive 30 second objective spawn warnings across all battlegrounds so that teams are able to coordinate, reposition, and change lanes in time.
Additionally, to give players even more information to work with, the minimap will now indicate where the next objective will appear on battlegrounds with a variety of objective spawn locations. These objective icons will appear on the minimap shortly after game start, as well as a few moments after the previous objective or event has come to an end. This will allow players ample time to plan ahead before the next objective, and give them opportunities to think about when they should take a mercenary camp, which lane they should push, and what their strong lane should be well before each objective activates.
We believe the sweet spot for match length in Heroes is around 20 minutes, and maintaining that has been a crucial part of our approach to these objective changes. We haven’t seen game times increasing during internal testing or the PTR, and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on this once these changes are live.
We revisited many of our mercenary camps to ensure they’re offering diverse strategic options, and having a noticeable impact when they are utilized to their full potential. Below, we’ve highlighted significant changes for Knights, Hellbats, and Siege Giants, but we’re also going to monitor our other mercenary camps to make sure they remain powerful across all stages of a match.
We felt the removal of tower ammunition weakened the role of Knight Camps a bit, and we wanted to ensure they maintain a unique identity and purpose. To achieve this, we’re giving Knight Camps more pushing power through the Knight Wizard, who will now emit a spell armor aura to buff all nearby allied units, including Heroes. This should make Knights a more formidable force when they’re barreling down a lane, especially when accompanied by Heroes.
We’d like Hellbats to offer a more engaging experience during lane combat than they currently do. In addition to a few balance tweaks, enemies hit by their basic attacks will now have their armor slightly reduced for a few seconds. This armor reduction effect can stack, so players will want to be more careful about how they approach enemy Hellbats in a lane—it can be quite punishing to take on the opposing team when Hellbats are near.
Siege Giant Camps
While we’re happy with Siege Giants for the most part, we found that we could improve on their role further by adjusting their basic attacks. Going forward, players will now be able to dodge defending Siege Giant attacks while fighting them in their camps. By paying close attention and dodging consistently, players will be able to capture Siege Giants without taking damage. Players can already dodge Siege Giant attacks in lanes, but this isn’t as clear as it could be, so we’re going to tweak those visual effects so players know exactly when to dive out of the way.
All of these changes amount to significant adjustments to the game as a whole, but we’re still very happy with Heroes of the Storm’s core gameplay. With the 2018 Gameplay Update, we’re primarily looking to improve on areas of the game we think are already fun in order to make them even better, and we appreciate your continued feedback as you playtest in the Public Test Realm.
Overall, these changes will create a more complex laning experience — and will perhaps radically change how certain Specialist characters play. Pushing too far forward risks feeding your opponent regeneration globes you can’t claim, or someone who is playing their lane well could be further rewarded with extra regeneration globes. Towers having infinite ammunition means heroes like Xul and Zagara might have a more difficult time rushing down structures with a horde of minions and summons, but Sylvanas — who can turn off structures entirely — might become even more powerful during a siege.
More consistent timers on map objectives is likely a change competitive players will like, as it removes an unnecessary element of randomness and uncertainty from early gameplay. Rather than relying on guesswork as to where or when an objective will spawn, that information will be readily available, allowing skilled players to capitalize on it.
While these changes all seem like they would contribute to a significantly longer match length, PTR testing indicates little to no change. If they’re longer, it’s only marginally so. It’s possible forcing players to push with minions rather than sitting back and waiting for the ammo to be exhausted contributes to structures being destroyed faster — and if someone is being successful in a lane, they get the extra globes to keep pushing.
The 2018 Gameplay Update will release next week alongside Hanzo and — in theory — the Heroes of the Storm Winter Veil event.
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