The Protoss have always been the coolest race in StarCraft. Proud but adaptable, aggressive yet agile, the ornate alien species embodies what's great about the real-time strategy and MOBA games they inhabit. This week has been exciting in Heroes of the Storm thanks to the introduction of their fearless leader Artanis.
Artanis is a melee warrior in Heroes of the Storm who uses his civilisation's iconic ethereal-blue energy blades to cut down anything that dares stand in his path. His introduction rounds out the cast of Protoss stars in HOTS, bringing to a solid three. The first two were Zeratul, a melee assassin with a permanent invisibility cloak, and Tassadar, a high templar who uses psionic powers to shield his teammates and expose vulnerabilities on the enemy team with electricity attacks and vision boosts. Tassadar sits somewhere between a traditional HOTS support character (most supports have much more healing power than he does) and a specialist, so a warrior was really the last thing the Protoss needed in the game. Artanis is sure to make any of my fellow Protoss-loving HOTS fans happy, and maybe gain some new friends along the way.
Heroes characters are at their best when they feel unconventional. Artanis is no different than the other recent stellar additions to HOTS in that regard — unique and idiosyncratic fighters like The Butcher and King Leoric from Diablo. That's just to say: he brings something new to the table, and feels very much like his own special sort of melee warrior.
You can watch a full 18-minute Artanis game I played earlier this week here:
Much like the StarCraft II-era Protoss he leads, Artanis relies on situational adaptability and mobility to best his foes. This can make him feel a tad more like an assassin than many of Heroes' sturdier, beefier warriors. He doesn't just shove himself face-first into the enemy team and soak up damage mean for his teammates like the Dwarven Warcraft hero Muradin or Diablo's juggernaut crusader Johanna. Rather, he outmaneuvers his opponents and fights within an inch of his life before turning around and wrecking them.
Let's talk about his abilities. Artanis' Q is a sort of powerslide that lets him dash forward, dealing damage to anything caught in his path, and then immediately dash backwards, dealing much more damage on the return trip. This is a handy way to clear entire waves of enemy minions in a single swoop, or juke out an opponent who just fired a skillshot in your direction. Or — my favourite use — dash forward way farther than any sane player would to land a final killing blow on a retreating enemy...and then zip right back to safety.
I described this to a friend I was playing with as "a final little fuck you" to whomever it is you're chasing.
His E, "phase prism," is where things start to get interesting. When cast, it shouts out a little crystalline charge a short distance. If it hits an enemy target, Artanis will immediately swap places with him or her.
League of Legends players will find this spell similar to Urgot's ultimate ability, which does a similar kind of place-swapping trick. The main difference is Artanis' triggers instantaneously. This makes it eminently useful for on-the-fly repositioning. In this short clip, for instance, I'm at the back of the enemy team's core, trying to run away before I get killed. The enemy Sonya jumps in with her ground-pound attack, creating a crater to trap one of my teammates and block my escape simultaneously. Then I used the phase prism to warp me into the crater and drop Sonya back outside of it:
...blocking me and my teammate from enemy attacks momentarily, and saving both of us from getting pounded by the people who were just about to kill us.
Artanis' main weakness is that he's deceptively tricky to use effectively. He's nowhere near as strong as other, tankier warriors, so he relies on the unique mobility of his Q and E to dance around enemies instead. But this requires a bit more grace and finesse than a beefier warrior would. His place-swapping E move has a surprisingly short cast range, for instance. You have to get really close to a target, then, and shoot them at just the right moment. Otherwise you'll totally whiff...like I did in this clip:
(I died shortly thereafter)
Using his q, meanwhile, might make it seem like you can skip and hop you're way out of enemy attacks. But that is very clearly not the case, as I learned after many embarrassing deaths mid-power-slide:
Two of Artanis' other basic abilities mesh together to help keep him alive through a fight. His passive ability, "shield overload," grants him a shield whenever he takes damage when he's below 50% health. The shield is powerful enough to save Artanis in some sticky situations, but it's not impenetrable. The main weakness is that it has a lengthy 20-second cooldown between charges, meaning if he's isolated and surrounded by a group of enemies, they can just hammer through his shield and kill him off quickly.
But that's where his W, "twin blades," comes in. At the start of a match, twin blades seems like a very...basic move: you press "W" before attacking someone (or during), and your next basic attack strikes twice instead of just once. So Artanis slashes twice with his blades.
Simple enough, right? The trick to using Artanis' shield is figuring out how to reduce its cooldown as much as possible, as quickly as possible, so that you're ideally just spawning and respawning shields nonstop. Your basic attacks shave four seconds off of it with each strike. Timing twin blades strikes right cut eight seconds off it at a time.
Depending on how you upgrade Artanis over the course of a match, this auto-attack-to-shield-power-up combo can become stronger and stronger in a few different ways. One way to go is focusing squarely on selecting traits as you level up that amp up the shield's base power, mostly by reducing its cooldowns. This can make Artanis exceedingly infuriating to play against as he becomes almost impossible to kill against two, or even three opponents trying to gang up on him.
I prefer to level him another way, by building up his auto-attack power with twin blades upgrades. Two critical upgrades at level 13 and 16 respectively make it so twin blades has three attacks rather than just two, and add a short-ranged charge that lets Artanis close the gap between himself and an enemy target.
When combined, these two upgrades turn an otherwise unremarkable ability into an absolutely devastating tool for engaging with the enemy. Or disengaging, really. Remember: the auto-attacks cut time off the shield's cooldown. So having three auto-attacks go off one after the other in short succession means that, at most, you'd have eight seconds left to get your shield back out. Eight seconds isn't nothing, sure. But using the charged-up twin blades is a great way to flit back and forth around the battlefield, constantly recharging your shields and weaving your way around enemy attacks.
...or it can just be use as a way to ambush someone an enemy and beat their face into the ground before they have time to figure out what the hell is even happening. Like I did here with Raynor:
Ha! Try romancing Zerg queen Kerrigan now, Mister Raynor!
Granted, I also shot him with my ult before engaging, so I was taking some very heavy firepower into the fight. But still: REKT.
Speaking of ults, Artanis is one of the few heroes in HOTS who has two separate heroic abilities that both feel genuinely powerful and useful in different situations. A lot of other heroes technically have two to choose from, but, really, there's just one.
His first ult, "suppression pulse," electrifies a large circle on the ground, damaging damaging any bad guys caught within and temporary blinding them — meaning they can't use their auto-attacks for four seconds.
It's a very handy way to disable an entire time for a precious window of time, and then use that momentary advantage to wreck face with the help of your team. It also has a global casting range, so you can use it to save a struggling teammate or several.
The second ult, "purifier beam," fires a death ray from the sky down on a single enemy target:
The death ray follows its target around while active, but only very, very slowly, so it's pretty easy to escape from.
Its snail pace made me think purifier beam was easily the inferior ult when I first started playing as Artanis. But then I watched with horror as enemy Artanises used it to demolish the entirety of my team, and realised I was just missing something. The power of the purifier beam at the start of the game isn't that it deals a fuckton of damage — though it does do that. Rather, it's the death ray's power to zone enemies out of any tactical position you're fighting them fore, and punish them for grouping up too closely together when trying to team fight against you. It's an almost unparalleled tool for short-term map control — which is a very important asset in HOTS, given that most of the game's maps challenge both teams to fight over controlling one or more small patches of earth at regular intervals.
That's just the early game, though. Just wait until you get to level 20. Like every character in Heroes, Artanis can upgrade his ults at that point. The level 20 death ray upgrade is bonkers. It makes it so the beam automatically recasts after it's killed an enemy target.
Used and timed properly, the upgraded death ray lets you and your teammates completely erase the enemy team in a matter of seconds. All you have to do to make it work is body-block the first target, and try to cast it when they're already at low health. After that, it's pretty much a matter of knocking down a series of dominoes.
You can see me discover this powerhouse ability for the first time in the clip below. Notice how I start screaming louder and louder as each enemy dies. I knew it was gonna hurt. But I didn't think it'd hurt that much:
Moments like this are the best part of playing a new character in Heroes of the Storm and other MOBAs. You stumble at first, maybe even embarrass yourself. Then suddenly you unlock some power you didn't even know you were capable of acquiring, let alone wielding so menacingly.