Saturday, January 28, 2012

All the Little Things

Both HoN and DotA2 are games full of small differences. Being a native DotA player since the early 2000s when DotA got started, I remember quite vividly exactly how the game was when I left it for HoN. Since I played HoN, frankly, I haven't looked back- I could never again get used to the graphics, the UI, the clunky gameplay. As DotA2 came along and upgraded all of the above the same way HoN did, returning to DotA seemed like stepping into a parallel dimension- a blast from the past.

For me, returning to the "DotA world" was a very interesting experience, because I started noticing all these changes- not just largescale changes like Alchemist's Unstable Concoction being reworked from a channeling ability to an instant cast "countdown" mechanic, but also smaller, much more subtle differences. Now, it could be that a lot of these small differences are actually things that HoN changed and DotA never did- my memory is not perfect and I don't remember exactly how many things were changed within DotA while I was gone compared to things HoN changed for some reason. But what I do know is that these small subtle differences make a huge difference in the way Heroes work in the game, and that many people take these subtle things for granted. So off the top of my head, enjoy this little list of cool little things I've noticed.

Anti-Mage versus Magebane
While both Heroes are relatively the same concept (hard carry with blink mechanic, no real CC or way of keeping the enemy still) they carry with them some unique characteristics. First of all, Magebane's Spell shield is combined with his Flash ability. When this ability was first put into the game, a lot of people were upset because it seemed really overpowered. After all, it meant that not only Magebane got to benefit from his already strong anti-magic shield, but now his whole team did, too? Sounds OP. But in reality, the change ended up being more of a Nerf than a Buff. How? Simple- since Magebane had to Blink in order to provide the shield for anyone, it meant that if enemies could sneak up on him, he wouldn't have any protection at all. Because of this, Magebane is much more susceptible to Ganks, whereas Anti-Mage is protected constantly. Seeing as how survivability in Carries is extremely important to craddle them into the lategame, it comes to no surprise that this is a very important difference between the two. Of course, it also helps that HoN has a lot more brutal gankers out there- Fayde specifically really butchers Magebane with her two abilities which burn his Mana. Another interesting difference between the two (aside from the passive on on Magebane which Anti-Mage doesn't have) is the cast point on their ultimates. Magebane's ultimate takes years to cast in comparison with Anti-Mage's ultimate, which goes off seemingly instantly. The fraction of a second extra that Magebane needs to cast his ultimate makes all the difference in the world- as it means that Anti-Mage has a much more powerful tool for killing wounded Heroes in the Early to Mid game. Magebane's ultimate, on the other hand, has such an unbearably long cast time that it's almost a skill shot if you don't have clearvision.

Lina's a little on the Slow Side
Back when I left, I think Icefrog was still trying to figure out what he wanted to do with Lina's third ability. Back then, it was an activatable ability that gave you a lot of attack speed. The ability didn't really synergize with Lina very much, as she was a caster, and built her items around having a larger Mana Pool, more HP, etc- but not +damage. As such, the increased Attack Speed wasn't really very significant and a lot of people didn't even end up picking up the skill at all. Somewhere between then and now, both DotA and HoN have opted for a passive ability instead, that procs when you cast spells. Arguably, the HoN passive is better in every aspect. It gives Pyromancer a Damage over Time on every single attack, which is invaluable for preventing enemies from using potions, plus it provides significant damage to buildings and Kongor. But really, the unsung Hero of this entire deal is the increased cast time. Lina's Light Strike Array is, in fact, so incredibly difficult to land with her casting animation half the time, that the small increase in cast time that only 1 rank of Fervor provides seems to completely negate the brutal cast time. Indeed, in Heroes of Newerth Pyromancer's 1 rank of Fervor that is often picked up early seems to make all the difference in landing his spells more reliably- and turns him into quite a monster in the later game.

A Bloody little Pat on the Back
Blood Hunter is sort of like the younger, physically handicapped cousin of Blood Seeker. Although seemingly better in every aspect, Blood Hunter somehow manages to be a bottom-of-the-barrel pick in HoN. Even lower level pubs are hesitant to pick him up these days, I personally can't even remember the last time I've seen him. And yet, for some reason, Blood Seeker, the Hero that seemingly does everything Blood Hunter does and worse, is a decent pick, at least from what I can see in current DotA2 pub games. So what's the deal? Where did Blood Hunter go wrong? Different metagame, easier to counter, better alternatives? Maybe- but really, the most distinct difference is in the itemization: Blood Hunter has no good mid-game items for him besides Mock, which is pretty darn difficult to farm in a real game. Blood Seeker, on the other hand, will be all too happy to pick up a Force Staff- an item that increases his ganking potency drastically. Funny how one item can make such a difference, but Force Staff works with Rupture in DotA, whereas Tablet of Command doesn't do anything for Blood Hunter. With one click Blood Seeker can launch his enemies helplessly in a direction, providing them an untimely advance in their menstrual cycle. The extra burst damage this provides seems to really make a difference in the games I've been in, and really helps Blood Hunter to dominate the mid-game if he plays his cards right.

Back To The Dumpster
Chronos and Faceless Void have always sort of been the staple of a "Hard Carry" in both games, and, while I can't really speak for DotA, Chronos seemingly has always been either complete rubbish or totally overpowered. It seems like no matter what S2 does, he's always either too good or too shitty. Returning to DotA2, I can't help but feel like DotA has done a better job taking care of everybody's favorite deaf, blind, purple time traveling alien. Faceless Void seems to out perform Chronos even though they're extremely similar in every way. Two subtle changes seem to make all the difference, at least for me: For one thing, Faceless Void can Bash you randomly at any time. Chronos needs a bit of a warm up and will only bash you every 5 hits, a prospect that doesn't seem like much of a threat compared to a static 25% Bash with no cooldown. This alone makes a huge difference, not just because of the lack of stun on Chronos but also the extra bonus damage that Faceless Void gets during his Chronosphere, which brings us to point #2- Chronosphere's duration. Chronosphere (DotA version) has a 4 second Duration at rank one, which scales only 0.5s a rank to 5 seconds at rank 3. Chronofield on the other hand, only freezes time for 3 seconds at rank 1, adding an extra second every rank. This seemingly small difference makes a huge difference in the early game. While Chronos might like to boast that his Time Leap deals damage, this small early game advantage is easily overshadowed by Faceless Void's massive 4 second Stun combined with a very reliable Bash that hits hard.

I'm sure other players who are currently undergoing the same transition will have their own small differences to write about. Flint outclassing Sniper due to his Flare over Shrapnel, Pharaoh's Wall of Mummies that seemingly suck everything in a thousand mile radius into them, Necrolyte's permanent 1000 range Heartstopper Aura- all of these subtle small differences completely make or break Heroes!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Things DotA2 and HoN can Learn from Each Other

Having played both DotA2 and HoN for a while now, I've observed a few things. Both games aim to improve the functionality of the original DotA by adding new Features and Interfaces aimed at making the game more "DotA player friendly", seeing as how Warcraft 3's interface obviously wasn't designed for DotA alone. And while both games have come far, it seems like both games still have improvements over the other. I feel like both games could learn a thing or two from the other, so here we go:

Things HoN can learn from DotA2

Smart Autocombine
In DotA2, when you have items on the courier and the courier delivers them to your Hero, the game will basically search for every single possible way to combine them in such a way that A) all the items will be on your Hero, combined and B) done all at once, without having to press any buttons more than once. This feature is extremely convenient in DotA2, and consequently, extremely inconvenient in HoN because it doesn't exist. If my Hero in HoN, for example, has 5 random items and one component for 3 component recipe and I have the two other components for the item on the Courier, the Courier will not deliver any items at all and the item will not combine. This is because the courier can only deliver a maximum of one item at a time if my inventory is full, whereas DotA2 basically uses a system that pools all your items together, tries to combine them, and then tries to put them in your inventory. In other words, a lot less scrambling to try and combine stuff together, a lot less headache, a lot smoother gameplay.

"At a Glance" Mana Cost UI
A feature which has been requested for HoN since the dark ages, it's something nobody really knows why it hasn't happened yet. Mana Costs for abilities in DotA2 are displayed in a clean simple manner which does not obscure the icon. By simply looking down at my interface I can easily check how much Mana a spell costs, a feature which provides real benefits in hectic situations where I don't have time to hover over the spell to check. For something that seems like it would only take an hour to implement, S2 seems to persist with the idea that that should be a mod and not a real thing- an opinion I hope will change as they run down their checklist of things to borrow from DotA2. Similarly, the "level pegs" of the ability beneath the icon are equally handy and are definitely something I wouldn't mind seeing in HoN.

Commendations / Karma System

All ARTS games have gameplay which breeds the fabled "bad community" problem. The best way to counter this sort of thing, in my opinion, is to create a system which encourages and incentiveses players to behave better. These "Karma systems" have been heavily requested for Heroes of Newerth for a long time, but the idea has never been taken seriously or implemented. DotA2, on the other hand, is making a distinct effort to better the community- not only is the new Stat screen very selective in which stats it displays (no KDR- thank god) but it also features this Commendation screen where you can commend players for being nice, forgiving, for being a good teacher or displaying leadership. Of course, this feature is still half baked (because the game is in beta), and it remains to see exactly how Valve plan on developing it into a full fetched system, but I for one am already extremely excited and I expect great things in the future.

Things DotA2 can learn from HoN

Efficient Tooltips

When HoN first came out, it had very, very, very long tooltips. For new players, these were very intimidating, because it felt like they were reading a book when all they wanted to know was what the ability did. Sometime along HoN 2.0, S2 decided that the old, heavily detailed Tooltips had to be shortened, but at the same time they didn't want to remove crucial information that the player needed. Thankfully, S2 pulled through and created some very sleek yet efficient tooltips which get straight to the point, yet don't leave out valuable information. In most of the cases, these new tooltips kept all the important information including Mana Costs, Cooldowns, Ranges/Radii, etc- but the long tooltips are still available in the menu for people who still prefer them. DotA2 tries to do what S2 did but falls short. The DotA2 tooltips are often short, but they are ruined by the fact that they withhold vital information. Things like Mana Cost and Cooldown are displayed, but often ability-unique numbers and important details like the type of damage (Physical or Magic, etc.) are left out. DotA2 also "lists" the details of the spell in an often long large tooltips, whereas in HoN the numbers are written into the sentence which describes the spell chronologically. And finally, DotA2 features flavor text in their tooltips, something that I personally don't like because it only takes up space and doesn't really contribute anything- Ideally there would be an option to turn these off.

Voting System
HoN takes care of most problems that players have via a vote. In DotA2, any player can pause the game at any time via the press of a button, something which becomes extremely annoying if somebody feels the need to turn a teamfight into a slideshow. In HoN, when a player wants to pause, 3 of his teammates must agree and then the pause is announced and counted down before the game actually pauses. Similarly, the game will also announce and count down the unpause. It's debatable how and if DotA2 will chose to implement a system like this, but for now its current system definitely seems lackluster. While the Kick option would certainly be a controversial move, I would also argue (and have argued) that a unanimous concede option should also be implemented into DotA2. Similarly, if enough players on both teams agree, a remake vote would also be beneficial to the game.

Sell Items Anywhere

In HoN, you can sell items anywhere on the map, even if they are on your courier and not you. In fact, all you have to do is hold down two buttons and right click the item to make it sell. I don't see why this isn't a feature in DotA2 as I don't think it would influence balance in any meaningful way, all it would do is make the game a lot more convenient for everyone. If you accidentally buy the wrong item in DotA2 with the Courier, you're screwed. There is no way to sell it unless you can teleport back to base in time. One missclick can therefore lose you the game if you accidentally make a Mekansm on Faceless Void by accident, something I don't really feel should be punished as hard as it is. Situations in which you are doing Roshan are often plagued by the fact that you can't simply sell items back to the store, the result is players finding Iron Branches sprinkled across the map.

Friday, January 6, 2012

5 Reasons Torturer is better than Artesia

Artesia just came out, and after playing a few games with her I am prepared to risk embarrassing myself after a few weeks by saying that she's pretty mediocre. I will preface this by saying that there's a good chance I'm completely wrong about this. I often scold people for sharing opinions about Heroes that aren't out yet, or Heroes that literally just came out the same day. With that in mind, I could just be stupid. But alas, in the few games I've played with Artesia, I spent most of the time wondering to myself: "Why am I playing this Hero and not Torturer?". So here you go, my top 5 Reasons why Torturer can replace Artesia on my team any day:

Torturer can Farm better
This might surprise you but Artesia is more of a Carry than a Ganker. Really, her role is almost identical to Torturer (with some small exceptions which I will get into later)- she's a semi-carry that can also (apparently) Gank. Despite not having any direct scaling factors besides the fact that he can literally turn Mana into damage, Torturer excels (in addition to other factors) because he can farm well. His area of affect damage makes clearing both large creepwaves and double/tripple stacked creeps easy. Artesia, in comparison, is completely lackluster. Her Q deals damage in a small area of effect, but in order to hit multiple targets realistically you have to have them literally standing in front of you, ideally attacking you. Being able to farm up a lot of Gold if you are playing a relatively item dependent Hero (like Torturer or Artesia) is going to be hard when this is already a challenge.

Torturer can Push
In addition to (in my opinion) eclipsing Artesia in every way, Torturer also sports the ability to Push. When you first think about it, it seems unfair, like I'm comparing apples to oranges. But really, since Torturer can already do literally almost everything better than Artesia, it seems like a fair comparison. Being able to deal tons of damage to Towers with a non-ultimate ability is huge, something I don't think I need to tell anyone because Torturer has been around for ages.

Torturer has a Stun and no Skillshots
Artesia doesn't have a stun. Not even a mini-stun. This instantly puts her in a difficult place when ganking, because if I see her coming I can just TP away. S2 has gotten a lot of flack for putting stuns and mini-stuns on a lot of Heroes, but honestly, it almost seems unfair thee days to make a ganker/carry that doesn't have some sort of stun. The only other Hero that functions this way is Blood Hunter, and we all know how great he is. A long time ago, in a place called DotA, Torturer's Stun was hard to land. Combined with a very long casting animation and incredibly small AoE, Leshrac's Q was (and to my understanding still is) a skillshot. Torturer's Q, on the otherhand, is not. The ability has been nerfed many times but next to Leshrac's stun it's still the size of Texas. It isn't hard to land. Q aside, all of Torturer's abilities require 0 skill to land, contrary to Artesia. Artesia's Q is technically not a hard ability to hit- it basically locks on to your target. The problem arises with the fact that it can hit creeps, basically making Heroes that are standing next to creeps extremely difficult to hit. Additionally, Heroes with summonable minions like Wildsoul, Balphagore, Keeper, etc, are all extremely difficult to chase down when they can just place their minions in your way. This technically wouldn't be too big of a deal if Artesia's Q was the only real damaging ability she has. E's damage is negligible, and hinges on the fact that the enemy is near me, which is obviously not always the case.

Artesia is an inferior Teamfighter
Artesia has a huge potential damage output- this I cannot deny. Using your ultimate combined with all the charges on Q after using W produces huge amounts of damage- but the problem is that this never really happens because it's ridiculously hard to pull off. First of all, Artesia has to channel her W ability to even begin fighting. In late-game teamfights, the damage W puts out through E is laughable- it's barely even worth mentioning. So basically, after I drop my R, I begin channeling my W which does nothing. Through playing Voodoo Jester we all know how hard it is to keep a channeling ability up a teamfight- which is why he is rewarded so greatly for every second it stays up. Same with Tempest ult. All channeling abilities in HoN tend to reward the player greatly because they're so difficult to maintain. In a teamfight, Artesia's W grants her negligible regen and negligible damage. By the time I've started channeling W, Torturer could have already rolled his head around on the keyboard and produced more than I will through the entire fight. After I'm (hypothetically) done safely channeling my W, I can begin shooting Q. Problem is, since my ult is stationary, half my damage is probably going into creeps. The Area of Effect is not very large and I can't exactly steer the projectiles, so there's no real guarantee they will hit properly. I've basically just spent 3 seconds channeling to be able to output less damage and effects than a hero like Torturer.

Torturer and Artesia share almost the same Stats
You might think because of all these natural disadvantages, Artesia might have a lot more INT or STR gain than Torturer. This isn't the case. All their stat gains are almost the same, Artesia only sports 0.3 more STR gain than Tort, with 19 Starting Strength over his 18. Their INT is 100% identical and Torturer actually features (a lot) more agility than Artesia for some reason. Additionally, for some reason, Artesia is also slower than Torturer. I guess the idea here was that since Torturer needs to be near his enemies to deal damage he could use higher movespeed to catch them- but really, what is that worth when Torturer has an AoE stun to easily get close to people. Artesia can only run into the lane guns blazing and hope that her 15% slow will be enough to kill the enemy before they make it to the tower. Also, Torturer has 600 range while Artesia, for some reason, only has 525.

Concluding, I feel like Artesia is pretty weak right now. It feels like there are Heroes that can do what she does and better. She doesn't really excel in the early game as a Ganker as I thought she might, but her Lategame isn't much better either. In addition to dealing comparable damage to Torturer, Artesia's damage is 100% Magical, making her especially weak to Shrunken Heads later in the game. Torturer wins out here again, having at least 1 ability which deals Physical damage. Let's not forget that Artesia is a Hero that has to cast a lot of smaller spells to be effective, a playstyle that is dangerous because it's easily countered by Heroes like Vindicator.

If I had to buff Artesia right now I'd probably:
- Increase the AoE of her Q's damage by about 50.
- Increase her Movespeed by about 10 MS.
- Increase the damage of Arcane Bolts to at least 100 damage at rank 4.

But of course it's only the first day and we have yet to see anyone play Artesia to her full potential. As usual, it's a waiting game and we'll all just have to see if I'm right or not- hopefully I'm wrong.