How developers use mana as a resource in Heroes of the Storm
Mana has become a heated topic in the Heroes of the Storm community, rooted in the perception that older heroes are overly burdened by their mana costs. Meanwhile, many newer heroes don’t have a mana bar at all. Heroes such as Kerrigan and Kael’thas are heavily limited by their mana bar. Heroes like Fenix have no mana bar, and can use their abilities on cooldown without hesitation. Alternatively, there are heroes like Chromie and Hanzo. They have a mana bar, but it’s nearly impossible to deplete it, even if they spam all of their abilities as often as they can.
With that in mind, it isn’t difficult to come to the conclusion mana is a deprecated concept in Heroes of the Storm. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as far as the Heroes community is concerned. The prevailing thought is more recent additions to the game need to be similarly constrained by mana. Either that, or the game’s oldest members of the roster need to be improved to eliminate mana as a factor in their gameplay. Why would you use Valla, who can be starved of mana, when you can instead use Hanzo who fills a similar role and has infinite resources at his disposal?
Recently, Heroes of the Storm Lead Hero Designer Matt Villers took to the official forums to provide some insight into how, and when, the game decides to use mana as a resource:
Ok got a bit more time, and wanted to jump back in for a bit since this is a good discussion. I won’t go into the balance tuning of any individual Hero because that falls into the realm of our Live Design team, but I would like to share some of my own thoughts about how different types of Heroes should interact with Mana.
Here are some of the roles that Mana can fill in our game as I see it. Note that this is a non-exhaustive list and doesn’t necessarily cover every Hero, but hopefully offers some insight into our thinking and helps inform further discussion.
1. Mana is a limiting factor for self-sustain
Any hero who can use abilities to recover their own Health quickly, without taking risks, should generally be limited by Mana. This helps ensure that damage enemies deal to them actually matters and isn’t just magically erased at no cost. Requiring Mana for HP sustain makes it possible to win wars of attrition and is one way to keep game length from spiraling out of control.
Heroes who don’t require Mana for sustain generally “pay” for their sustain in other ways (such as Auriel who relies on aggression to generate Energy), or have more modestly-paced sustain with adequate counterplay (such as Muradin, Illidan, Sonya).
2. Mana is a limiting factor for harassment
I love playing ranged Mages with powerful harassment abilities, like Li-Ming, Jaina, Kael’thas, etc. Something they all have in common is that they each have at least one long-range, high damage ability that can be used to wear down enemies before committing to a fight. At the same time, those abilities are packaged with significant Mana costs and/or Cooldowns that really give them weight – the cost of missing is not trivial, so it feels really good when you hit.
On the flipside, playing against those abilities is a challenge. It can be tiring to avoid a never-ending barrage of fire, ice, and explodey purple things. With that in mind, it’s important that something limits the frequency with which those abilities are used, and that enemies feel like dodging those abilities is meaningful.
However, if you have to hold every ability and wait for just the right moment, the game can end up feeling really passive. This is something we’ve tried to avoid in part by how we tune Mana regeneration, and in part by also offering ranged Mages (and “poke” oriented Heroes in general) a low-CD, Mana-efficient ability that they can use more freely but isn’t as impactful as their “big” damage button. In the Li-Ming/Jaina/Kael example, these are Magic Missiles, Frostbolt, and Living Bomb respectively.
One place where this gets more complicated is for Heroes like Hanzo and Chromie whose “use more freely” ability (Storm Bow, Sand Blast) ends up being a relatively large part of their power pie compared to their “big damage” ability (Scatter Arrow, Dragon’s Breath). This is of course something we take into account when tuning these Heroes, but we’re conscious of player feedback here and it’s something we’ll continue to evaluate going forward.
Another thing worth calling out is that we tend to be less cautious about this limitation for melee Heroes or even ranged who have to get pretty close to deal damage, because their damage inherently comes with greater risk (and we can’t forget that Health is also a resource which must be managed). Some Heroes (like Illidan, Samuro) don’t have a resource bar at all and it still works out well because managing Health is so important to them.
3. Mana can be a very flexible resource
One cool thing about Mana is that you have a pretty deep pool and you can make a lot of decisions about how you spend or save it beyond just “is this button available? If yes then press”. Used properly, it forces you to think about your ability use in more of a long-term perspective beyond just “spam on CD”.
It can also serve as a limiter in cases where Cooldowns don’t really factor in, such as Li-Ming’s trait reset rampages. Interestingly, the degree to which Li-Ming burns her Mana before resets kick in ends up affecting how crazy she can go with those resets, so how you choose to spend your resources in that case has a big impact.
I think we have a lot of design space to explore this type of thing further, and I’d like us to release more Heroes in the future that actively engage with and make decisions around how they use their Mana.
While Matt Viller’s response doesn’t delve into the stark difference between the game’s oldest mana-users and its most recent, it’s still quality insight into mana as a resource. And he does call out two of the game’s most egregious mana users, Chromie and Hanzo. Both are effectively unable to deplete their mana bars at all.
What this explanation doesn’t necessarily cover is heroes such as Fenix, who are manaless and don’t really have another resource to consider. However, Fenix might be representative of another issue among the oldest members of the game’s roster. Newer heroes often have more creative design. Fenix has his cooldowns to consider, but generally speaking, he isn’t throttled by anything. His gameplay is based around intelligent use of his cooldowns. His autoattacks have a layer of interactivity that similar heroes don’t possess.
While Valla isn’t a bad hero, it isn’t hard to see how more recent additions to the game are more complex, creative, and interactive. And they don’t have an oppressive mana bar that forces them to hearth for mana every few minutes. I wouldn’t suggest bogging down those newer additions to the roster with a superfluous mana bar. But it would be nice to see relatively ancient members of the game’s roster receiving a little love, if that’s the direction the game is going.
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