Playing as Cho'Gall in Heroes of the Storm is one of the most entertaining things I've experienced in a MOBA. It's also one of the clumsiest things I've ever done in any video game. I suppose when you and another teammate are simultaneously playing as single hero, clumsiness is the point.
What does it feel like, to be trapped inside the same virtual video game body as another person? Have you heard of Pacific Rim Cat? It's a meme that erupted when someone had the genius idea to pair footage of two noble warriors in Pacific Rim preparing for their mind-and-body-melding mech warrior combat experience thanks to the power of the "neural handshake," only instead of powering up a gigantic mech warrior, the screen switches to a cat walking on its hind legs.
"Without trust, the Neural Handshake cannot succeed," the Pacific Rim wiki states. You know what they don't show in a big budget action movie, usually? The painful mistakes any person in position to pilot a gigantic mech must have made many times over before they finally began to understand what it is the fuck they're even doing trying to engage in something called a "neural handshake." Trust can exist, but so can clumsiness.
Playing Cho'Gall in Heroes of the Storm right now is basically Pacific Rim Cat: the MOBA. You go out wanting to become a badass killer mech, feeling like one even. And then you turn into a silly cat once the engine starts sputtering back to life.
I streamed my first few Cho'Gall games when he came out earlier this week, but if you missed that, here's one of the matches:
Being clumsy and making a lot of mistakes in a MOBA is, very often, the least-fun way to play. I suspect that even someone as big and bumbling as a Cho'Gall will demand a certain level of mastery and finesse as they ease their way into a competitive multiplayer game's meta. But for the moment, Blizzard has made it incredibly fun to embrace the chaos of this moment in the game's history, to abandon many MOBA-y pretensions of being super serious and trying really hard to win all the time. They have taken a game that's been carefully and meticulously presented to be an electronic sport -- like soccer with more dragons, I guess -- and said to all of its players: "OK guys, time for the three-legged race!"
Cho'Gall originated as two-headed ogre in World of Warcraft, where in 2004 Blizzard joked about making him a first-of-his-kind two-player RPG character as an April Fool's joke. Eleven years later, they have (sort of) delivered on the joke, only in Heroes of the Storm instead. While Cho'Gall is a single, massive unit, "Cho" and "Gall" are two separate characters. They each have their own unique abilities that they can (mostly) cast without having to ask permission from their other half. Cho is a melee warrior who controls the share body's hand-to-hand attacks and movement:
While Gall is a ranged mage who casts spells that hurt the duo's enemies and help Cho stay alive in the fight.
As you can see in the above screenshots, you can't even select Cho or Gall and ready up with them for a Quick Match in HOTS without another player. Blizzard isn't bothering to try matching up random Chos and Galls across the internet. Instead, they're putting on a promotion right now to help more and more players to unlock Cho'Gall. If you don't own the hero already, all you need to do to get him (or them?) is win two games played with someone who already owns him. And while they released Cho'Gall this week, they haven't actually made the hero available for purchase yet -- you could only could get him immediately if you'd purchased a ticket for Blizzcon. This means that, functionally, the only way that people can get their hands on the new content is by teaming up with one another.
While these requirements they can be a little weird and frustrating, especially if you normally like to play HOTS solo, they also make Cho'Gall also make perfect sense. I've played a bunch of HOTS games with Cho'Gall since he came out on Tuesday, and my first thought when stepping into the guys' gigantic shoes was: "I'm definitely going to need to use voice chat for this." It's hard to maintain a neural handshake if you aren't constantly communicating with your fellow Cho'Gall player.
Playing as Cho or Gall is a unique and somewhat autonomous experience. I'd liken it to something like having one player drive the car/tank/jeep/whatever while the other player takes the stationary gun on top -- one player drives, the other attacks with a mobile turret. Cho moves the ogre around the map and takes care of positioning, while also dealing out the duo's close-range melee attacks with his enormous fists. He's a tank, basically -- a large, beefy melee warrior who's meant to soak up enemy damage and body-block for his smaller and easier-to-kill teammates. His abilities therefore center around keeping himself alive and screwing around with his and his enemies positioning. Pressing Q , for instance, is a charged-up punch so powerful that it sends the ogre flying to whatever point his fist is aiming:
One of his two ultimate abilities, meanwhile, lets Cho yank enemies towards him with an emphatic GET OVER HERE!
The joy of playing as Cho'Gall comes in learning to combine both of their abilities for maximum effect. Cho's GET OVER HERE! ult pairs very well with one of Gall's ults, for example, which summons a large circle around the ogre that damages and slows enemies in its range before exploding:
Having the health and abilities of two heroes packed into one, Cho'Gall is seriously beefy -- by the end of a match, I usually had close to 10,000 hitpoints. His innate endurance, combined with well-synergized combos executed by Cho and Gall at the right times, can be absolutely devastating. Cho is able to able to pull an enemy team towards him or shove his way into a center of a fight, while Gall simultaneously wreaks havoc everywhere around the ogre by detonating bombs, spewing out large noxious blobs, and shooting targeted death rays. They're a walking wombo-combo machine:
Again, Blizzard forces cooperation here by deliberately handicapping Cho and Gall to make them both significantly weaker without effective teamwork. His "rune bomb" attack doesn't even work unless both players participate in it. Cho has to first cast it by pressing "E" to summon a large bouncing rock bomb and throwing it. Gall then has to follow up by pressing "E" again to make it explode:
This is a tricky combo at first. Playing as Gall, I often found myself missing Cho's bomb throws or detonating them either to early or too late. The game does its best to provide a strong audiovisual trigger here: sounding a loud thud and having Cho shout BOMB! But I only really started to get the hang of it when playing with a friend who I was speaking to on curse and having them say "bomb!" as well.
Even in the esoteric confines of MOBAs, shouting "BOMB!" every few seconds over voice chat sounds pretty silly. And that's only one of Cho'Gall's abilities. I'm already discovering plenty of other things one must shout when playing Cho or Gall. While Cho directly controls the hero's movement, for instance, Gall can influence it in a few ways. Instead of summoning a mount by pressing "Z" like most heroes do, Gall gives Cho a short speed boost. It's a handy way to escape from a fight. It also looks really silly when Cho tries to run really fast with his stubby little legs:
The first time I tried playing Cho with a friend and got stuck in a near-death situation I was trying to run away from as fast as I possibly could, I suddenly found myself shouting: "Gimme the Zs, come on man, GIMME THE Zs!" We all started laughing once we realised how ridiculous we sounded.
MOBAs are extremely fun games that, far too often, suffer from how self-serious their core players can be. I've found it increasingly difficult to play any game modes in HOTS or League of Legends that aren't dominated by an overpowering "we're playing to fucking win" mentality.
Playing to win is fine, but it can also be tiresome and dull if you're more interested in just trying to have fun with your friends. So far, Cho'Gall is one of the most impressive ways I've seen any MOBA developer encourage its own fan base to abandon their own pretensions and remember that, at the end of the day, this is a video game that you can, and should, play for your enjoyment.
I look forward to seeing what Blizzard comes up with next.