Those who have preordered the upcoming Starcraft 2 expansion, Legacy of the Void, have had early access to the new Heroes of the Storm character, Artanis, over the last few days. I took the new guy on the block for a spin.
Despite the "exclusive" nature of Artanis, pretty much every game I've played in the Nexus involved him. If you're queuing up for a Quick Match as him, you'd best be prepared for a long wait time. People are even resorting to learning his mechanics in ranked -- I witnessed a pretty shoddy performance from a rank 1 player while he fiddled with his talents and theorycrafted mid-game.
There's probably also a point to be made about preorder gifts affecting other games. That's outside the scope of this article, but it doesn't help that there's a week 1 bug that drastically increases his damage. More on that later.
Artanis is a Warrior, but he'll be played more like a bruiser character, such as Sonya. He can't really take being focused, but he can put up some high sustain damage numbers. He also has no real escape, so once you're in, you're in.
His trait triggers a shield when he takes damage below 50%, with a 20 second cooldown. Every autoattack reduces this cooldown by four seconds, and certain talents and abilities revolve around reducing this cooldown. I haven't been able to do it yet against good players, but proper management of this will see Artanis' shields almost always up.
That can be a really tricky thing to fight against if you're 1v1, or even 2v1. Late game, duels with Artanis are not only extremely dangerous, but deceptive -- you feel like you're close to killing him, but that shield keeps coming up. I've taken out more than a few assassins and warriors who thought they had the drop on me but didn't account for my shield cooldown reduction. Like so:
And although it's a bit of a trap to take his Titan Killer talent, which can effectively do 7.5% of an enemy tank's health bar as bonus damage, it is so much fun wrecking an overconfident Diablo that I sometimes take the talent anyway:
This can be beaten with crowd control, though, and it's a major weakness of Artanis. When CC'd, not only is he vulnerable, he's not autoattacking, which means his shield won't come up as quickly. Without access to the Relentless talent, or any kind of escape, it's a good choice for the enemy team to CC and burn him down. They don't have to make the tough decision about using lots of CC on him like they would with, say, Chen's drinking shield.
For that reason, many pros are saying Artanis is a niche, situational pick. He is, however, a very exciting one. Because he really kicks into high gear when he's low on health, many of his fights are down to the wire. For spectators, this could be great. It's lots of fun watching team fights that completely revolve an Illidan very close to death, and you can expect any game with Artanis to be similar. Healers are currently a bit confused as to whether they should actually heal Artanis, though. Should they use the mana elsewhere? Is he going to be okay anyway?
There are a few tricks people expected to be able to do, which aren't possible unfortunately. You can't use another ability halfway through his dash. And because he always returns to his origin point, people have already figured out how to put their stuns there, waiting for him. One of his abilities swaps his place with an enemy, and players were hoping they could bring a sieging enemy back behind their gates for an easy kill, but instead their movement stops at the gate.
You can, however, use it to put them in range of your towers:
There is one move that's quite easy to pull off, albeit an unintentional one. By taking the Triple Strike talent, your two instant autoattacks become three, and if you trigger this just after an autoattack, you'll actually perform the move twice. This video shows it in action:
This has led to some pretty crazy, easily replicated burst combos from Artanis. Which possibly adds to the grumbling of those who can't currently play him, seeing as by the time he's available to everyone, this will most likely have been patched:
All up, he's pretty scary when you're up against him 1v1. Blizzard has said that it wants to create more reasons for teams to split up, too, and counter the "death ball" meta that sees teams grouping up and steamrolling everything in their paths. But Blizzard still hasn't found an effective way to do this. Even on maps designed for that, such as Dragon Shrine, the best solution seems to be taking a shrine as a group of five, killing whoever is there, and moving on.
What's that mean for Artanis? Until this strategic trend is bucked, Artanis' fearsome dueling capability is null. Teams will continue to death ball, and whether you build Artanis for damage or sustain, he has no answer for repeat crowd control and focus. This is exacerbated by the fact that his power spike comes at level 16, when more teams will exclusively roam as a group.
His ultimate abilities do provide some benefit to the team, though. He's able to call down a beam of pain, with global range, which will chase any enemy around for a while. It goes slower than their run speed, but it can create lots of problems. Imagine putting it on a frontline healer like Uther or Kharazim. They basically have to leave the fight, and try to kite the ult while healing from the backline. If someone on your team can give you vision of the enemy Abathur, you can catch him out for a quick kill.
His other ultimate blinds the enemy team for a few seconds within an area. It also has a global cast, though you should really be there if you're casting this. It won't be picked as much, but if the enemy team picks autoattack heroes like Valla and Raynor, it could be a game winner. There could be other niche uses as well -- picking autoattack heroes on maps like Battlefield of Eternity is popular because of the sustained fight that happens in the middle. But if the fight to DPS down the Immortal is close, imagine blinding the area around your Immortal for a few seconds.
Throughout the community, there's the standard contradictory claims of Artanis being OP, useless, burst, sustain, squishy, beasty, etc. But most of what I've seen from people who know what they're talking about, and my own play, suggests that Artanis isn't a pick you're always going to want. For many situations, you'd be better off going with a Sonya, or Arthas.
But is he fun? You betcha. It's really easy to get caught out of position and die a lot, but Artanis sure is fun. Every fight is down to the wire, as you desperately squeeze out some cooldown reduction for your shield to pop that one last time. There's that moment when the enemy realises they are not going to kill you. By then, it's too late.