Heroes of the Storm recently added the Warcraft duo Rexxar and his pet bear Misha to its character roster. Like all new MOBA characters, the Manbearpig team feels pretty, well, new! But they feel new for a better reason than most heroes do. Rexxar and Misha are a unique, novel addition to the whole genre.
Rexxar is a ranged warrior character, which means he's technically the first of his kind in Heroes -- so far, the game has only released melee warriors. He is the first of his kind, but not because he throws axes at his enemies on the battlefield. The conceit of the new hero is that he always travels and fights with the pet bear Misha close by his side. Here's the two of them together right after Misha pounced on an enemy Kerrigan:
And here's what they look like in the pre-game menus:
Thing is, you can't control Misha directly. Well you sort of can if you choose a particular talent, but I digress. While you're directly in charge of Rexxar in the standard MOBA way -- clicking with the mouse to move and select targets, using Q, W, E, and R to cast his special abilities -- Misha just sort of tags along. The only way to control her is by pressing W to make her charge forward, stunning any bad guys caught in her path.
You can also whistle her back to your side if she gets into trouble by pressing D. These two actions alternate Misha between an offensive stance, where she'll go much further away from Rexxar to attack, and a defensive one, where she'll stick by his side.
The bear is basically the source of Rexxar's power. Misha has a lot more hitpoints than Rexxar does, plus a powerful stun manoeuvre and a strong ranged attack. In good scenarios, the duo makes for some devastating combos. Misha can body-block for Rexxar, saving his life and turning a fight around with one swift bear pounce:
One of Rexxar's two heroic abilities (the ones you unlock at level 10 and trigger by pressing R) overclocks Misha for 12 seconds, increasing her basic attack damage by 150%. This temporary super-bear is an absolute terror in team fights -- stunning large swaths of the enemy team with her charge and then knocking them down with her deadly bear claws:
That's just when things are going well, though. When things aren't going well, playing as Rexxar sort of feels like you're fighting with an underpowered ranged assassin with a large clumsy bear stuck to him. Enemies can kill Misha separately, which awards a small fraction (0.25) of normal hero kill experience. But if Rexxar dies, they both die.
It didn't take long for Heroes of the Storm players to figure out that this means all you have to do to counter Rexxar is avoid the bear entirely and go directly for Misha's comparatively weak owner. Alternatively, a group of heroes can quickly burst down Misha if they're able to avoid her stun-charge, then go for Rexxar once he's all but powerless. Either way, this means that playing as Rexxar means you're constantly trying to position and re-position Misha in order to stay alive.
The challenge in playing with Rexxar and Misha, then, is one of deftly controlling a character you don't actually have direct control over. It's like having a large, unruly pet. And that's why I love this guy: Playing with Rexxar last night gave me a weird, intense wave of nostalgia for walking the adorable and obscenely muscular pit bull my family owned in high school, only with a much longer-ranged retractable leash. Like I was controlling something much stronger than me physically, but foreign enough that it could never truly understand how I was trying to direct it. The slipperiness of my handle over Misha was as frustrating as it was compelling.
Pets haven't really been done before in Heroes of the Storm, or League of Legends and Dota 2 -- the MOBA genre mainstays that preceded it. There have been smaller attempts at a similar concept, but none of these games have really gone the whole hog (or the whole bear?) with the idea. Nazeebo, the Diablo III witch doctor hero in HOTS, can summon monsters to fight with him in a similar way as Misha does, but they only exist temporarily. Same with Annie's bear Tibbers in League of Legends. Dota 2 has the Lone Druid, who can summon a spirit bear with its own special abilities and inventory, but Valve's game also lets you control it more directly than HOTS does with Misha. Really, the Lone Druid is more similar to The Lost Vikings -- a three-man hero comp in HOTS that can be controlled separately from one another.
Given the pair's novelty, it doesn't surprise me that Rexxar and Misha have had a...peculiar reception so far. A lot of Heroes of the Storm players (myself included) are still struggling to properly control and understand the two of them so they can play effectively. Plays on the HOTS subreddit have said that his win rate has been surprisingly low so far -- barely inching over 40% in some ranks. Another player wrote an "open letter to Blizzard" (which is a very MOBA fan thing to do, granted) criticising the new hero for feeling "clumsy," particularly in comparison to The Lost Vikings.
I agree with this player that controlling Misha is an often clumsy task. But in my opinion, that's the whole point. Misha is a pet. Dealing with pets is supposed to be clumsy. Until you become close enough with your pet that you can anticipate each other's movements, even speak the same language in a way. Learning how to do that just takes time and practice.